Mortal Kombat fans are a loyal bunch. Whether it started with the visceral thrill of ripping out someone's spine or genuine affection for a soap opera set in the Outworld universe, there's a faithfulness among the MK fanbase that other franchises wish they had. Shaolin Monks feels very much like a reward for that devotion - it's got enough gore and lore to make even the most hardened ninja smile.
Whereas most MK games have been one-on-one fighting affairs, Shaolin Monks branches out into the action/adventure realm, offering an expanded take on the events between the first and second Mortal Kombat tournaments. Good guys Liu Kang and Kung Lao set off to fill in the plot holes as they traverse through classic levels like The Pit and The Living Forest, rebuilt as 3D, interactive environments.
The highlight is the old-school, co-op gameplay. Some areas can't be reached without the assistance of a second player - say, a door won't open unless two switches are activated at the same time. It's a shame that the whole game can't be played with the computer controlling your partner, or that there aren't more opportunities for guest stars like Johnny Cage to hop in for a team-up, because it's more rewarding to kick ass with a friend. And where's the online play?
Whether you choose Liu Kang or Kung Lao, you'll upgrade your skills and attacks as the game progresses, adding classic moves and fresh Fatalities to your arsenal. A little button-mashing goes a long way, and it doesn't take much time or practice before you're busting off a 30-hit combo against multiple enemies, spewing blood and mayhem with every rapid-fire punch.
Turn off your brain, turn up your reflexes, but turn down the sound: awkward voice acting makes things extra campy. Then again, this is a story about mystical powers and ninjas with grudges. It's not Shakespeare, and it's not supposed to be.
If you love all things MK, you'll see Shaolin Monks as a special milestone in the franchise and a reward for your loyalty. Otherwise, it's just a fun brawling diversion with lots of gloopy blood and two unlockable characters. Either way, it's good stuff.