Mortal Kombat – Review

If there’s one title to rival Street Fighter in number of sequels, movies, TV, and general gaming culture penetration, especially among fighters, it’s Mortal Kombat. It’s got a lot of history behind it and despite changing developers more than a few times in its timeline, someone felt like it was due for a new game.

They were right.

Reboots are all the rage in the film industry right now and the MK series has gone back to its roots in more ways than one in 2011’s Mortal Kombat for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Original developers, Midway Games, went bankrupt but was reformed through WB Games last year as NetherRealm Studios. Taking his queues from their first title, creator Ed Boon led a team to create a Mortal Kombat that sought to keep most of the fighters players already loved but return to the straightforward fighting mechanics (and bloody fun) that made the first game so memorable.

Suddenly and thankfully gone from this 9th game in the series are the clunky, fully 3-dimensional arenas. Gone are the multiple, confusing fighting styles assigned to each character. Gone are the DC Comic characters. Instead, what we’re left with feels polished, robust and thoroughly satisfying. Fighters are large 3D objects on the screen and fight on a 2D plane with no lack of depth. We don’t have to dance around our opponents anymore. Leave that to the Soul Calibur series. Each fighter has a pretty standard set of basic moves, assigning controller buttons to front/back hand/foot attacks. pairing them with simple directional presses on the stick produces moves like uppercuts and leg sweeps. It’s possible to fight through many matches without using the flashier special moves, albeit boring. NetherRealm has also added 2 on 2 fighting, similar to Marvel Vs Capcom’s tag team, where a partner (human or computer controlled) can be called in to fire off a quick special move or to tag in to take over the fight when necessary.

Special moves are a given and plentiful. Familiars like Scorpion’s Harpoon and Sub Zero’s freeze maneuver are present and accounted for as are a few nice additions like Sonya Blade’s arc kick. Multi-hit combos present an excellent way to reduce your opponent to a quivering mass, but they never get overbearing or too long, mostly falling into the 5 or 6 hit range, inflicting typically no more than 20 percent damage.

Certainly there are the fatalities the series is known for. Was that what you were waiting to read? Yes, we have fatalities. They are about as gruesome as any of the previous in the series, especially in high definition. Each character has a handful, but many have to be unlocked through the in game currency system earned through challenges and single player story (more on those later). The real marquee to this latest game isn’t the fatalities though, it’s the X-Ray Moves. Like similar fighters, performing combos and special moves increases a power meter that allows you to beef up your typical special moves, but if you fill it completely you can perform a universal button combo that does some serious damage, in gory detail. For a few seconds, the game goes into slow motion and all the hits landed from the move are seen below the skin: bones shattering, teeth broken, internal organs crushed. It’s NOT for the faint of heart but it IS spectacular and landing one can be more satisfying than a fatality, not to mention turn the tides in a match.

Solo players will get a surprisingly rich story that does an excellent job of peppering just the right amount of cinematics with gameplay and walks the player through using each and every fighter as the plot unfolds. Believe it or not, the story plays out so well that it would be worth watching, front to back, without all the fighting. I did find the character proportions to be a little overinflated and it goes without saying that the costumes, especially on the females, is just a little ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, I like a little cleavage on my video game heroines, but no one’s going to convince me they can do kung fu in stripper boots and a beauty pageant sash. Even Sonya, a government special ops agent, goes around bra-less in a tactical vest that leaves virtually nothing to the imagination. There’s titillating, and then there’s just blatant exploitation.

Once you get through the story, soloists can jump into Challenge mode that presents them with hundreds of increasingly difficult goals like landing a set number of special moves, not taking damage during a fight or defeating a series of opponents. Coins earned here can be spent in the Krypt, a massive store-like area where you can purchase artwork, alternate costumes, Kombat codes (that alter the gameplay) and additional fatalities. Trouble is, you don’t know what you’re getting till you’ve picked the item, you just know how much you’re paying for it.

You multiplayers, don’t fret. Up to 4 players can compete on one console, for the more personal beat downs, or you can jump online to play a myriad of ways. Single matches are available, co-op take-downs with a friend or join a King-of-the-Hill lobby. KotH plays out like the old-skool (couldn’t resist at least one ‘k’) quarter-matches of the arcades. Get in line and take a shot at the leader or defend your crown. Good on NetherRealm for NOT copping out like Capcom did and let those waiting in line watch the current match.

Just a couple of issues before wrapping up. It’s necessary to unlock some fatalities, but they only show up in the moves list to the player who unlocked it. Meaning if you invite 3 friends over, they won’t be able to view the button combo in their list because they themselves didn’t earn it. Lame. Playing against the computer can be a little disjointed. Sometimes matches can be challenging, other times the computer can be outright cheap. The difficulty balance is better than recent Street Fighter titles, but it’s still an annoyance.

That isn’t nearly enough to dissuade anyone from picking up Mortal Kombat. It’s an excellent example of a modern fighter and it comes from a familiar place due for another chance in the spotlight.

Christopher Kirkman

Christopher is an old school nerd: designer, code monkey, writer, gamer and Star Wars geek. As owner and Editor-In-Chief of Media Geeks, he takes playing games and watching movies very seriously. You know, in between naps and watching TV.

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