I recently covered my personal experiences with Deception in a previous post, detailing the love I had for the game and how many hours I spent across all the game modes, particularly Konquest. While reminiscing and writing about the game and altogether reveling in the nostalgic memories of my youth, I developed an itch to once again get my hands on Deception and see if the title stood the test of time in my eyes. So I bought a used copy on Mercari for $10-15 plus shipping and after an error on the part of USPS I received the game about a week later. No harm, no foul. I delved back into Deception over the next two weeks, Konquest mode, the Krypt, 1v1 Kombat, the whole nine yards. The game was every bit as enjoyable as I remembered from the bygone era of my childhood and I wanted to share my thoughts and knowledge on Deception in the year 2021.
On October 4, 2004, also known as “Mortal Monday”, the sixth main installment of the Mortal Kombat franchise was released in North America on PS2 and Xbox. Deception was both the 2nd 3D and 2nd 6th console generation entry in the series after MK: Deadly Alliance. Continuing the story established in DA, Deception’s opening cinematic shows the climactic final showdown between Lord Raiden, as humanity’s last hope, and the Deadly Alliance of Shang Tsung and Quan Chi, who, in order to conquer the realms, had successfully resurrected the undead army of Outworld’s first emperor, Onaga the Dragon King. Unbeknownst to any of the three was that the Dragon King himself had also returned to life. The return of Onaga results in a brief, but futile alliance between the two sorcerers and thunder god, ending with the death of all 3 and an unfaltered Onaga regaining control of his legions.
Deception was a commercial hit, managing to ship one million units during it’s release week, becoming the fastest selling game in developer Midway’s history and sold about 2 million copies when all was said and done. On the critical end, Deception was also an overwhelming success, receiving almost exclusively positive reviews and taking home best fighting game of 2004 from multiple major publications. Furthermore, Deception has been recognized as the very first fighting game to include online versus capabilities, making it an influential and impactful title even in today’s market.
Building off of Deadly Alliance’s three dimensional controls and tri stance fighting styles, Deception’s kombat is also heavily reliant on frenetic movement, huge punishes and making pokes safe by utilizing backdash cancels. All characters have one or two very overpowered characteristics such as launching grabs, unblockable setups, wall infinites and every character is dishing out 50-70% BnB’s midscreen. In other words, balance is neither a virtue nor existing in Deception. This title has a heavy reliance on constant 50/50 mixups once you establish your pressure, making gameplay even more explosive. Any character lacking a reliable 50/50 is mid tier at best, especially when compared to characters such as Dairou, Bo Rai’ Cho and Noob/Smoke. Dairou is able to sidestep cancel into his unblockable “Tomb Stone Drop”, leading into situations where he can simply perform this technique repeatedly for an extremely effective neutral strategy and force nearly every other character in the cast to press in and force approaches on him. Bo has access to a launching grab leading into 50+% punishes and unblockable double “Puke” setups, due to its ability to be sidestep cancelled, which are guaranteed on most knockdowns. He also has access to guaranteed grab setups and a wall infinite. As one part of the tag team character Noob/Smoke, Smoke’s cyborg form wields one the, if not the most effective and simple to setup 50/50 leading to 70% punishes along with Noob’s solid projectile that circumvents Smoke’s struggles in neutral. Many of these strategies change during online kombat, due to huge differences in frame data, making many moves safe online that are not offline, or creating new combo routes while others are now not performable. MK Deception is neither for casuals nor the faint of heart, if you don’t like games that are busted beyond reason, a la Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 and Super Smash Bros. Melee, then this may not be the MK title for you. All that said, I find the gameplay engaging and enjoyable despite its faults.
