Mortal Kombat (Review)

Ever since Mortal Kombat 4, the Mortal Kombat series has looked a little unsure of what it wanted to be and, as a result, it continuously changed with each new game and alienated fans of the previous games. Fans of MK4 were alienated with Deadly Alliance, and further revisions to Deception’s gameplay alienated those who were comfortable with Deadly Alliance. Armageddon threw everything together in a big mess and, well, we know how that game turned out. A few years later and we had Mortal Kombat vs DC which, to this day, I have never played because it was rated T and I knew that it wouldn’t deliver a proper Mortal Kombat experience.

So, with the series looking to have lost it’s identity for over a decade, it was understandable for anyone to write off the series and lose faith in any future installments. I think that this is what many people did but, when Midway went bankrupt and the Mortal Kombat franchise was sold off to Warner Bros. Games, something happened. The MK team was given more freedom than they probably ever had, and they were granted more time to work on the next game. When the first screenshots of what everyone called Mortal Kombat 9 surfaced, a 2.5D fighter that sought to return to the roots of the series, it was clear that a massive spike in quality had happened.

Now, here we are in April 2011 with a brand new and proper Mortal Kombat game that is simply titled, well, Mortal Kombat. Why not MK9, you may ask? Well, even though this game does serve as the ninth entry in the series’ canon story (the game picks up immediately after Armageddon), everything gets rewinded and the game becomes a complete reboot for the series. As everyone is well aware by now, the game starts off after Mortal Kombat Armageddon when Shao Kahn is about to kill Raiden and merge the realms of Outworld of Earthrealm. Just before the final death blow, Raiden sends a message to his MK1 era self as a way to alter the future so that Shao Kahn does not emerge victorious.

Character and stage detail greatly exceeds all expectations for a Mortal Kombat game.

The timeline for this game is set between MK1 and MK3 and, in the game’s engaging and expansive story mode, you play will through each of the three tournaments, though MK3 was more of an invasion than a fighting tournament. It is really worth noting that this Mortal Kombat has perhaps the best story mode I have ever had the pleasure of playing through. The narrative is fantastic, as everything occurs in fully voiced cutscenes that uses the game’s character models and stage arenas to tell a fascinating story. The story mode is divided up into several different chapters, each one giving you control of a protagonist from whatever timeline you are playing in.

Story mode is a lot of fun and has a lot of great voice acting and writing. NetherRealm Studios put their heart and soul into delivering a very engrossing experience here, and it really shows. This is truly their best work ever and it seems that Midway’s unfortunate downfall has allowed the development team to really flex their creative muscles, delivering a higher quality experience than anything we probably have never received from them in the past. The storyline is great and the fights in story mode are very enjoyable, though a few of the tag fights can feel a little unfair if you’re unfamiliar with the character you are using. The final fight of story mode is also extremely difficult to beat if you do not resort to using cheap tactics or spamming projectiles, but in a way that is what Mortal Kombat’s tough fights have always been about. What would a Mortal Kombat be without a boss that enrages us and forces us to abandon our cleverly developed strategies in favour of mass spamming of fireballs and other projectile attacks? Well, it wouldn’t be a proper Mortal Kombat! While some major game review publications have slammed the difficulty of this game’s bosses, I have embraced it in all of it’s insanely hard glory. Bring it on, I say.

The story mode will take between five and ten hours to clear depending on the difficulty level you are playing through, which is very impressive for a fighting game. After making it through the story mode and unlocking a few cool characters along the way, you’ll still have about half of the game’s content left to blow through – if not more!

X-Ray attacks are painful to be hit with... And also to watch!

Outside of story mode, there is the Challenge Tower. In this mode, players are given a ladder of three hundred challenges that they must complete. Many of them are pretty basic fights while others are more creative and force you to do things such as defeat waves of oncoming zombies. Mortal Kombat mainstays such as Test Your Might and other mini games also appear in the Challenge Tower, and they become progressively harder as you work towards the magic number three hundred. Clearing this massive amount of challenges can take some time and, at the end of it all, players are rewarded with a prize for clearing all three hundred. Many players do not seem impressed with the prize, but in NetherRealm’s defense I would like to say that Challenge Tower is more about the overall journey than the final prize.

