Do you believe in comebacks? Even though I've always had an appreciation for Ed Boon's brutally violent fighting franchise, I'm realistic that the old Mortal Kombat games were nothing more than a guilty pleasure. This is a franchise that chose blood and gore over refined gameplay. Players didn't flock to their local arcades (and later home consoles) for the highly killed tournament play, they just wanted to see pools of blood and fatalities.
For years Mortal Kombat has been happy to play into the guilty pleasure. Instead of focusing on consistent fight mechanics, the developers instead decided to continue piling more and more brutality into the series. The end result was a franchise that took themselves too seriously and couldn't compete with most other fighting games.
This brand new Mortal Kombat game (the ninth, not that anybody is keeping count) goes a long way to fix the wounds of past fifteen years. This is not just another sequel; this is the Mortal Kombat game I have been dreaming about since the early 1990s. This is the first installment to successfully capture the intriguing (though appropriately goofy) narrative and marry it with solid fight mechanics. And boy is it bloody. This game is overflowing with finishing moves, powerful x-ray move, stage fatalities and more. This is everything you have ever wanted in a Mortal Kombat game.
Going in I knew the game looked good, but I wondered how it would play. This is a franchise known for throwing out its old gameplay in order to make something new. Thankfully this new game harkens back to the gameplay of Mortal Kombat II. Ed Boon didn't set out to copy the feel of the old games; instead his team has crafted a mechanic that manages to feel fresh and honor the legacy. The gameplay is still not as smooth as what is found in Street Fighter IV, but it's far beyond anything we've seen in a Mortal Kombat game. I can imagine a time when this series will be taken seriously in the tournament scene. You couldn't say that about Deadly Alliance
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.
Of the bonus stages, only Test Your Luck is the one that has legs. In this mode a large slot machine will pop up and its spin will spell out your fate. It will choose the characters, handicaps (no arms, no blocking, etc.) and stage effects. Once you have your assignment, it's up to you to overcome the challenge. This is an exciting mode that reminded me why I loved Mortal Kombat II so much. There's a randomness to all of the action that is refreshing.
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. If you're somebody who felt burned by the lack of things to do in Marvel vs. Capcom 3, then Mortal Kombat is the $60 fighting game you can feel good about buying.
On top of the game's strong single-player content, there are also a few worthwhile multiplayer modes. Players get the usual one-on-one battles, along with the tag team variation. The game also allows you to input codes (like those found in Mortal Kombat 3) to change up the handicaps. Parties can even get involved in a brand new four-player mode, though that restricts the game to the two-on-two variation. There's also an online mode that boasts a number of ways to play. Unfortunately I have no firsthand experience with this mode as Sony's PSN service has been down since launch.
Just about everything you do in Mortal Kombat earns you coins. Much like past entries, this game offers a giant Krypt, where players use their newfound money to unlock new fatalities, costumes, music and more. While there's nothing earthshattering in this mode, I was impressed with the amount of old school content I recognized. It was great to hear some of the original music; it perfectly fits the many stages influenced by the first three games. If any series deserved this much fan service, it's Mortal Kombat.
There's no question that this game mashes that nostalgia button. So much of this game feels like it was ripped directly out of the first three games, from the characters to the stages. Outside of the weird stunt casting of Kratos, there aren't many new faces in this ninth Mortal Kombat game. The stages are also familiar, including a haunted forest, the courtyard, Goro's lair, a bunch of pits and many more. All of this works for this reboot, but I can't wait to see this team push this fiction forward in new and interesting ways.
Mortal Kombat isn't just a solid reboot of a beloved franchise; it's also one of the best fighting game of the year. NetherRealm Studios has finally made Mortal Kombat relevant. This is a package with an enviable amount of content, including a story mode that truly ups the ante for all fighting games in the future. If this is the new direction for this franchise, then I definitely want more Mortal Kombat!
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Ed Boon can rest easy, his Mortal Kombat reboot is a resounding success. With its creative modes, stellar story and revamped fighting mechanics, Mortal Kombat is one of the best fighting games on the PlayStation 3. Best of all, there's more than enough single-player content for even those who never want to go up against another human being. Flawless victory!