Review by Sise_Neg
"Murder is a Dying Art"
It has been five years since the release of the last installment in the Mortal Kombat series, which was titled Mortal Kombat: Armageddon. It was planned to be the last MK on the PS2 and everybody was hoping the series would fix some of its flaws from previous games and go out with a bang. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Armageddon received shoddy reviews and it appeared as if Mortal Kombat would remain a 2nd-rate fighter from that point on. Move on to the year 2011 where Midway is under liquidation as of filing bankruptcy. What does this mean for the future of Mortal Kombat? Well, it's ultimately a good thing. Wait make that a great thing. The developers at NetherRealm Studios stepped in to take control of Mortal Kombat and they knew that they needed to revamp the series in order to put Mortal Kombat back on top of the fighting game world as it had been in the 1990s. Fortunately, NetherRealm Studios did everything right. Returning to Mortal Kombat's 2D fighting mechanics and going back to the story of the original trilogy as well as adding an enormous amount of bonus content, veterans and newcomers will both be amazed at what Mortal Kombat 9 has to offer. Only a few minor flaws keep Mortal Kombat 9 from receiving a perfect score, but it nevertheless set a new standard for future fighting games.
The battle system in Mortal Kombat 9 is a return to the 2D plane of the first three games in the series. This is a welcome departure from the 3D fighting plane featured in the last generation consoles. Projectiles become more effective and it makes it easier for newcomers to pick up Mortal Kombat and enjoy the game due to the lower learning curve. One noticeable difference this time that's new to the series is the button commands. This time around each button represents a limb on the fighter, exactly like in the Tekken franchise. This also reduces complexity in inputting commands and makes the learning process not as aggravating for the casual gamer. However, this is not all that has been added to the gameplay. Each fighter has a super meter at the bottom of the screen that has 3 levels of power, somewhat like the hyper meter in the Marvel vs Capcom games, though not quite the same. As combos are executed and the opponent takes damage, the player performing the combos will charge their super meter. The first level of the meter can be depleted for a stronger version of the character's special attack and two meters can be used to break an opponent's combo if he has you in a tight spot. The greatest addition happens when all three meters are filled up the X-Ray attack. Each Mortal Kombat character has its own unique X-Ray special move that will deplete a good chunk of the opponents health if landed. These moves utilize some matrix-like slo mo and the camera will zoom in and show the insides of the character being beaten, revealing the bone and sinew damage taking place. Aside from this, fighting veterans will be satisfied to know that there are various combos, cancels, juggles, projectiles and all sorts of ways to mix around attacks. While not as complex as other fighters, there is still a lot of strategy that can be utilized to confuse the opposition thereby making Mortal Kombat a great game for tourneys.
There are quite a few game modes to keep players entertained. Such as Tag Team, where two players can team up against two opponents and switch each other out at any moment in time, adding an extra layer of depth to battles. The Fatality Training Mode allows people to practice inputting fatalities for their characters. This mode is a welcome addition to the franchise, as you can now learn within the game where to stand relative to the opponent and what button sequence needs to be pressed in order to perform the iconic fatalities at the end of the round. In the original games fatalities were sometimes ridiculous to pull off, but now it is no longer a chore to claim that gruesome reward after beating your opponent into the ground. Perhaps the most striking change is the Challenge Tower. The Challenge Tower consists of 300 challenges ranging from easy to incredibly frustrating that will give you money to use in the Krypt where multiple rewards such as fatality inputs, concept art and sketches and alternate costumes can be purchased. The variety in the challenges is vast and thankfully it is not an exercise in tedium. There is also Online Mode where players can do single vs matches against an opponent or a King of the Hill mode that plays like a tournament and people in line can watch matches and boo or cheer a player's progress throughout the match. There are gripes about the online that take away from its value, but that will be explained later on in this review.
