Who knew Mortal Kombat would be so confusing? Last year, Warner Bros. Interactive released the ninth installment in the popular Mortal Kombat series. But instead of calling it Mortal Kombat 9, they instead chose to shave off any number and subtitles and simply call it Mortal Kombat. Thankfully few people were confused by two completely different games having the same exact name and the game did incredible business at retail. Then, about a year later, the same people decided to release Mortal Kombat: Komplete Edition, a disc that packaged all of the downloadable content and added a time-sensitive code for the soundtrack album.
Here we are only three months later and Warner is back with another version of Mortal Kombat, this time on Sony's brand new handheld. This time around they've dropped the subtitle and called it Mortal Kombat, just like the games from 2011 and 1992. But get this; Mortal Kombat on the Vita actually has brand new content that wasn't in the recently released Komplete Edition, rendering both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 games inkomplete. Confused? Don't be, because all you need to know is that this portable Mortal Kombat is the definitive version of the 2011 masterpiece.
Let's get down to brass tacks; we already know Mortal Kombat
(2011) is a phenomenal fighting game. I've written not one, but two reviews saying as much. I've praised the simple, yet deep fighting system and raved about the impressive amount of single-player content. I went on and on about how well written the story mode is, something you rarely hear about a fighting game. In a year that brought us two Marvel vs. Capcom 3 releases and The King of Fighters XIII, Raiden's team of ultra-violent pugilists reigned supreme.
Despite my strong affection for Ed Boon's fighting game, I wasn't expected to be wowed with the PS Vita version. For one thing, the game in question is more than a year old. What's more, I just recently played through most of the single- and multiplayer content in the ironically named Mortal Kombat: Komplete Edition. There couldn't possibly be enough new content here to make me fall head over heels in love with this game again, right? It turns out I was wrong, because after playing it on every system possible, I still can't put Mortal Kombat down.
The good news is that every single feature found in the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game made the trip to the small screen. You get the excellent story, which spends a dozen hours properly explaining why everybody is important in the Mortal Kombat universe. You get all 300 levels of the challenge tower, which has you fighting with your head chopped off, fighting while poisoned and all kinds of other bizarre tasks. You get the mini-games, such as Test Your Might and Test Your Sight. You get the online multiplayer modes, as well as the endings for each character. Every single thing you loved about the console version can be found in this comprehensive PS Vita game.
In an of itself, that's a pretty good package. Despite being slightly disappointed in the lack of new content in the Komplete Edition
, I still appreciated the four downloadable characters and the new costumes. Mortal Kombat Vita, on the other hand, goes that extra mile and loads the game with a shocking amount of new content. I'm talking about new modes, better integration of the new characters (including a somewhat silly looking Freddy Krueger), classic costumes and, the coup de grace, shiny new challenges to tackle. Best of all, this is all the same price as the Komplete Edition.
The real draw to this Vita version is the bonus challenge tower. Here you'll find a staggering 150 exclusive tasks to complete for more koins, costumes and modes. These new challenges are mostly based around the Vita's gimmicks, such as the tilt sensor, touch screen and more. It's as if everybody in the office came up with their craziest ideas and they decided to execute even and every one of them. Some of them are bizarre and many are undeniably silly, but they fit the tone of Mortal Kombat perfectly and work as an excellent showpiece for what Sony's handheld can do.
A lot of these challenges attempt to add something else for you to do while engaged in fight. One stage will have you wiping blood off the screen as you pummel your opponent. In another stage your character's head will grow and grow until it pops, forcing the player to deflate the noggin by constantly tapping the screen. In yet another variation on this, you'll be forced to use the touch screen to destroy incoming missiles.
Many of the challenges are more creative than simply wiping blood off the screen. In one especially inspired level you'll be able to force the perspective by rotating the PS Vita around. You can actually have the characters fall to the ceiling by flipping the device upside down. In another stage you will shake the screen to drop bonus power-up items. Some stages will even allow you to aim your helper's weapons by tilting the device back and forth, pushing the button to unleash the attack.
Although a few of these task concepts repeat more than I would have liked, there are a ton of surprises in store as you climb the ladder. None of these goofy missions will hold your attention for very long, but they don't need to. The reason this mode works so well is because you never know what you'll run across next, and chances are it will only take you a minute or two to find out. With 450 challenges in total, Mortal Kombat will keep players busy for weeks to come.
On top of the two towers of challenges, this Vita version features a couple new mini-games to waste time with. The first is Test Your Slice, a silly Fruit Ninja rip-off featuring decapitated heads and severed body parts. Test Your Balance has you tilting the portable back and forth trying to keep your character from falling off a narrow plank. Only one of these mini-games is worth returning to after you unlock it, and the other one is Test Your Balance.
But wait, there's more! Mortal Kombat 2012 delivers a bunch of new costumes, including a few from the classic installments from the 1990s. Between what you can unlock, what was originally DLC and what is brand new for the Vita, this Mortal Kombat has an impressive collection of costumes to wear. Furthermore, the fighters get a new fatality move, which involves you lobbing off body parts thanks to the system's touch screen. Sure it's gimmicky, but it's the kind of kitsch that Mortal Kombat is known for.
In a less substantial improvement, this is the first time I've felt like the downloadable content was actually incorporated naturally into the game. In the console versions (including the Komplete Edition) the four new fighters (as well as Kratos) were sidelined to what amounts to a drop down menu. Worse yet, these new characters weren't integrated in any way into the challenge tower. All this has changed with the Vita release. Now all of the characters are featured on one simple screen and you'll find Freddy, Rain and the rest of the DLC line-up taking part in the bonus challenge tower. This really makes the game feel like a complete package.
The transition to the small screen doesn't come without a couple bumps in the road. For one thing, the character models don't seem nearly as sharp as they did on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The backgrounds still look fine, but longtime fans of the console originals will note the change immediately. Thankfully it doesn't take more than a match or two before it all looks completely natural. Even with the slight drop in visual fidelity, Mortal Kombat still looks fantastic on the handheld.
While the developers spent a lot of time making new challenges and modes, one thing they forgot to do was make the rest of the game work with the touch screen. None of the menus or options work by touch, which seems odd after spending so much time with the first-generation Vita line-up. This is especially annoying in the Krypt, where simply touching the thing I want to buy is easier and less time consuming than walking everywhere. These are minor issues, frustrating to only those who have gotten used to the ease of the touch screen.
On the other hand, the gameplay remains rock solid. Controlling the combatants with the Vita's D-pad is a dream; just as good as it is on the PlayStation 3. In fact, I prefer this over playing Mortal Kombat on the Xbox 360, if only because of the placement and quality of the D-pad. The load times are also short, plus it doesn't seem to eat down the handheld's battery life like some games I've played. And with 450 bite-sized challenges to conquer, this works wonderfully as a portable game.
I did not expect to be this impressed with Mortal Kombat 2011 for the third time, yet here I am gushing as if it's the first time I've played the game. Forget that so-called Komplete Edition, this PS Vita version is the definitive port of Mortal Kombat. It offers an enviable amount of content, most of which is well worth your time. Throw in some impressive multiplayer modes and that lengthy story and you have a killer app on Sony's handheld. Even if you already own this on another console, Mortal Kombat Vita has enough new content to warrant double dipping.