Review by bucketofjustice

Reviewed: 05/09/11

So much more than a simple "reboot"...

Mortal Kombat is, depending on the way you count the games, the 9th Mortal Kombat game... or the 12th game... or the 15th game. It all depends on whether you count the spinoff games, such as Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub Zero, Mortal Kombat: Special Forces or Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks. It also depends on whether you count the different versions of Mortal Kombat 3 (MK3 and Ultimate), Mortal Kombat 4 (MK4 and MK Gold) and Mortal Kombat: Deception (MK Deception the the portable MK Deception Unchained). Also, do you count Mortal Kombat Trilogy as a proper game in the tournament series, or as a mish-mash of the first three games that happens to have the tournament series aspect to it? Either way, there have been a lot of Mortal Kombat games, and the worst part is that what I've listed doesn't even hold a candle to the number of Street Fighters out there!

Getting off the rant of how many Mortal Kombat's there are, the new Mortal Kombat is kind of a reboot for the franchise. Many of the new, but not necessarily better features of previous games have been omitted in favor of a return to the series' roots. The questionable quality of having too many characters that played like each other has been abandoned in this new game, as has the presence of so many shockingly similar fatalities. Also left behind is the create-a-fighter feature seen in Mortal Kombat: Armageddon. Gore is fully present, unlike the toned down violence seen in Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. Though the characters are now in 3D, all of the fighting takes place on the same 2D plane as the series' earliest and best entries.

This is Mortal Kombat. In 2011. In all its bloody glory.

The first thing you'll notice is the menu. The screen features series favorites Sub Zero and Scorpion alongside the game's logo. After pressing start, Scorpion will uppercut Sub Zero and you'll get a glimpse of the game's new x-ray gimmick of Sub Zero's jaw being broken. Players can then choose the number of players and the game mode, plus tinker with the game's options. Of course, no matter the mode of play (all of which I will address later in the review), the fighting gameplay is most important, so we'll start off discussing that.

Mortal Kombat's gameplay has certainly evolved since its arcade beginnings. Buttons and functions have been added and removed over the years, features have been added and stripped, and we've encountered so many versions of so many characters and their fighting styles. Though the game plays differently this time around, there's not much of a learning curve for anyone who has played a Mortal Kombat game before. Gone is the run button from MK3. The multi-layered environments from Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe have also been left behind. The different fighting styles, including specific weapon styles, from the Deadly Alliance/Deception/Armageddon games are gone. There's front and back versions of punch and kick, the obligatory block button and another button that dictates whether your front is facing the playing field or the back is (don't ask me about that one). There's a seventh button in effect as well, though it's just pressed in conjunction with the block button to do the x-ray moves, which are certifiable game-changers. X-ray moves always do a lot of damage, especially from a boss character, which as always are still overpowered and can be terribly cheap. Shao Kahn in particular is a cheap-as-hell boss, not too different from his AI in the old MK games.

The graphics in this game are good-to-great. There are some muddy looking textures, some robotic animation (though in all fairness not nearly as much as in previous iterations of the game), and a couple things that are slightly "off," such as some blood on a character's clothes that is strangely shiny. Still, the characters are mostly good to look at and the backgrounds aren't static, which is nice. In fact, the backgrounds are pretty awesome. Some of them, such as the Living Forest and the Pit, kind of make me wish there was an in-game feature that allowed us to get some kind of free-roam camera and explore. The backgrounds are so full of life, and really look great on both the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3.

There's a pretty decent color palette at play, too, though nothing that will make gamers think they're playing a Mario game. Still, this is a far cry from the past few games that looked drab as drab can be. Details can range from amazing to horrible, from Cyber Sub-Zero's damage on his metal frame to certain parts of Baraka's clothing close-up.

A lot of the old special moves that Mortal Kombat veterans will remember are still present, and they're mostly faithful to the old inputs. Combos aren't as reliant on the dial-a-combo style found in Mortal Kombat 3, though they do still exist in the game. Combos also flow much more naturally than in previous games, and instead of disjointed animation showing you the combo you get fluid movements, which are a very nice touch.

The audio quality is standard fare here, which isn't to say it's bad... it's just there. Groans, grimaces, and screams of torture all ring true to the series, and every character is represented differently. This isn't like Armageddon or titles before, where every character sounded the same. The music is largely forgettable, though some tunes do sound rather faithful to the previous games.