Additional game modes include your standard ladder mode (think arcade mode, complete with bosses at the end), tag ladder, and a few “test your…” modes. We are all familiar with Test Your Might, but what about Luck, Sight and Strike? Test Your Sight is the typical game of finding the hidden object under cups that are moved and swapped around. Test Your Strike is a lot like Test Your Might, only instead of having to build up your strength past a certain threshold, in Test Your Strike the objective is precision. You have to work your meter up to a certain point and keep it there. If you go above or below, you fail. These two modes are alright, but pale in comparison to Test Your Luck. In this mode, you get to use a slot machine that determines random battle mechanics such as who your opponent will be and what sort of enhancements the characters will receive. There are a lot of cool possibilities, such as armless kombat, which is when both characters lose their arms at the start of the fight, so any attack that involved using your hands will not be possible.

The newest innovation in Mortal Kombat is on that has been featured in several other series (most notably Marvel vs Capcom and Tekken) and that is tag fighting. The tag feature in Mortal Kombat allows you to choose two characters to use, and the overall experience is a lot like Tekken Tag Tournament was in terms of feel. In Mortal Kombat’s tag fighting, you can freely swap characters whenever you want by tapping a left shoulder button, and you can perform a tag assist attack by tapping down, back, left shoulder button. It’s pretty simplistic overall, but it makes the traditional Mortal Kombat fighting experience feel extremely fresh and new.

Kratos is available to Playstation 3 owners. Needless to say he fits in very well!

Now seems like a good time to discuss the gameplay mechanics in the latest Mortal Kombat. It is worth noting that this MK is the easiest to just pick up and play since perhaps Mortal Kombat 2. The past four or five titles were becoming a bit complicated in terms of playability by adding several stances to each character and having a heavy reliance on combos despite the fact that games such as Deadly Alliance or Deception had extremely clunky controls that made having exciting fights an extreme challenge for even the most devoted MK fans. This installment in the series remedies the problems of the past by almost eliminating the traditional stiff gameplay entirely. Mortal Kombat now feels surprisingly fluid when you have a controller or stick in your hands, perhaps exhibiting the best controls and fighting engine that the series has ever seen.

New to the fighting engine is the super meter, a familiar sight to Capcom fighting game veterans. The super meter in Mortal Kombat is divided into three segments and each one performs a different function. The first segment will allow you to perform an enhanced special move, which is basically a powered up version of an attack such as Sub-Zero’s freeze or Nightwolf’s arrows. The second segment allows you to perform combo breakers, which are fantastic if you are having trouble keeping a combo-happy opponent off of you. Breakers are pretty powerful in Mortal Kombat, giving anyone who uses one quite a lot of breathing room as the offensive player is thrust backwards. The third and final segment of the super bar, which performs X-Ray attacks, is arguably the most useful. X-Ray attacks are powerful moves that can deplete up to 40% of an opponent’s life bar. Some X-Ray attacks are executed frighteningly quickly, while others are hard to avoid due to the game having peculiar hit boxes that are sometimes difficult to judge. An X-Ray attack is performed by pressing both shoulder buttons when your super bar is full. The move itself is often very brutal, giving players an inside view of the opponent’s body as they are pulverized in slow motion. One example of an X-Ray attack is Kitana’s. She will thrust her fans into the back of the opponent’s skull (ouch!), rip them out, and then stab both into her attacker’s eye sockets. Skin and muscle tissue become invisible during this brutal display so that players can witness the bone-breaking assault on the unlucky victims. Some X-Ray attacks are very easy to pull off and almost feel cheap in just how good they are, while some characters such as Scorpion have fairly useless X-Ray moves. It makes you wonder why those characters got the short end of the stick.

There aren’t too many balance issues in the character roster from what I have observed. Some characters may seem a little intimidating with their special moves, but I have learned that pretty much nothing is safe in this game. If it can be pulled off, it can also be punished. Teleport attacks in particular seem to be extremely punishable. Unless your mind is wandering and you’re not really paying attention to the fight, it’s pretty easy to be able to halt any teleport attacker in their tracks with a simple uppercut – regardless of what the character is doing.

Challenge Tower presents players with all sorts of amusing fights and minigames.

The online portion of the game is pretty much what you’d expect. There are some latency issues at times, while you may have wonderfully lagless matches other times. It’s a big bag of mixed nuts. The most interesting aspect of the online mode is King of the Hill, which is meant to simulate fighting in an arcade. Oldschool gamers will definitely remember the days long gone when playing the original Mortal Kombat games in an arcade was all the rage. King of the Hill allows eight people to cram into an onscreen lobby where everyone takes turns fighting the winner. When you lose, you are thrown to the back of the line. There are two ways to view King of the Hill, and that is from the standard ingame fighting view that we are all used to, as well as the theatre view mode. In theatre view, the avatars for the two people currently fighting are presented on each side of the zoomed out match that they are partaking in and along the bottom of it are the six people waiting in line. While you are waiting and watching, you can perform emotes that let the fighters know what you think of their match. You can cheer if someone does something cool, boo them if they’re being cheap, or even hold up a piece of cheese. When the fight concludes, the loser of the fight and the several spectators at the bottom of the screen award “respect points” to the winner. It operates on a scale from one to ten and essentially just lets the winner of the fight know how good everyone thought he or she did. It doesn’t serve any purpose and respect points may not accurately represent the skill of a player since it is an abusable system. Anyone can casually rate every match a 0 or 1 out of 10, so it’s open to debate as to how beneficial it is to have respect points in the game.

