By Noah Robischon
January 10, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

The latest installment of this fighting franchise is back in all of its red-hued gory, uh, glory. Yet, no matter how realistically the blood gushes from Sub-Zero’s severed head, it still evokes a kinder, gentler age of Power Rangers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In fairness, Deadly Alliance is much more than a wistful nostalgia trip: Each of Earthrealm’s heroes now has three ”Kombat” styles to aid in vanquishing the lost army of the Dragon King, which has been brought back to life by the joined forces of evil sorcerers Shang Tsung and Quan Chi. Samurai Saturday, anyone? That’s always been part of ”Mortal Kombat”’s appeal. But in the past, the game was the sole domain of the masters who used shaolin finger technique to tap sophisticated combo sequences and bust out the special moves. The new fighting system gives haphazard button-mashers at least a decent chance of survival, plus the ability to handicap rounds when playing against a more experienced foe. The ”fatalities” have become gloriously operatic, too: Anyone familiar with the original game will appreciate the in-jokes, like when Kano pulls out his opponent’s heart — and every other internal organ. There’s also a ”Kurrency” that can be used to unlock items in the ”Krypt” and other ”Kontent” — all of which, in case you haven’t noticed, begin with the letter K. And that’s the rub: ”Mortal Kombat” may have grown up, but it didn’t mature at all.