Yes. You read it right. There is actually a legitimate story mode in Mortal Kombat 9. But this is not some poor excuse for a story mode that is simply thrown in there. No, this is more like the most involving and detailed story mode seen in a fighting game to date. The story mode goes through the original Mortal Kombat games, Mortal Kombat 1 through Mortal Kombat Trilogy. But it is not merely a rehash. NetherRealm decided to put their own take on the story so while much of it retains its familiarity to the veterans of the series a lot of new things will still be discovered. This does not mean that the story of the originals was retconned in any way; rather the story takes place within an alternate timeline where Raiden has tried to change the outcome of events in order to prevent the evil Shao Kahn's rule. This new timeline allows for new characters to be created, as well as some old ones to be eliminated. A pleasant aspect of the story is that it forces you to play as different characters through multiple chapters. On the one hand, this means the player is forced to memorize new combos every half hour or so. On the other, it makes it so the story never gets boring as multiple angles of the story will be seen, such as how certain rivalries were formed. Perhaps the best thing about the story, and something that people who were kids in the 90s will appreciate, is that the developers borrowed a lot from the original Mortal Kombat movie that came out in 1995. Johnny Cage's silly one-liners in this game were heavily influenced by Linden Ashby's portrayal of the character and Kano has been remodeled to look like and have the same Australian accent that Trevor Goddard had as Kano. For the most part the voice acting is great, although there are some who sound as if their voice actors were bored when in the recording studio, but that's to be expected.
The graphics are solid in most aspects, during cutscenes as well as actual gameplay. Character models are all unique and great detail was taken in their appearances. The girls all have subtle differences in their appearances and all utilize breast physics, as fan-service to the male players. The only noticeable problem with the graphics, however, is the hair. Any of the characters with hair showing look as if they used a bucket of gel on themselves before the tournament started. It is only a minor complaint in the grand scheme of things, however.
Some standard Mortal Kombat stuff here. Not bad at all, but none of the music is really all that memorable. It would have been nice had the music from Mortal Kombat Trilogy made a return, as that arguably had the best soundtrack out of any Mortal Kombat game due to how sinister it sounded. Still, the music here is not anything that will annoy you. It's simply forgettable. But then again, who plays fighters for the music? I sure don't.
Sound effects are spectacular. NetherRealm Studios took that extra step in fan-service when they added in the classic sound effects for character specials, such as Raiden's hilarious screams when performing his special attacks or Shao Kahn's sinister laugh or the classic FINISH HIM! and FATALITY! Some classic sound effects are noticeably gone, however. Liu Kang's multiple screams during his bicycle kick have been removed, perhaps to the disappointment, or the pleasure, of long-time fans of the series. The sound effects for special attacks all sound realistic and painful and it is great to hear the screams of your opponent when performing a fatality on them.
Mortal Kombat 9, while a fantastic game, is not perfect. The single biggest flaw about the game is the horrendous lag during online play. The lag is pretty bad during single vs matches and absolutely abysmal in King of the Hill mode, making it practically unplayable. There is perhaps nothing more frustrating in a fighting game than noticeable online lag. The lag between button inputs and move execution is so bad that it forces players to change their tactics during online play and most matches will result in each player trying to out-spam the opponent in order to make up for this. Hopefully this will be fixed in a future patch. Also, for some reason there's no single player vs cpu option in the game as in previous titles. It would be nice if the developers could install this in the future.
An additional complaint is that when playing multiplayer the player can pause the game and look at his move list at any time, for as long as he wants. This really breaks the flow of gameplay and it would have been nice if there was an option to turn this feature off. Now of course this is not a problem when two skilled players who know what they are doing face each other, but it would have been nice to have the option to remove the ability to pause the game at any moment of the round.
The last gripe with the game doesn't have to do with the gameplay, but rather the character design choices. Some of the redesigns in Mortal Kombat 9 are great, but some are absolutely ridiculous and nonsensical. One example would be Smoke's hair. Some like the change but the way his hair is rendered makes him look like a troll. Sonya's outfit is far too revealing to be government clothing, and although I'm all for revealing clothing on the females (Mileena :P) it is somewhat nonsensical, yes I know it's a fictional setting, but still I don't think Sonya's outfit would be government issued. Finally, the absolute worst character redesign has to go to Kitty-taro, uhm scuse me, I mean Kintaro. Remember that very intimidating and frustrating sub-boss from Mortal Kombat II? Well, he is no longer in this game. He has, in fact, been replaced by a Shokan gypsy who has just come back from a carnival and gotten his face painted to look like a tabby cat. He is also quite small in size this time around and is very hard to take seriously due to his lolcat face. For some reason the developers got rid of his menacing battle stance as well.
Despite the little flaws that keep Mortal Kombat 9 from being a perfect game, it is still without a doubt the best Mortal Kombat to date and has set a level of dedication that developers of future fighting games should follow. The amount of content and detail to the story is unprecedented and there is a wonderful blend of fan service while also making the game accessible to new players. We can now forget the abysmal Mortal Kombat games that plagued the PS2 and Xbox. Mortal Kombat 9 has revived the series.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 05/16/11
Game Release: Mortal Kombat (US, 04/19/11)
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