Jumping on the fighting game revitalization train, Mortal Kombat has made a triumphant return. Though the series hasn’t quite experienced the same absence that Marvel vs Capcom, plenty of fans of the original trilogy would argue that it needed one. The more recent MK entries may not be considered flops in terms of monetary success, but many can argue that the franchise has not had the same level of quality as it did in the first 3 titles. The over-the top violence mixed with the hammy humor in a serious atmosphere, found a pleasing balance in the original games that was not shared in the later entries. And despite all the efforts of adding random content or trying to invigorate some ingenuity into the series, it never felt like an honest attempt at making a real Mortal Kombat game.
Thankfully the developers at Netherealm seemed to dig real deep to find what the games were missing. Despite no longer carrying the Midway name, the newest entry in the franchise has done exactly as they said: “It’s gone back to its roots.” The fighting is on a 2-D plane once again, the cast from the original trilogy is there, and the familiarity is complemented by the contemporary additions to the game. The question remains, is this what was needed to bring Mortal Kombat back into the good graces of old fans?
Unlike other games or movies that have gone by the wayside when it comes to reboots, Mortal Kombat accepts that all the other games did exist and they matter to the storyline in some way. But at the same they hardly matter at all. All one needs to know is that whatever happened in those games ended poorly. This is disclosed in the opening cut-scene briefly before being sent through time to the first Mortal Kombat. Similar to JJ Abrams Star Trek movie, influence from the future has altered the course of events. Thus the overall outcome and who fights and what happens to them may end differently.
Essentially, the main plot is Raiden attempting to figure out visions he’s received from the future to save the world and change history’s course. He tries to change match-ups by recruiting different and unexpected fighters into the crew as well as trying to convince others to take the less violent route. These moments are good at flushing out character dynamics as well as showing the desperation of the situation with the possibility of an impending doom becoming more and more real.
While predictability may keep it from being truly surprising, it is a genuinely well-done story that can be exciting and dramatic. It gives service to the fans where needed. Not to mention it’s interesting how the developers made changes to the original story to fit the newer characters like Ermac or former secret characters like Noob Saibot into the story. They even have a great deal of back story on the cyborg ninjas before their robotic transformation. It may not necessarily be original cannon to the storyline as fans know it, but it does make the new experience more interesting as well as educational to rookies of the of the MK universe.
Perhaps the best aspect of the story is simply the direction. A great deal of attention was paid to how the story would play out in a way that properly involved the player. Sure, there are a few fights that feel unnecessary or superficial due to some plot point that might feel out of place, but there’s always a fair amount of justification for doing so. For example, you’re playing as Kitana and decide to break some rules, now you have to fight your friend Jade. Before long, you’re playing as Jade rescuing Kitana from a prison because she broke the rules, fighting some of the same people Kitana fought in the previous chapter. There may be a few points in the story where it would be really nice to pull off a fatality and not worry about a certain character ever again, but for the sake of telling a good story, it works well nonetheless.
It’s only taken more than ten years to get back to the 2-D fighting style of the series that made it so popular in the first place and it couldn’t be more welcome. While the other games were decent in coming up with new innovations for the series with random bonus games and extras, a return to the 2-D plane was needed if the developers wanted to do a true reboot of the series. Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe can used a system that was close to the 2-D fighting in this game, but, in the end, it still didn’t quite feel like the game Mortal Kombat needed to be.
The game doesn’t have any special fighting stances or styles that were found in other games. Weapons are restricted to particular characters but they don’t assist in the damage in any particular way. Every character has access to the staple abilities of the Mortal Kombat fighting style including sweeps and uppercuts. They also have their set of special moves, sample “kombos”, and, of course, the finishing moves.
The special moves each serve their purposes rather well with their effects ranging from a simple projectile to a launcher to a juggler. The playstyle of MK is more combo oriented than Street Fighter. In MK, experienced players can do 15+ hit combos incorporating several special moves. It doesn’t quite get as fast paced and as crazy as Marvel vs Capcom or Guilty Gear, but it does follow some of Tekken’s juggling techniques that involve keeping the other player in the air as long as possible to pull off some powerful special moves and chip away at the opponent’s health.
To assist in the barrage of attacks is the ever crucial super meter. The meter is split up into three segments. Over the course of the match, the meter will fill up. As it fills, more moves will become available. Costing only 1/3 of the meter are the “enhanced” special moves. Much like the EX moves of Street Fighter, enhanced moves are slightly more powerful and have different properties than their original techniques. This can be crucial to more advanced techniques of keeping another player immobile or air-born.
A safe-guard against these advanced techniques is the C-C-Combo Breaker. It doesn’t have the Killer Instinct voice but it essentially serves the same purpose. By pressing the block button and the direction towards the opponent at the right time, a character may execute a burst that allows him/her to escape the opponent’s devastating combo. It however costs 2/3 of the super bar, so using it in reservation is advised.
Finally, there is the special X-ray move that uses up the entire meter. Much like other fighting games, it is the ultimate attack in the arsenal of moves for each character. Each one is extremely damaging—as well as pleasantly brutal to watch. It is also, extremely easy to do. MK has gotten some scrutiny from the fighting game community for the ease at which players may use the X-ray move; it does, after all, take away 30% of an opponent’s health when properly executed. But in many respects, this was a good choice as it allows the more advanced players to finish their extensive combos in style or just use the enhanced moves instead while the beginners can at least stay in the game without having to destroy their thumbs trying to learn the execution.
