Mortal Kombat Shaolin Monks takes Midway's gory gut-spilling capers in a new direction, moving its fatality-laced fighting away from arenas and into the roaming realm of the adventure game.
After some kung fu flexing of our fingers for an early hands-on report with Shaolin Monks - which - we caught up with the game's producer, Shaun Himmerick.
Involved with the Mortal Kombat games since Deadly Alliance, Himmerick discussed the change in direction for the series, bringing MK II back to life and why Manhunt is just too violent.
Why have you opted to make Shaolin Monks an action/adventure rather than a traditional Mortal Kombat style beat-'em-up?
We wanted to take Mortal Kombat and be able to tell a deeper story. We also really liked the gameplay of adventure games, so we decided to branch off in that direction.
We're not leaving head-to-head fighting forever - there will be another head-to-head Mortal Kombat fighting game.
Shaolin Monks is the first MK title developed by Paradox. Are the MK Midway team still heavily involved with the project?
I actually work with the MK team in Chicago running this game and we didn't just throw it over the fence to Paradox - who is actually now Midway LA.
Ed Boon, who has always been the creative director for MK, is the creative director for Shaolin Monks and he sat down with the programmers that created the fight engine and helped tweak it himself.
Many of the previous MK art directors and animators are also involved. We've kept a lot of the same people so the game is completely Mortal Kombat.
Why choose MKII as the background for Shaolin Monks?
Between me, Ed Boon and the lead designer at Midway LA, MK II was our favourite. We also wanted to use Liu Kang and Kung Lao and this was the best slot in the timeline. Kung Lao wasn't in MK I, but we could pick it up right after that and in MK IV he dies, so we couldn't really do that. MK II just felt like the natural choice.
Being a Mortal Kombat game, did you feel obliged to include versus mode?
We actually had a bug that allowed us to fight each other and we thought it was a lot of fun and we liked the fight engine so much that we decided to add versus mode with all the adventure elements.
Players can use their platform abilities - there are a lot of breakables, so they can pick a lot of stuff up, and some of the maps are very interactive.
There's a map in Goro's Lair where Goro comes out and, not only are you fighting your opponent, but Goro's running around attacking both of you at the same time. So it's a completely different style to traditional MK head-to-head.
Has bringing the static backdrops of previous MK games alive been a challenge?
It was challenging and a lot of fun. The Living Forest is my favourite level. All it used to be was some trees that you couldn't interact with, but we took that and expanded it totally. There used to be a rumour that in MK II the trees could eat people, so of course in this game the trees can eat people.
There was also some MK II concept art for another style of living tree that couldn't fit in the original, but we took that MK II concept art and built that tree and now there's a tree that grabs you and swings you around. We added all this interaction and now the Living Forest can literally reach out and grab you.
Is Shaolin Monks purely about MK II or have you drawn material from other titles in the series?
If it's in MK II, then it's in the game, but we also have a lot of other stuff - my favourite character wasn't in MK II. There are areas that weren't in MK II that you see because we liked the background or we wanted to include it as a secret.
There's probably only about 70% of the game that's visible if you just play straight through story mode - the rest is hidden. People wanted to know why Sonya was tied up in the background of Shang Tsung's area in MK II; we tell that story and you can actually free her if you find the secret hidden area.
Is there going to be another MK fighting game for the current generation of consoles?
Hmmmm...I don't know what we're specifically doing current gen, I don't know if we've made that decision. Probably not, but I don't know. I shouldn't say.
How's the PSP version of MK Deception coming along?
It's coming along all right. Current issues are that Konquest mode is very difficult because there are fewer buttons on PSP and we previously used all the controller buttons, so we've had to do some modifications to that, and there have been some streaming issues. There are still some tech hurdles to get over, but we're solving those.
Do you think there will ever be an MK game suitable for all the family?
I could see how it might work, but the lowest we could get would probably be a teen rating. We would have to pull the blood and the fatalities, but I think that would make MK fanatics angry. I'm sure it would probably put people off.
Is violence in videogames an ongoing issue in America?
It's an issue to some degree and games like Manhunt have made it more so. Mortal Kombat has always had that tongue-in-cheek, exaggerated violence. Manhunt is so uber-visceral that it's too much for me. We don't go that kind of route. MK has a different style to its violence - I wouldn't say it's cartoony but it is over the top.
Mortal Kombat Shaolin Monks will be released for PS2 and Xbox this autumn