When compared to Deadly Alliance’s mission based Konquest, where the only control you had over your character was during kombat and mini games, Deception ups the ante by giving the player an RPG-esque open world map, third person action adventure controls and a hub, called the Nexus, that allows you to travel in between the many realms of the MK universe. You’re also given control of a brand new character to the series, Shujinko, who narrates the game’s opening cinematic. Although marred by poor voice acting and somewhat repitive gameplay, particularly the training sessions, which take place in the 1v1 kombat format, Deception’s Konquest is a huge step up from the previous installment and still manages to entertain. A shining bright spot in Konquest is the exploration, allowing you to immerse yourself in the MK universe in a way never seen before or since, meeting fan favorite characters and uncovering the secrets of each realm. Hours can easily be spent wandering, collecting koins and completing every side mission and kombat challenge and that’s not even including the unlockable content hidden within discoverable chests in the game world. Opening these chests can give you koins to spend in the Krypt, hidden characters, stages, artwork, videos, music and more. Some of these chests are incredibly challenging to find before you can even open them, for example, to unlock Liu Kang as a playable fighter you must travel to specific spot in the realm of Edenia at precisely midnight on Friday mornings where his corresponding chest will appear for an hour in game time, roughly a minute in real world time. The story of Konquest serves as a prequel to the main events of Deception and in some parts to the entire Mortal Kombat franchise. Beginning many years before the tournament where Liu Kang was victorious, you take control of Shujinko as a teenager, who dreams of representing Earthrealm in Mortal Kombat like the Great Kung Lao and defeating Outworld’s champion, Goro. While training with Master Bo Rai’ Cho, Shujinko is approached by a spirit called Damashi, who claims to be an emissary of the Elder Gods. He tells Shujinko that he’s been selected to be the Elder Gods’ champion and sends him on a quest to retrieve 6 artifacts called Kamidogu, one in each realm. 46 years later, after traversing the realms and coming into contact with nearly every major player in MK lore, Shujinko succeeds in his quest placing the final Kamidogu on a pedastal in the nexus, but nothing happens. Shujinko questions this as Damashi reveals himself to have been the spirit of the Dragon King, now fully resurrected by Shujinko, giving finalization to the titular “Deception”. Onaga informs Shujinko of his plan to fuse the 6 Kamidogu and Shinnok’s amulet along with himself to become the One Being, powerful enough to destroy the Elder Gods and life itself. Shujinko escapes to Earthrealm while Onaga makes his way to Outworld to claim the amulet from Quan Chi, leading to the events of the opening cinematic. Decepton’s Konquest mode stands out among its Deadly Alliance and Armageddon counterparts because of the freedom it gives you as a player to interact not only with, but inside the MK lore at your pace creating a comfortable sense of immersion. It truly stands the test of time, great in 2004 and in 2021.
Like its predecessor, Deception allows you to navigate through a graveyard in first person filled with alphabetized koffins, which contain all of the games unlockables. Using the gold, ruby, platinum, sapphire, onyx or jade koins rewarded by completing training sessions and missions or found in the map and chests of Konquest mode, players had the ability to uncover secret characters, stages, music, concept art, etc. Unlike Deadly Alliance, which had 626 koffins, this Krypt only holds 400, organized in a 20×20 grid. However, opting for the smaller number of koffins was a welcome change as it eliminated DA’s frustrating mechanic where opening a koffin may only yield hints directing you to a different koffin, or absolutely nothing at all. Deception’s krypt was also packed with atmosphere: blood curdling screams, threatening whispers, eerie music and familiar faces being seen lurking amongst the headstones only to disappear into the darkness helped break up the monotony of opening koffin after koffin.
Deception featured two bonus mini games: Chess Kombat and Puzzle Kombat. The Puzzle Kombat mode is similar to Tetris in that the main objective of the game is to organize and break down sections of colored blocks that descend from the top of the screen before it fills up. But in Puzzle Kombat, blocks always descend in pairs of two and instead of blocks breaking after a certain number of them are linked together, you must use koin shaped blocks called breakers. When a breaker touches any of the corresponding colors of block, yellow, blue, red or green, every block of that color that is linked to the breaker is destroyed, giving you points and filling your super meter. Here’s where things get interesting. This mode is played as a two player battle mode and whenever you destroy blocks using a breaker, the number of blocks you destroyed is added to your opponents stack. There are also bombs, which destroy every block of the color it touched regardless if they were linked or not. Bombs can be a life saver if you’re behind or a game clincher when you’re in the lead and they can also setup for huge, layered combos. For example, if you had a big sheet of red blocks separated from a red breaker by a blue block, you could drop the bomb on a blue block, destroying all blue blocks and sending the red sheet and breaker into each other for a huge combo multiplier. As for the supers mentioned earlier, as you break blocks and perform combos you fill up your meter, when your meter fills you gain access to a timed super move. Super moves perform powerful actions such as removing blocks from your stack, adding them to your opponents, rearranging your or your opponents’ stacks or rendering your opponent unable to properly interact with their stack. Each of the 12 playable characters in this mode use their own, unique super move across 6 different arenas. The characters, arenas and supers are as follows:
- Scorpion – Jumble – Scorpion launches his Spear at the opponent, reels them in and uppercuts them in classical fashion as the target’s blocks are randomly scrambled.