In terms of unlockable content, there’s loads to obtain in this game. The Krypt returns from the past few MK games, now with even more locked goodies than ever before. While there aren’t any hidden characters or stages in the Krypt this time around, there are plenty of hidden fatalities and alternate outfits to unlocked, though with hundreds of lots to select from, you’re pretty likely to end up getting a piece of artwork instead unless you are using a guide for the Krypt. The amount of currency required to unlock everything is pretty staggering and should keep everyone except the obsessed players visiting the Krypt for a good while. I’ll also note that it might be best to play the game with a lowered volume when you’re in the Krypt. Why? Well, you’ll see!

Bloody and cringe-worthy fatalities in glorious HD. Are you prepared?

In terms of presentation, this is probably the best looking fighting game this generation. Most character models are packed with detail and the arenas all have lots going on and just look fantastic. I really can’t fault the graphics in this game at all, as it’s clear that NetherRealm Studios poured their hearts into making a game that looks very nice. With even the female fighters looking surprisingly feminine for once, it’s impossible not to admit just how pleasant the graphics are in this game. From each fighter and arena to each X-Ray attack and brutally detailed fatality, this game delivers on the graphical front.

The sound department is just as good as the graphics. Sound effects played during fights are all very brutal, heavy, and visceral. Each hit sounds painful and raw, and you can almost feel them yourself. Special moves all sound pretty great. From Scorpion’s “get over to here!” to Raiden shouting incomprehensible gibberish during his fights, it is hard to find anything to complain about. The voice acting can be a bit cheesy at times, but it is moreso the lines and not the voices themselves that are silly. Sindel in particular has an intro speech that is so bad that it’s laughable, but cheesiness has always been one of Mortal Kombat’s most admirable qualities.

So with tons of great game modes to plow through, almost thirty diverse characters (including Kratos on the PS3), and an insane amount of unlockables to acquire, it’s pretty hard not to view this as one of the most comprehensive fighters of the generation. While the fighting engine won’t deliver experiences quite as compelling as those found in high level Marvel vs Capcom or Tekken fights, the combat is still deeply satisfying and the wealth of content will be more than enough to satisfy any casual fan of fighting games. This is certainly one of the very few fighting games this generation that comes packed with enough content for everyone, casual or hardcore.

Is this Mortal Kombat at it’s best? Without a doubt. Anyone who has enjoyed this series between now and it’s early 90s debut in the arcades should definitely check out this fantastic title. Mortal Kombat is back, and it’s better (and bloodier) than ever!

PROS:
+ Story mode is very engaging.
+ Very pretty graphics.
+ Most fluid gameplay ever in an MK title.

CONS:
– Many Krypt rewards are very uninteresting.
– The vastly uneven boss fights may deter many players.
– Clipping issues occur often during fatalities and win poses.

Final Score

9.2/10

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Mortal Kombat Demo Impressions

By now, just about anyone with an internet connection and a PS3 have tried the Mortal Kombat demo. The general consensus, from what I have observed, is that a vast majority of players are honestly surprised at just how good the new Mortal Kombat appears to be.

Ever since Mortal Kombat 4, the series has looked a little unsure of what it wanted to be and, as a result, it continuously changed with each new game and alienated fans of the previous games. Fans of MK4 were alienated with Deadly Alliance, and further revisions to Deception’s gameplay alienated those who were comfortable with Deadly Alliance. Armageddon threw everything together in a big mess and, well, we know how that game turned out. A few years later and we had Mortal Kombat vs DC which, to this day, I have never played because it was rated T and I knew that it wouldn’t deliver a proper Mortal Kombat experience.

So, with the series looking to have lost it’s identity for over a decade, it was understandable for anyone to write off the series and lose faith in any future installments. I think that this is what many people did but, when Midway went bankrupt and the Mortal Kombat franchise was sold off to Warner Bros. Games, something happened. The MK team was given more freedom than they probably ever had, and they were granted more time to work on the next game. When the first screenshots of what everyone called Mortal Kombat 9 surfaced, it was clear that a massive spike in quality had happened.

Click to enlarge.

About a year later, here we are with the demo of Mortal Kombat. All of the mistakes of the past decade have been ignored and completely thrown away. The only aspect of the post MK3 era that seems to be returning is the sorcerer Quan Chi. Considering that he is perhaps the best character that the team created after going 3D, this is a good move.

The demo gives us access to Johnny Cage, Mileena, Scorpion, and Sub-Zero. The available stages round in at two (which is fine for a demo) and are The Living Forest and The Pit. Each stage looks as if NetherRealm Studios had taken their MK2 incarnations and simply made them 3D. They look so much like they had sixteen years ago (!!!) that it truly is staggering. Even the stage themes are just modern renditions of the originals from Mortal Kombat 2. It is understandable that NetherRealm Studios decided to do this since the game is a retelling of the original three games, but they really went the extra mile with the stages.

Click to enlarge.

Complimenting the stages are the physics. Imagine my surprise when I found that Mortal Kombat’s trademark clunky and sluggish controls, which only got worse with each new game in the past, were now almost gone! Characters feel and handle a lot like they did, again, in Mortal Kombat 2, only a little more responsive. The first character I picked was Scorpion, and aside from the fact that he was wearing an updated costume, it really felt like Mortal Kombat 2 as he jumped the same, tripped and uppercutted the same, and so much more.

I tried out all four available characters and came away impressed with each one. I didn’t really warm up to Johnny Cage, but this is pretty much only because I never really liked the character anyway. Of the four characters we are given in the demo, I found Mileena and Scorpion to be the most enjoyable to use, and I was surprised at how each character felt.

The gameplay really is superb. Gone are the fighting styles and weapons that we had to swap between from the past three Mortal Kombat games. Now each character has their own fixed movesets without any predefined fighting style that they have to adhere to. I found that pulling off combos was a lot of fun, since just pressing any three or four buttons resulted in a combo of some kind. I thought that was really cool, and it should let us experiment a lot with combos to find out which combinations work best. You can even easily add special moves to combos, something that Mortal Kombat has struggled with for several years now.

The violence in the game is ridiculously over the top as well, and I found some of the X-Ray moves to be cringeworthy. The fatalities are also pretty revolting. This is, however, a good thing! Mortal Kombat used to pride itself in being a bloody and disgusting mess, but this was lost for several years in the new millenium. Well, that bloody and disgusting mess is back and in full force. Just check out Kung Lao’s hat fatality and try not to cringe. I dare you.

The graphics are also worth mentioning. The stages all look fantastic, and the characters look even better. My honest opinion is that this will be the best looking 3D fighting game of the current generation. Yes, this beast is shaping up to be a better looker than both of Namco’s visual treats Soulcalibur IV and Tekken 6.

Everything that older gamers loved about the old MK games is here. The gameplay screams nostalgia. Trips and uppercuts work just like they used to, and the “Toasty Guy” has even returned for the first time in fourteen years!

All in all, this really does look to be a fantastic fighting game. While Marvel vs Capcom 3 tended to the hardcore fighting fans, it suffered by not tending to anyone else and leaving out necessary game modes and unlockables, and this dragged down MvC3’s review scores with popular critics and publications. Mortal Kombat on the other hand looks to be aiming to please everyone and even includes a few fun bonus game modes. There’s a wealth of content in the game and with so much nostalgia here, it’s going to be hard to not love this game.

It took sixteen long years, but Mortal Kombat may very well return as one of the most popular fighting game series out there. This game is not just good, it is great!

Watch for it April 19 in North America, April 21 in Europe.

Mortal Kombat Unchained (Review)

“The ideal package for anyone craving a Mortal Kombat experience on the go.”

At the time of this writing, the new Mortal Kombat on the 360 and PS3 is approximately a year away. In the meantime, MK fans will surely need something to spend their time on, right? While Mortal Kombat vs DC may be a good choice, there are those who do not have a 360 or PS3. This is where the PSP comes in.

Unchained is essentially Mortal Kombat Deception on the go. While this game even predates Mortal Kombat Armageddon, remember that Unchained is the only MK title on the PSP. So despite being a few years old, is it worth your money even today? In short, maybe.

As I mentioned, Unchained is just Mortal Kombat Deception, only with a few bells and whistles. Before I talk about what is new in Unchained, I’ll talk about what is carried over from Deception.

First off is the core fighting system. It has not been altered or downgraded at all for the PSP, so fans should be happy knowing that they are getting the full Mortal Kombat experience. Characters look fairly good and aren’t far off from what we saw on the Gamecube, PS2, and XBox several years ago. This is quite impressive considering that the game features thirty characters on top of the various game modes present.

Konquest mode, which was a boring and slightly unpleasant experience in Deception, is even worse in Unchained. I commend Midway for packing the full Konquest mode into a little PSP fighter, but it’s clear that they had to downgrade the mode quite a bit. The visuals are nothing short of ugly as they resemble graphics from the early 32 bit era. Collision detection is very suspicious as well, as I found myself trying to reach coins and treasure chests only to hit invisible walls where there shouldn’t be any. I would then find out that the invisible walls belonged to nearby trees or support columns that were barely even on the screen. Konquest mode also features a camera that is essentially impossible to work with. You use the L and R buttons to rotate the camera, which you will have to do almost consistently as the camera obscures your character or gets stuck on random objects littering the environment. The camera actually got itself stuck on a tree when I was playing. It was bizarre to have myself running down a straight path only to then have the camera jerk far to the right. I couldn’t see what I was doing, and it wasn’t even pointing anywhere near my character. Fortunately rotating the character restored the camera angle, but this still shouldn’t have happened in the first place and is slightly inexcusable.

The actual fighting mechanics are exactly the same as they were in the console version. Unfortunately, it is a little harder to execute many moves and combos properly on the PSP, and I frequently found myself blocking or switching fighting styles accidentally. You see, the L button switches your fighting style and the R button blocks. My fingers have a habit of venturing towards the top of the PSP and resting there, so it should be quite obvious what happened whenever I would be fighting. I would frequently try to execute a combo only to have my finger accidentally press the L button and switch my fighting style, ruining whatever I was trying to execute.

The controls are also just as clunky as ever, which seems to be a Mortal Kombat tradition. Armageddon seemed to improve the core gameplay of the 3D games tremendously, but unfortunately Unchained doesn’t have anything to do with Armageddon. Deception’s gameplay was certainly an improvement over Deadly Alliance, but playing this game today, after enjoying BlazBlue, Street Fighter 4 and Tekken 6, I cannot help but cringe at the unresponsive controls and sluggish movements of the characters. If you adapt to how Unchained plays then you will certainly be able to do well, but just getting to the point where you want to succeed in this game may be the difficult part.

Chess Kombat and Puzzle Kombat remain fully intact and are fun little diversions to sink your teeth into. Despite being a blatant rip-off of Puzzle Fighter, I quite enjoy Puzzle Kombat and it is perhaps my favourite part of the game. Chess Kombat is fun to play once or twice, but it loses it’s appeal pretty quickly.

The currency system and Krypt are still fully intact. Unfortunately I cannot stand the currency system in this game, as there are several different kinds of coins that you can obtain. Armageddon had one universal coin that you could use to unlock everything. Deception/Unchained instead decided to use five or six different coloured coins (onyx, sapphire, platinum, etc.) which you randomly obtained by fighting and playing Konquest mode. In the Krypt, you unlock things by spending a certain number of coins on whatever coffin you wish to open. Considering the fact that there are hundreds of coffins which all require different coins, things get a little ridiculous. Since all characters are unlocked from the start, there really isn’t a lot to look forward to in the Krypt, and unlocking things just becomes a boring chore very quickly.

So, what’s new in Unchained? There are a few additional characters and a new game mode. In terms of characters, Goro and Shao Kahn join the cast from the Gamecube port of Deception, while Blaze, Frost, Jax, and Kitana return from Deadly Alliance. This is the only version of Deception to feature the four from Deadly Alliance, so it’s quite a nice game to have. Pretending that Armageddon never existed, it’s fun to see fights between Frost and Sub-Zero, or Kitana and Mileena. I’m a little bummed out that Johnny Cage and Sonya weren’t able to return from Deadly Alliance, but I am just completely puzzled by the fact that Midway decided to omit Quan Chi and Shang Tsung from Unchained.

The new game mode happens to be one that Mortal Kombat should have had since the beginning, and it is Endurance Mode. This is essentially a survival mode in which you fight an endless wave of AI fighters. I have always enjoyed survival modes, especially in Tekken, because it’s fun to see how far I can get before an opponent finally defeats me.

So aside from a few new characters and a survival mode, there is nothing else new in Unchained. Konquest mode on the other hand has been butchered significantly, downgrading the visuals to an almost uncomfortable level and screwing the camera system up so badly that it hinders your gameplay experience. However, the core fighting system is still intact and is certainly enjoyable if you are a devoted Mortal Kombat fan. If you’ve ever wanted Mortal Kombat on the go and need something to slug away at until the promising Mortal Kombat 9 arrives next year, look no further than Mortal Kombat Unchained.

Final Score

7.3/10