April 27, 2011
The idea behind this Mortal Kombat is that the game is a reboot of the franchise, and not simply another iteration in the series. It's important to note, because quite frankly, for all the gore and gusto the series first had back in the day, there were a lot of things missing. Seen as the premier Western fighting game series, Mortal Kombat was always straight to the point with its characters. There was no real plot to be seen in the game itself, just some quick back-story for every character followed by a tournament-style ladder that one had to climb as you beat fighters in the game. It also lacked any kind of combo system, providing players with the opportunity to deal out damage provided they knew what the pre-generated moves were, but not really allowing much of any creativity amongst players fighting one another. The result wasn't a bad game persay, it was just a game that relied heavily on the memorability of its characters and the charm they added to push the franchise forward. It's something that flew well in the 90s, but as time moved on gamers, simply require a little bit more in order to become endeared to a series.
Luckily, NetherRealm Studios has taken a lot of the mistakes made by Midway into account, and anyone previously disappointed with the lack of anything in the earlier Mortal Kombat games should find themselves re-evaluating this series for the better. A fleshed out story mode lends not just motivation, but style and substance to characters previously only defined by their looks and a few special moves. Even better than that is the level of seriousness Mortal Kombat takes itself; watching ninjas argue over being turned into robots, or even just watching characters just accept the terms of the outlandish fighting tournament is not only hilarious but well blended into the fights themselves. It also gives players the chance to use and learn multiple characters, where previously players would only pick one character and move through a list of opponents, now it's possible to sit and enjoy an absurd story while cycling through the main roster of fighters. It's a feature that has all but died out in modern fighting games, and one that I'm personally thankful for as it does give players the time to figure out all the various fighting styles. With that said, the roster can be quite finicky and expect not to get along with every single character. You're more than likely to prefer just one or two.
This brings us to the next big point in the series, fighting styles that actually differ from character to character. Though purists would argue that Sub-Zero having a freeze move and Scorpion being able to take his face off was enough differentiation between characters, Mortal Kombat games, aside from the last few, have always lacked real depth. What this reboot brings to the table is exactly that, a chance for players to master individual special attacks that can be linked together for some pretty devastating combos. The button inputs aren't always intuitive, but they're all equally satisfying when you've finally figured out a proper chain. Attacks that stagger the opponent versus attacks that simply knock down the enemy are the key to being able to engage in more deadly and effective combos. Learning the difference between the two is paramount to being able to play the game with any measure of success. Unfortunately, with the preset combo strings, should you execute them and miss, you're pretty much screwed and will be left wide open for a counterattack.
Equally important are the new mechanics the game brings to the table, most of which are oriented around the addition of a super meter. Building up the meter will enable characters to perform an enhanced version of a special attack, the ability to break a combo being performed by an opponent, or likewise enable characters to use an X-ray move; a brutal attack that cleaves off a large portion of the opponents health if it hits. The super bar isn't simply something that a player builds up on their own however. Much of the bar is generated from being hit, which means that the devastating X-ray attacks, or the Defensive Break, are more often going to be utilized by the player taking the biggest beating. On a similar note, the bar carries itself over from round to round, so it's completely possible to save up half a meter from round one, and utilize what you've earned up until that point in later rounds. This addition to Mortal Kombat's gameplay is the most important, as it represents the biggest change in the series' pace.
It's important to note that Mortal Kombat is a reboot, which had the goal of being seen as a serious fighter, so it should come as no surprise that the reboot also features a slew of online multiplayer modes. Tag-Team matches provide further mix-up from the typical gameplay, enabling players to swap between two fighters on the fly using a pretty wide variety of attacks.
Primary characters can jump out for secondary ones to move in, or combo attacks can be used to swap from one character to another while still dealing out a bit of damage. Further versus modes feature a King of the Hill where players can actively taunt those fighting while waiting for their turn in the queue, or you could simply just challenge other players to a simple versus match. Alternatively, players looking for the same old tournament mode that used to be the primary campaign of the old Mortal Kombat is still featured in this one under Challenge Tower, which really extends the life of the game for any player looking to engage themselves offline.
Much like Mortal Kombat vs DC players are no longer fighting with realistic human models, but instead with fully rendered 3D characters moving on a 2D plane. Quite frankly, it's a change for the better, and one that's only been refined since the previous game. Characters look absolutely fantastic from their standing stances to their gory special attacks, and what pulls it all together is the equally impressive sound effects. Every kick, punch, slash and spit sounds brutal in its own right, and pulling it all together with the bone-crunching X-ray moves is beyond satisfying to experience.
The new Mortal Kombat is the result of a development team not only listening to fan feedback, but also one-uping the requests in just about every single way. The feat is particularly impressive when you consider how fickle the fighting game community is when it comes to any changes being made to a favorite franchise, but the final package that this Rebooted Mortal Kombat presents itself in, results in a new flawless victory. And while newcomers to the series can simply appreciate the gameplay for what it is, veterans will draw the most enjoyment out of all the subtle details that have been preserved in the reboot process. Though it's hard to say if all of these changes will make Mortal Kombat as competitive a series as say, Street Fighter, every single step taken by this game is one in the right direction.
Mortal Kombat was reviewed on the Xbox 360. You can read more about GamingUnion.net's scoring policy here.