- Sub-Zero – Freeze – Sub-Zero launches his Ice Blast as the target’s blocks are frozen where they cannot be broken by any means until they thaw out completely over time.
- Ermac – Levitate – Lifts and eliminates a large portion of the user’s blocks
- Baraka – Edger – Summons Baraka’s blades down to pierce all blocks on each far side of the user’s screen.
- Jade – Stack – Adds a pile to the target’s screen.
- Raiden – Storm – Bombards the target’s screen with blocks.
- Nightwolf – Breaker Buster – Destroys the opponent’s Busters on their screen.
- Kabal – Double Bomb – Grants the user a dual-Bomb piece.
- Bo’ Rai Cho – Collapse – Eliminates a good portion of the user’s pile.
- Mileena – Drill – Summons Mileena’s sai to eliminate the middle most blocks in a straight line.
- Kenshi – Invisible – Renders the opponent’s pile invisible.
- Sindel – Arrange – Rearranges the user’s blocks so that all pieces are stacked right to each other of the same color.
- Beetle Lair – The loser is crushed by a falling weight.
- Hell’s Foundry – The loser is crushed by a foundry press.
- Sky Temple – The losing player is electrocuted to death.
- Slaughterhouse – The losing player is cut apart by a spiked pillar.
- Liu Kang’s Tomb (Unlockable) – The losing player is burned to death.
- Yin Yang Island (Unlockable) – The losing player has their head bit off by a giant snake.
In my personal experience playing Kabal, Raiden and Sub Zero have the best super as they have, respectively, the best block removal, the best block adding and best interaction negation of the roster. The snakes on Yin Yang Island and Sindel’s hair can be distracting as they sometimes obstruct your vision of the lower corners of the grid. Puzzle Kombat has engaging, strategic gameplay and puts an interesting spin on an all time classic.
One of two bonus mini games along with Puzzle Kombat, the Chess mini game doesn’t come close to delivering entertainment the way the Tetris homage does. The Midway team did attempt a very ambitous, creative, “MK” shake up of the classic chess formula, but ultimately fell flat for numerous reasons. Contrary to classic chess, Chess Kombat uses 5 pieces instead of 6, although each piece can only move a certain number of spaces or in a certain direction depending on their role. For example, the Leader piece, equivalent to the King in chess, can only move one space in any direction. Prior to the match, each player must select 5 different characters from the game’s full playable roster to fill the roles, but opponents may choose characters already selected on the opposing team. The names and abilities of each role are as follows:
- Leader (King) – The goal of the game is to protect the leader whilst attempting to defeat the enemy leader. Once the leader is gone, the game ends. A Fatality is automatically performed upon seizing victory of the match. The leader starts out with a nearly full health bar. The Leader can move in any direction but can only advance one square. The leader starts out at the center of the far side of their base holding a light overhead. Concept art depicts the leader piece sitting on a throne with a malnourished servant carrying him, which explains the Leader’s limited movement.
- Champion (Queen) – The champion serves as the personal bodyguard of the Leader, standing beside them as the last line of defense. The Champion can move in any direction and number of squares they wish, allowing them to easily close gaps. Players start out with two Champions and they stand beside the Leader. They start out with a full health bar.
- Sorcerer (Bishop) – The Sorcerer is a very dangerous piece on the board. While not geared towards direct kombat, they possess the ability to cast spells that can affect the flow of the game. The Sorcerer’s movement is restricted to diagonal advances only. Each player starts out with two. Unlike the other pieces, both Sorcerers are unique. The one on the left casts offensives spells that range from space swapping to instantly killing any piece short of a Champion. The right casts buffering spells that range from healing to reviving a fallen piece. Each spell can only be cast once, so the player must conserve their spells until truly needed. They start out with a 30% health gauge. The spells are:
- Heal – Restores any piece’s health fully
- Teleport – Teleports any Grunt, Shifter or Champion to any unoccupied square on the board
- Resurrect – Revives any Grunt, Shifter or Champion that has fallen.
