Whereas the Street Fighter series upheld it’s twenty year reign by maintaining its technical sophistication, the Mortal Kombat franchise has often resorted to gimmicks to preserve an audience. From delivering a succession of increasingly outrageous fatalities to the inclusion of a kart-racer and a puzzle game within Armageddon and Deception, Ed Boon and company have struggled to retain the series’ relevancy. With a moniker which reveals a masterful back-to-basics approach, Mortal Kombat shows that the game just needed to focus on the fighting. As such, the ninth iteration in the long running series has been rejuvenated- possibly sampling the same elixir that’s been keeping Goro energetic and enraged for the last 1,000 years.
Obviously, the game’s plot wouldn’t matter if the fighting wasn’t up to snuff; advantageously, nearly all of the title’s tweaks improve the Kombat. The game’s most gratifying attacks hinge on a charged meter. With one full bar, heavy strikes are elevated into formidable assaults, while two bars can initiate a Kombo-breaker, to halt an eminent blitzkrieg of blows. At maximum capacity, the gauge can release one of the game’s signature sights- where players are shown an x-ray of splintering bones, shattering skulls, and squashed organs. While the effect is amazingly visceral, it’s also a bit bizarre to see a fighter persist after his/her cranium has been thoroughly gouged. Typically, solitary campaigns in the fighting genre are little more than warm-ups for multiplayer competitions- however, Mortal Kombat‘s triple -strike single-player combo rivals the title’s more sociable components. Story Mode is a seven-hour narrative that re-imagines the history of the first three MK titles. Cutscenes which straddle the chasm between camp and earnestness are seamlessly intersected by fight sequences. While I would have appreciated a branching storyline (a loss shuttles players off to the retry screen), it’s difficult not to admire NetherRealm’s aspirations of escalating the energy of each tournament tussle. The game’s 300-task Challenge Tower diligently battles tedium by throwing a myriad of variations at players. From the old ‘Test Your Might’ mini-games to halting an invasion of zombies using projectile attacks, each successful assignment rewards participants with coin to spend in the Krypt- the game’s morose mall. While trinkets like concept art and costumes might be fluff to hardcore players, I found the shopping excursions accompanied by giddiness. Finally, the unambiguously-titled ‘Fight’ mode defies gamers to beat a succession of foes, leading up to a match with Shao Khan. Upon vanquishing the final boss, players are rewarded with yet another piece of the intricate Mortal Kombat mythos.
Fans of tag-team based fighters will be pleased to learn that four challenger matches fit faultlessly into the game. With options for tag-assists and tag-attacks, bouts are delightfully energetic. Once players master the fundamentals of juggle-openers, rivalries become even more hyperkinetic, with players pounding wildly on recumbent foes. Although Mortal Kombat’s skirmishes can sporadically appear spastic, characters exhibit a decent amount of balance. While a majority of the 27 fighters retain their repertoire of signature moves, a few changes have been made. One example- Liu Kang’s charged kicks are imitated with direction pad taps now.
Mortal Kombat‘s return to rudiments approach has also been applied to the game’s perspective. Eliminating the three-dimensional arenas of recent franchise entries, the title returns the MK to its 2D roots. As such, the actual fighting looks brilliant, with characters suffering cuts and bruises during matches, and a enduring splashes of blood coating each venue floor. While the title’s refresh rate typically hovers around sixty-frame per second, occasional sputters can be observed during fierce combos. Undoubtedly, a considerable amount of work went into the title’s fatalities- which produce gratifying globules of blood and entrails. Regretfully, Kombatants don’t quite look as spectacular in the game’s cinematics, often exhibiting replicating hair textures and appearing bloated. Although PS3 owners are rewarded with the inclusion of Kratos, the Ghost of Sparta doesn’t demonstrate his usual imposing aura, often looking like a re-skinned late addition.
After years of being the obnoxious lout in Street Fighter‘s shadow, Mortal Kombat has finally delivered an entry worthy of standing beside Capcom’s beloved fighter. With components which deliver far more that the usual single-player snippets, the title occasionally outshines the prevailing champion- making MK a requisite purchase for all fighting game fanatics.