The mechanics make everything accessible, but how much fun is it? If you played any of the Mortal Kombats—especially the original trilogy—and found some entertainment in them, this is likely to be extremely entertaining for you.
The fighting, while not quite balanced and refined like Street Fighter, is much smoother and comes at a moderate pace. It’s similar to MvC in how players can completely sap away at their opponent’s health with some well-placed combos. But it retains the speed of its predecessors, making it less chaotic than MvC but not as slow as Street Fighter IV.
This style of gameplay isn’t limited to just Story or Versus modes. There is still the traditional Ladder (Arcade) mode that is very similar to old MK. They have various challenge modes like Test Your Might or Test Your Sight. The Challenge Tower makes a return for players to unlock new moves and modes doing absurd matches that have various restrictions or rules, such as using one’s limbs as projectiles, fighting with reversed controls, or random fireballs falling from the sky. Using currency from playing the game multiple times over or completing the challenges will get new fatalities, costumes, concept art, and videos from the Krypt. It’s almost obscene how much content there is.
And in addition to all that, there is Tag-Team mode. While other companies make separate games for their tag-team style games, Netherealm Studios just decided to throw that mode in there. Finally! A reason to have 4 controllers for your console beyond You Don’t Know Jack and Little Big Planet. You can play with 2, 3, or 4 people at a time against each other or even team up to take down the AI.
And of course, the fatalities, babalities and random Kombat Kodes mix up the action and make things more unpredictable. The Kombat Kodes, for those who may not have seen them in the past, are little codes entered at the beginning of a match to adjust the rules of the fight in some way like making it “headless combat” and forcing players to fight without heads. And hopefully further down the line, DLC will include “Friendship” and “Animality” finishers to further spice things up even more.
The only thing that is detrimental to the gameplay experience is the network. Once again, a game comes out that people claim to have a great netcode, but the every attempt made for online play was met with serious lag and delay. That was if I could get into an actual match. The interface for online mode is overwhelming at first with so many different options available. Unfortunately a plethora of online options is wasted if none of them work well.
This is an entirely relative experience, of course. There are plenty of other people who have had much better results online with their network connections. But until the gameplay is resolved online, and getting into a lobby doesn’t take all night, it’s recommended you find some friends to play in the same room rather than search online.
MK is one of the best looking fighters available right now. There is a great deal of detail paid to the background of each stage with characters that follow the movements of the fighters and peanut gallery comments from spectators. True to the comedy and atmosphere of MK, Shao Kahn occasionally chimes in with “Excellent” and “It’s official: you suck!” The backgrounds themselves are straight out of the original trilogy with most of the stages feeling very familiar and nostalgic. There is still the infamous pit stage, but it has different variations of it that differ in the time of day and the condition of the environment. Sometimes fireballs will fall from the sky and sometimes you’ll see other characters fighting in the background. The arenas aren’t quite as interactive as other fighting games’ that allow fighters to bust down barriers stages like those in the last MK game where the fighters took on the DC universe, nor do they have constant lighting effects changing during the match to show off the engine like Namco did with Tekken 6. But to bring interaction to the stages there are the stage-specific fatalities, more than any other MK so far.
What’s taking place during the fight looks great too. Special moves are flashy and dramatic. The enhanced versions of the moves sometimes are simply faster and cause slightly more damage, while others significantly change the effect and look of the move. For example: Reptile’s acid spit becomes something of stream that stuns the opponent for several seconds instead of a simple glob.
And the damage done to the fighters by each move is pretty impressive too. As the fight wears on and as your fighter gets beaten up, it will start to show dramatically on their exterior. While it seems unlikely that someone’s skin would start to fall off their face (seriously, the skin looks like a thin slice of cheese sometimes) after just a couple punches in a real fight, it fits with MK’s visceral over-the-top style and helps make the fights feel more involved. Not to mention it is pretty entertaining when a character tries to appear strong or sexy at the end of a match with a big black eye.
The X-ray moves and Fatalities definitely had some creativity involved when it came to their design. There are some truly brutal moves that are likely to make you gasp or laugh the first time you see them. It doesn’t hurt that the sound accompanying the bone crunching and liquidating attacks are superbly cringe-worthy. The sound effects in the game are top-tier with the impact of each hit feeling fierce. Part of what make the fatalities and X-ray moves so entertaining are the sound effects accompanying them; characters screaming in pain from their bones snapping and limbs being ripped from their bodies is an entertaining thing to listen to in the sick disturbing way.
If there’s one area where the game is ultimately forgettable, it’s the music. If you have a good ear and can remember the old tracks from the original trilogy. The old songs for those are remixed and re-mastered for this rendition, but personally, most of the songs were nothing special back then and certainly aren’t all that interesting now. None of the songs really make the game any more exciting than it already is.
Despite all the games that seemingly tarnished its name over the years, Mortal Kombat still has a deep and enthralling experience for players. It is indeed a worthy reboot to the franchise with a rich story encompassing the most beloved games of the series. The gameplay is refined and smooth, making it fun for both pros and beginners of fighting games. And it’s a great looking game to boot. If you are looking for a new fighting game, this is the one worth picking up this year.