Everyone has that one friend. You know, that friend who you thought was absolutely hilarious in middle school and invited to all your parties? And even though you guys are now in college he’s still making fart jokes and skipping class to play Pokémon games and you pretend you don’t know him?
That’s Mortal Kombat.
It started out as a fun fighting game whose fatalities caused all below the age of 17 to giggle hysterically while hurryingly turning off the console when their mom walked into the room. As time wore on however, it became clear that gore was Mortal Kombat’s ONLY selling point.
Fighting franchises such as Street Fighter and Dead or Alive quickly surpassed it in terms of depth and quality, leaving Mortal Kombat feeling sluggish and unbalanced. Mortal Kombat fans, while enjoying their favorite game, have always had the uncomfortable position of defending their second -tier fighter from critics.
As a man who has dabbled in fighters as strategic as Street Fighter IV to something as cartoony as Super Smash Bros. Brawl, I can safely say this:
Mortal Kombat is back.
1) NetherRealm Studios did away with the three dimensional movement and built the fighting engine around the traditional 2D interface. One of the biggest problems of recent Mortal Kombat games are that projectiles were useless; a simple sidestep could dodge them every time. Now projectiles can only be blocked or jumped over, meaning they can be used to set up traps or zone an opponent on the other side of the screen.
This also means that Netherealm Studios could build a more polished fighting engine. They created a new “X-Ray meter”, which works similarly to the super and ultra meter employed by Street Fighter IV. When fully charged, it allows the usage of X-Ray attacks which can take out more than a third of your opponent’s health. However, you can also use the bar to break out of long combos or power up your normal attacks and this system actually works really well. It keeps the combo system from getting as absurd as Marvel vs. Capcom but still rewards elite players with big damage.
2) Another wonderful feature is that they’ve really fleshed out the single player campaign. Yes, at heart Mortal Kombat is still about gathering a bunch of your buddies and painting the stage red with blood, but there are times when you won’t have friends over. The skill gap between basement gamers and online gamers is absurd when it comes to fighting games, so there will be times when players will want to kick back and solo their adventure.
The story mode, while very fun, is still very cheesy and Shao Kahn is just as frustrating as ever. The real gameplay lengthener, however, is the Challenge Tower.
These are a series of challenges that go from 1-300, and they are actually oodles of fun. There are some standard training challenges where you have to perform your special moves, hit a certain person in a certain body part a certain number of times, or have the odds stacked against you.
But then there are challenges that absolutely come out of left field. I will try to do my best to do them justice without ruining the surprise:
– There is a challenge where Johnny Cage and Jade go on a date and Jade gets food poisoning, and will lose health over the course of her fight.
– There is a challenge where the fighters will have no arms and will have to use only kicks in order to beat the opponent.
– There is a fight where Sindel complains that the humidity is messing up her hair, so Sub Zero attempts to cool her off . . . by beating her up.
Combined with the new “Test Your Luck” and zombie mini-games, I can genuinely say that the Challenge Tower is funny, difficult and above all: entertaining.
3) Mortal Kombat has ascended into the HD generation well, because this game looks GORGEOUS. The Virtually unchanged costumes look brilliant in 1080p and the backgrounds are entertaining and bizzare enough to make you pause the game and check out what’s going on.
I need to offer one piece of advice for people looking up reviews for Mortal Kombat: DO NOT LISTEN TO IGN.
I offer IGN a massive amount of respect as a gaming medium, and their review strongly influences the sales of any games. However, IGN gave Mortal Kombat an 8.0/10 for very contrived and controversial reasons. Most other sites (including the readers and press ratings of IGN) have it ranked between 8.5 and 9.4. The difference between 8.0 and 8.5 is huge, because an 8.5 is the minimum most elite tournament fighting games receive.
If you think IGN got it right and the other sites got it wrong, consider this:
Wednesday Night Fights has added Mortal Kombat to their lineup.
For those of you who don’t know, Wednesday Night Fights was started very recently on the West Coast by a group of avid fighting game specialists who gathered together every week. Soon, their roster expanded to the point where they needed to rent out a hotel ballroom every week to conduct their event and they now have “Seasons” that are streamed live.
The fighters who attend Wednesday Night Fights are some of the best in the business. There’s Justin Wong, who is consistently ranked in the world’s top 3 Street Fighter players. There’s Combofiend, whose nick-name is frighteningly appropriate for anyone who has played him in Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Even Clockw0rk, who revolutionized Marvel vs. Capcom 3 by utilizing the “Dark Phoenix” strategy.
If the best players in the world have allowed Mortal Kombat into their midst, IGN has no place to argue.
So please, if you’re a Mortal Kombat fan . . . spend $59.99 and test your might. If you’re not a Mortal Kombat fan, it’s the right time to become one.