Number Two: Mortal Kombat
Platforms: 360, PS3
Reviews – Giant Bomb, Joystiq, Destructoid, IGN
This year’s Mortal Kombat reboot served a lot of purposes. Sure, it made the franchise relevant again with additions of modern fighting game mechanics, a stellar kombatant list free from the travesties of characters introduces after MK3, and a robust single player experience that has outdone every fighting game ever released. Really, this is the important stuff, and enough to earn it a spot on every Game of the Year list, but it also pointed out just how arid the genre’s been since arcades were still a staple in malls (oh man, guys, remember malls?) and how completely out of touch Japan continues to be at this video game thing.
Let’s talk about Mortal Kombat first. As someone who doesn’t typically dip into competitive multiplayer, MK is absolutely the best fighting game to ever grace store shelves. The story mode sets out to retcon the convoluted and incomprehensible back-story of the MK series, and retells the first three tournaments. The engine finally realizes what Chrono Trigger did years prior and introduces truly seamless combat transitions directly from story dialogue. Beyond the story mode, the Challenge Tower gives 300 unique challenges to conquer, some being laughable (both in difficulty and content), and others being really [redacted] hard. And if the lengthy (see: fighting games) story and Challenge Tower weren’t enough, you can still play ladder in both single and tag formats and five different difficulty settings.
The gameplay was the strongest of any fighter since, well, probably Street Fighter 2. Adding a meter system helped balance every fight and keep opponents who might not be even in skill square in a given match. The aesthetic stuff was great too; this is the goriest MK on record, with blows ripping off ribbons of skin and cartilage crunching with every X-Ray (which are still satisfying eight months later). And the fatalities are just the right balances of gruesome and completely off-the-wall. If you haven’t seen any footage of it yet, Kung Lao rips a dude in half by wishboning him from the legs. It’s awesome every time, and still the best way to gloat post-match.
And if you’re into it, Kenshi, Rain, Scarlett join the list of kombatants via DLC. Another Warner Bros. IP infiltrates Mortal Kombat in the same vein Yoda did Soul Calibur 4, and it feels just as unsettling and out-of-place, so I won’t go into any more details.
Right there, you have an amazingly solid fighter that any fan of the genre should’ve bought months ago. But when you take into account how long it had been since a good Mortal Kombat game came out before the reboot (UMK3 is the correct answer), it’s one of the biggest surprises this year, along with the best reason to be happy Warner Bros. picked up the franchise.
Mortal Kombat does more than support buying fighting games again – it points out just how stagnant and painfully Japanese the genre has felt, who had been the only developers fanning it until MK. JRPGs are often the painful example about how Japan just doesn’t understand how the game of making great games has changed in the past two decades (DLC to purchases character levels and packs of potions are a pretty terrible trend and a great way to point out that you really don’t get the idea, but I digress), but when examining the fighting games released by that island, you’ll get see two distinct types: 2D fighters with systems too overly complex and characters too overly characterized it makes them generic, and six versions of the game damn game. We saw the releases of another Street Fighter 4 recently (the third, mind you), and Marvel vs. Capcom 3 came out as an overpriced DLC package sold at retail. We’ll see how long Capcom can get away with screwing its pretty devoted fanbase before they bankrupt another couple of IPs because people have learned better. Mega Man, I mourn you.
I don’t think you should buy Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, and I don’t think you should buy Super Street Fighter 4. Those games still play alright, and are fine if you like the distinctive characters in each. But the best pure fighter to come out to the market was Mortal Kombat, and it solidified itself as the best because of the new things it did, and some important things it kept from years past – and some it lost. And when you buy Mortal Kombat, you won’t have to purchase another $40 game to stay up to date with the series less than a year later.