- Protect – Safeguards any chosen piece from battle declarations
- Kill – Automatically removes any Grunt or Shifter from the game.
- Exchange – Swaps any Grunt, Shifter or Champion’s current position with the enemy’s.
- Sacrifice – Removes one’s own piece to restore the health of another piece.
- Imprison – Prevents any chosen piece from moving and prevents kombat declarations.
- Shifter (Rook) – A formidable class. The Shifter has the ability to mimic the form of whomever they commence kombat with. They also mimic the current stats of their opposition. Shifters will not activate their special ability if they’re fighting another Shifter or if their opponent is the same as their initial form. Should they do kombat with another Shifter, both kombatants will start out with a full health bar. Shifters can advance four spaces forward, backwards and sideways and can move any number of squares diagonally. They start out with half a health bar. There are only three of them.
- Grunt (Pawn/Knight) – The Grunt is the bulk of the player’s army. Though weak in stature, they’re numerous and indispensable. They can move two squares backward, forward and sideways and one square diagonally. Each player starts with eight pieces and each has 40% health.
Yet another change to the normal formula of chess is that in Chess Kombat the spaces themselves play a strategic role in the game. In this game, there are 2 unique spaces called traps and power cells. Power Cells are easily noticed as they glow green and are place across from each other horizontally on the board. When a piece lands on either of the two power cells, they are granted a full health gauge (regardless of role) and a 25% health bonus is given to all pieces that player controls as long as they have a piece occupying a power cell. Traps on the other hand are entirely invisible, indistinguishable from the normal spaces and cause collateral damage, eliminating any piece that stumbles upon them, ignoring role and health pool. The traps are set before the game begins, one by each player, and can be set anywhere except on the power cells, although you may not set your trap on your opponents’ side of the board. Players can even set fake traps, further confusing opponents as to where the true trap may be and forcing them to rethink and doubt their decision making. It may seem like Chess Kombat is a deep, strategic mini game that could serve as a worthwhile detour from Konquest, the Krypt and 1v1 Kombat but that sentiment is single handedly sunk by one mechanic. In chess, when a moving piece lands on and occupies a space already occupied by an opponents piece, the moving piece eliminates the non moving piece without any chance of resistance by the opponent. This mechanic is what sets up the strategy of sacrifice, space control and resource (piece) management that has helped chess stand the test of time through thousands of years, influencing cultures and kings alike. This mechanic is exactly what is missing in Chess Kombat, since when two pieces cross paths in this game, both opponents are sent into 1v1 Kombat with their respective pieces. Meaning that the strategic chess game you’ve been playing up until this point is immediately made irrelevant because whoever is better at Mortal Kombat is the going to be the only one consistently taking pieces, eliminating the concepts and strategies of chess altogether and making you wonder why even play this game mode, jumping through hoops to fight each other when you can go fight immediately in Kombat mode. Removing this mechanic would’ve taken Chess Kombat from pointless to perfect.
Mortal Kombat: Deception is still a fantastic game 17 years later, I can’t say that enough. It is admittedly dated, with some poor voice acting and animations here and there, a few misses with game mechanics such as death traps (but are able to be turned off) and the equippable weapons on certain stages, plotholes in Konquest and new characters Kobra and Kira. But Deception also gave us excellent reimaginings of classic stages such as “The Courtyard, some great new stages that have inspired locales featured in the NRS trilogy, puzzle Kombat, online play and much more. It definitely laid some groundwork used in Mortal Kombat titles to thus day and it’d be great if NRS came back to the open world concept of Konquest, as I haven’t had that much fun with a fighting game’s story mode before or since. If you have the chance to revisit or discover this game for the first time, take up the opportunity it’s worth it.
To the Mortal Kombat Wiki, where I pulled some of the info in the Puzzle and Chess Kombat sections from. Any MK would enjoy the sheer wealth of lore, secrets and general series info that’s housed there. I’ll throw a link to the site below: