After two decades of making Mortal Kombat games, Ed Boon should be commended. Here's a man that stuck with a franchise that was mocked, misunderstood and long considered a second tier fighting game. It may have taken him nine tries, but at long last Ed was finally able to make the Mortal Kombat that perfectly fulfilled the promise laid out in the 1992 original. If that's not an inspirational story, then I don't know what is.
Sappiness aside, last year's Mortal Kombat was one of the best fighting games in recent memory. It was able to make people completely forget about the long overdue Marvel vs. Capcom sequel and SNK's redrawn King of Fighters game. It got everybody excited to hack, slash and rip the bleeding spine out of a cast of loveable mass murderers. Mortal Kombat got it right, which is why I gave the game an "A" grade the first time I played it.
One year later and I continue to be impressed with what Ed Boon and his team did with Mortal Kombat. To help remind anybody who might have missed the game the first time around, Warner Bros. Games has decided to release Mortal Kombat: Komplete Edition. Like all Game of the Year-style re-releases, this Komplete Edition features all of the downloadable content and a smattering of bonuses.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let's discuss what Mortal Kombat is. In a lot of ways this is a return-to-basics reboot of the franchise name. Despite the gorgeous 3D modeling, this brand new Mortal Kombat is a 2D fighting game through and through. All of the old characters, moves and secrets are back in this 2011 update. Best of all, the game's bone-crushing, blood squirting, spine-ripping violence is as gruesome as ever, which should delight longtime fans of the series.
While much of the gameplay feels traditional, there are a number of additions that can really change the course of a fight. Mortal Kombat has a three-part power meter, which allows players to perform enhanced versions of each character's special moves. On top of that, there's an "X-Ray" attack which shows us in vivid detail exactly what happens when we're hit, stabbed and set on fire by these murderous fighters. Thanks to the much-improved graphic engine, these powerful hits make an impact. I found myself cringing while performing the x-ray attacks, some of them are as brutal as anything I've seen in this series.
Another thing that helps sell the violence is the way the carnage sticks around. Mortal Kombat characters have always showered their opponents in blood, but now that gooey red stuff stays on the fighter. In fact, every punch, slash and stab leaves a mark. By the end of the round each fighter looks completely torn apart, making this one of the most visually satisfying fighters I've ever seen.
In a lot of ways, the new Mortal Kombat is a lot like J.J. Abrams recent Star Trek movie. Instead of starting over from scratch, the game has a conceit where a nearly defeated Raiden sends a message back to himself in the past. This vision hits Mortal Kombat 1 era Raiden, who realizes that he has to scramble and piece together a group of powerful fighters to protect the EarthRealm. He fears that if something isn't done, two realms will merge and humanity will be doomed for eternity. Earth's last hope is riding on Liu Kang, Kung Lao, Jax, Sonya and a handful of other rough and tough brawlers.
This sets into motion a narrative that effectively retells the story of Mortal Kombat 1 - 3. We're given a large cast of familiar faces, nostalgic backgrounds and the same over-the-top fun we had back in the days of the arcade. But not everything is the same. Much like the Star Trek reboot, this new game takes some liberties with the story. Mortal Kombat is full of familiar events happening in fresh new ways, along with just enough twists and turns to make this story exciting again.
In case you haven't noticed, that's a lot of story. Most fighting games have a paper-thin narrative; just enough to justify making a bunch of characters battle it out. But that's not Mortal Kombat. In this game you're given a lengthy (we're talking six - eight hour adventure) story mode that fills in the story of the first three MK releases. Through a series of chapters, we're given the ability to play as sixteen different characters and see how each of them ties into the mythology.
The story mode is nothing more than an interactive soap opera, one that involves lengthy cinema scenes that always result in somebody fighting somebody else. The structure may not be original, but the execution is mind boggling. Not only was Ed Boon able to tell a fairly intricate story full of intersecting characters, but he did it in a way that gave me a greater understanding of the cast as a whole. I found myself constantly impressed that I was starting to care about characters I had written off long ago. Thanks to this game I have a newfound respect for a lot of the minor characters from Mortal Kombat 3 (Stryker, Cyrex, etc.).
As impressive as the lengthy story mode is, it's really just one of the worthwhile modes found in Mortal Kombat. When you're not trying to defeat Shao Kahn once and for all, you can work your way up the 300 story tower. This mode offers fans a chance to test their skills in a number of challenging ways. While most modes require little more than you defeating your opponent, there's usually a catch along the way. Sometimes your controls will be reversed, the fight will happen on the ceiling or you won't be able to block.
That's just the start of the crazy things you'll see while climbing the tower. In one stage you'll play as Cyrex throwing bombs into a moving garbage can. In another level your arms and head will be literally chopped off before the round starts. In another stage your own attack will be to throw your arms and legs at the opponent. Some stages will test your combos; others will look for total damage. You'll often have to learn special moves and perfect the different fatalities. And best of all, these 300 stages become increasingly difficult. You really have to prove your worth if you're going to reach the top of this tower.
Maybe you're not the kind of person that cares about lengthy story modes and a robust challenge tower, maybe you just want to fight like the olden days. Good news, Mortal Kombat features all of the standard arcade-style modes you're used to. You can climb the single-player tower for all 28 fighters, offering a what-if scenario where that fighter wins the tournament. Fans can also go through this arcade-style mode as pairs, turning this game into a tag team affair.
If that's still not enough for you, then you should take a look at Mortal Kombat's four bonus stages. Test Your Might returns from the original Mortal Kombat and is joined by Test Your Luck, Test Your Sight and Test Your Strike. These stages will have you mashing buttons to break objects and watching a disgusting variation on the cup game.
With more than fifteen hours of single-player content, I can see some players going days (or even weeks) before challenging another living person. The amount of content in Mortal Kombat is staggering, and not just for a fighting game. Most modern action games and first-person shooters don't come close to offering this much stuff to do.
This repackaged version still offers all of the incredible modes, extras and fatalities found in last year's $60 model. This time around Warner Bros. Games has reduced the price and added in the additional characters previously only available online. The four new characters include Skarlet, Rain, Kenshi and ... Freddy Krueger? It's true, longtime movie villain is ready to take down Scorpion, Raiden, Jade, Baraka and the rest of the Mortal Kombat gang.
Outside of the four new characters, the Komplete Edition also comes with the downloadable skins. There is also a code for a Mortal Kombat "Songs Inspired By the Warriors" soundtrack. If you ever wondered what Reptile's theme would sound like if performed by Skrillex, the Mortal Kombat: Komplete Edition is for you. Speaking of codes, there is also a slip for a downloadable version of Paul W.S. Anderson's Mortal Kombat movie.
There's no question that the original game was packed, but this Komplete Edition feels uncharacteristically light on content. Four characters and extra skins doesn't feel very substantial, and the movie and soundtrack feels like it was tossed in at the last second. The Borderlands Game of the Year edition came with four lengthy expansion packs, each retailing for $10 when they first came out. The least they could have done was throw in a code for the Mortal Kombat: Arcade Kollection.
The good news is that Mortal Kombat is still an amazing game with hours of crazy content. This version feels like one giant missed opportunity, but that shouldn't prevent you from picking the game up for the first time. Even on my second play through, I still wholeheartedly endorse Ed Boon's reimagined Mortal Kombat.