Arcade ladder is reminiscent of the old Mortal Kombat games. Choose a fighter and a difficulty (you can also choose difficulty in the Options, but it's nice they allow the choice after you pick a fighter too) and you'll be on your way. Ten fights await you, and much like MKII, the final three are going to be the main villains of the Mortal Kombat mythology. The other seven are random fighters. The fights do absolutely (and obviously) get progressively harder, though it's kind of a crapshoot as to which definition of “harder” NetherRealm Studios intended to do in the first place. There's harder in the natural progression of fights, where the fighters put up more of a challenge, and while you win or lose you don't ever feel overwhelmed. Then there's typical Mortal Kombat "rubber band" AI. You'll get trounced like no tomorrow in a very cheap and overwhelming matter, and then the AI will be a pushover. Then the AI will snap back and you'll get trounced all over again. Rinse and repeat. It's kind of 50/50 as it stands right now, as I've experienced both about equally. I've felt like some fights were mine to lose (and I did, trust me) and some I never had a chance to begin with.

There's also a Tag ladder mode, where you pick a team of two characters and fight teams of characters. You'll fight seven teams of two, then the last three villains. The third from the top will only take half the damage he usually would, presumably to simulate him having two life bars. The final two fight and take damage the same regardless of which mode you face them in.

There's also straight-up modes for the four mini-games you'll find in Challenge Tower (which I'll get to later). There's Test Your Might, Strike, Sight, and Luck. Each one is vastly different, though at least two of these have appeared in previous Mortal Kombat games. Test Your Might is the same mini-game as in the very first Mortal Kombat game all those years ago. You're presented with an item to break and you must mash the face buttons to build the sidebar up to break the item. It plays the same way as well. Test Your Strike is new to the series here as far as I know, and it's almost the same as Test Your Might, except it's a precision thing. You do the same thing, but you must keep the top of the meter in a specific place before you strike, or else you lose. Test your Sight returns to the series, placing an object under skulls or cups or something similar and shuffles them and you have to pick the correct one. Pick the wrong one and you lose, and most likely you'll die. That's right, fail a mini-game and you'll get acid dropped on you or you will get cut in half. Finally, Test Your Luck is a slot machine. Take a character, and spin the slot machine. It determines your opponent as well as fight conditions, such as no jumping, throws disabled, health boosts, etc.. And those are some of the lamer ones. There's conditions where the screen's upside down, the controls are messed up, the game goes dark, etc.. Sometimes it's fun and sometimes not, though it can get convoluted with bigger slot machines because there's so many different conditions.

The meat and potatoes as far as game modes go are three-fold. First, the Story mode. You take control of various characters and fight other characters, with varying conditions. The cutscenes aren't skippable, which is fine because they're vital to the story (without them, you're just taking control of characters fighting other characters for no real reason) and they're also well done. The voice actors fit the characters as we've come to know them over the years and the story is fleshed out. Also, this isn't like some other Mortal Kombat games where it's disjointed voice acting. Believe it or not, it's actually good! While some of the story doesn't make much sense at all, a lot of the story does get explained rather well over your time with the game. It's also nice to see some of the characters from other Mortal Kombat games make cameos here, even if they weren't featured prominently.

The second mode is Challenge Tower. Here, 300 challenges await in an Arcade ladder format. Keep in mind that the Arcade ladder goes to 10, and those are just straight fights. The Challenge Tower is a combination of the Arcade mode and the Story mode, but the result is a fleshed out offering that will take a long time for anyone to overcome.

Online play is the third extensive mode. For Xbox 360, you need to have a Gold subscription (as if you didn't know), but you also need what's called a Kombat Pass, which is included in new copies of the game, but requires a one-time $10 download for those that bought used and didn't luck out. There's the usual stuff online, with ranked matches and a new mode called King of the Hill, which is supposed to simulate the old arcade setting of placing your quarter on the cabinet to signify that you're next to play the winner.

As they have in the past, unlockables play a huge part in Mortal Kombat. This means the return of the Krypt. Players earn Koins (and yes, I spelled it right) in all of the other modes which can then be spent on various items in the Krypt. Unlockables include concept art, alternate costumes, background music, fatalities, new renders, etc. The entire Krypt is full of the stylish gore Mortal Kombat is known for. For instance, in one area a gravestone will explode and zombie arms will pop up holding a small box. It opens and a “soul” is released, which provides you with your prize. In another area, a person is beheaded before you can receive your prize. The animations are fun to watch the first couple of times,but then they get old and you just want your stuff. There's also the Nekropolis, where you can view character bios and costumes, and toggle various options, like whether the bio screen shows fight damage on the character or not, etc. It's a pretty cool addition.

Overall, Mortal Kombat is a throwback to its predecessors while also being a front-runner for most shocking game of the year. I can't help but think that this was what the creators were hoping to do 20 years ago when they were fleshing out the mythology of Mortal Kombat. The game's imagery is amazing, the storytelling is well done and the actual fighting is top-notch. There are some things that should have been fixed or overhauled, but they're not much more than a nuisance. This fight is one you'll want to jump into, not just for the gore but for the sheer fun factor that the series has lacked in recent years.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Product Release: Mortal Kombat (US, 04/19/11)

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