It has been nearly 3 years since the last Mortal Kombat game and almost 5 years since the last REAL Mortal Kombat game (vs. DC Universe was too toned down, hence the ridiculous T rating). Disagreements with specific entries aside, NetherRealm has brought us the ninth installment of the Mortal Kombat series rightfully titled Mortal Kombat. The studio has made many promises by stating that the game is returning to its roots. The game is presented in the familiar 2D style with even more familiar arenas housing the violence. Also, it returns to its rightful place as an M rated game and they use that rating to the fullest to display the trademark gore and violence the series has been known for. Was taking a step back the right move to take the series forward?
Here are the HOTs and NOTS.
Back to the Basics
Mortal Kombat took a huge step back, but not in a bad way. The newest game has decided the series needed to fall in line with the iconic entry, Mortal Kombat II. Players will be presented with a 2D fighting plane, leaving behind the 360 degree battles of newer MK titles such as Deception and Armageddon. This is in addition to the arenas themselves being ripped from the original Mortal Kombat games an redone in glorious HD (ex: The Living Forest). In addition, Fatalities have been restored to their former glory gory. “Fatality Lives” is a line NetherRealm Studios slapped on the game’s box itself and the statement couldn’t be more true. Those who thought the Fatality system in Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe wasn’t violent enough won’t have anything to complain about here. Be prepared to watch characters get ripped in half, suffer cranial explosions, have their skin torn off, and many other gruesome displays of brutality. The other form in which Fatality is revived is through the fact that they are personal again. Armageddon had an interesting Create-a-Fatality idea going, but in the end this made finishing off an opponent a repetitive combo that took away the iconic kills we had come to love from each character. Sub-Zero freezes his enemy up to his waist then rips the top half of them away leaving an exposed spinal cord. For those lucky enough to have grabbed the pre-order DLC, Scorpion even has his original Fatality where he removes his mask revealing a skull which proceeds to spit flames on the other combatant (TOASTY!). It seems that going back in time was the right move after all.
Perfecting a Formula
Although the classic throwbacks are nice, the game has tossed in enough new twists to keep players from feeling deja vu. For starters, fights now have a special meter cut up into 3 sections. Used individually, each section can be utilized to enhance certain moves to create special attacks or to stop their opponents from continuing their combos by performing “breakers.” If you’re patient enough to fill up all 3 meters, you can perform the new X-Ray moves and change the tide of battle in an instance. X-Ray moves are brutal, powerful attacks that, when landed, show the internal organs and bone structure reacting to devastating blows. You’ll be accustomed to watching bone shards fly, organs explode, and the sound of crunching that follows in no time. Not only is the move set expanded with these options, but executing the moves has become easier than ever with a simplified, yet deep, combat system. A perfect balance has been found between heavy hits, quick combat, and great combos.
The gameplay mechanics aren’t the only thing that took inspiration from the past. The story mode is a retelling of Mortal Kombat 1-3. Spoilers Ahead! The final events of Armageddon start off this story with Raiden and Shao Kahn slugging it out as the only living fighters. With his final breath, before he is defeated, Raiden sends the message “He must win!” to his past self in hopes that he can right the wrongs in the timeline in order to save the future. Confused yet? From here the game goes through the events of the first 3 games, but there is a little variation since this isn’t just some HD remake. It is telling the story we all know, or thought we knew, and changes certain points, thus creating a new history for Mortal Kombat. With most fighting games sporting a poorly structured or nonexistent story, this game easily contains the most in depth and entertaining story mode that the genre has given us lately.
Newcomers have never had a better opportunity to enter the Mortal Kombat universe. Combat has been simplified allowing new players an easy entrance into the game (also shown by the “Beginner” difficulty setting) while still remaining difficult to master to keep players striving to become better fighters. Newbies also need to take into consideration that this tells the tales of the first 3 titles. That means there isn’t any need for catching up to in order to enjoy and follow the story.
All fighting games must have a strong multiplayer component in order to survive and, fortunately, Mortal Kombat does indeed. With all the revisions to the combat formula, Mortal Kombat has become one of the most gratifying games to enjoy with friends ever. The refined and focused combat allows for a smoother and more balanced experience when facing off against non-CPU opponents.
While Tag Team isn’t a new concept, the 4-player Tag Team mode is. Players can enjoy two on two action with 4 of their friends locally. It would be like having someone control each character in Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (with less characters on each side of course). Friends can now tag each other in to take a break, bring two different strengths to the table, and so on. They can simply tag their partner in or go for something a little more effective. Much like MvC3, you have the choice of having the second player jumping in while performing an attack or they second player will pop in momentarily to provide quick aid. This is a type of cooperative fighting hasn’t really been seen before. It adds a whole new layer to strategy, especially when you have 4 players going at it.
Not to be forgotten, there is an online mode for people who want to show off their skills globally. Players enter a 10-player lobby. From here they can choose to challenge anyone they want. All of your basic options are at your disposal here as you’d expect. The mode that sticks out the most, however, is the King of the Hill mode which includes all 10 players. It plays out much like any other elimination game mode, with the winner progressing forward till the final fight. It definitely gives winners real bragging rights if they come out on top.
Everything mentioned so far really only feels like the surface. The game has TONS to offer. First off, if you had a favorite character in any of the first 3 games, then chances are they’re back since the roster contains 28 characters (29 if you include the PS3 exlusive Kratos). The Krypt has made a return giving players a place to spend their hard earned koins. Concept art, alternate costumes, and hidden fatalities can be unlocked here. There is also a Challenge Tower consisting of 300 challenges to ensure that copies of Mortal Kombat don’t start collecting dust any time soon. There are other mini games that can be played. These are found in the test your luck, test your might, test your sight, and test your strike modes as well as being implemented throughout the challenge tower. The personal favorite of these is test your luck. You must spin the wheels on the slot machine to determine what character you fight, what rules are changed, and what modifiers are turned on. It makes each fight feel new and definitely keeps the experience fresh.
While online does provide a lot of fun, it can be the center of issues at times. There were times when the inputs were delayed enough to 1. notice and 2. cause a problem in the flow of the fight. This wasn’t every time, but it did happen on occasion. Hopefully that fraction of laggy games will be remedied quickly so that players will have a seamless experience online with people worldwide.
The only other issue came out during the single player campaign and later down the line in the Challenge Tower. Players will soon find out that mini-bosses and bosses alike (not playable themselves), can be very cheap to face off against. Most of the time hits landed on them won’t make them stagger or pop up. This usually means they’re going to continue their string of juggling, unblockable attacks right through your attempted combo. This was most obvious during the Shao Kahn fight. While I’m sure hardcore fans won’t sweat most of these encounters, it definitely separates newbies and long time players. My only advice for those stuck is don’t be afraid to spam the cheap attacks over and over to get by (ex: teleport, bicycle kick, etc).
Mortal Kombat has, once again, risen to the top defining what a fighting game should be. The combat system is now much more accessible and fun, as is pretty much every other aspect of the game. The story mode is engaging and will fill in first timers on the series’ history while reminding those who haven’t played the originals in a while. Multiplayer sets the standard for fighting games with the inclusion of 4-player tag team matches and King of the Hill mode. Add these to the slew of content that’ll have players comboing for hours on end and you have one solid title worth $60. Mortal Kombat brought the series back to its roots and it was the right call. In my book, this is truly a Flawless Victory for NetherRealm Studios because the slight nuisances found within the game are heavily outweighed by everything that was done right. Fighter fans, don’t pass this one up.
[Editor’s Note: Mortal Kombat was reviewed on the PlayStation 3 platform. The game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]Mortal Kombat Review,