Game Rant's Ryan Blanchard reviews Mortal Kombat.
Over the years, many fighting series have come and gone, eventually losing the spark that drew people to them - as they fade into obscurity. After numerous sequels, all series lose that luster. Whether or not a series is able to reclaim the original fire is what make a truly iconic series.
One of the best examples of this is Mortal Kombat. Not only has the series won numerous Guinness World Records, but it has seen its release on just about every platform imaginable throughout the years.
With the 2008 release of Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe, many fans were left wondering whether the venerable fighting series had passed its prime. For a series whose main focus was its over-the-top violence, the shift to a teen rating in order to appeal to a broader audience left a bad taste in many gamers' mouths. Now, the ninth game in the series is here, but does it manage to remind fans of the reasons why they fell in love with the series in the first place, or will it become just another forgettable addition to an aging titan?
Developed by NetherRealm Studios, Mortal Kombat sees the series making a return to its roots in the best way possible. Moving away from the 3D gameplay of recent installments (as well the Teen rating of the prior game), Mortal Kombat plays like a dressed-up next generation version of the original titles in the series. It's refreshing to see that a developer is able to take notice of what fans want from a series, offering fan-service while refining the gameplay - rather than attempting to reinvent the wheel.
In terms of story, Mortal Kombat manages to achieve much more than most modern fighting games. While games like Super Street Fighter 4 and Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 focus almost entirely on the gameplay experience, practically ignoring the inclusion of any sort of cohesive story, Mortal Kombat attempts to give gamers a reason to fight by including a story mode that connects each fight with a cutscene - which provide insight into the character's motivations for fighting.
The plot is an alternative re-telling of the first three games in the series where Raiden, about to fall at the hands of Shao Kahn, sends a message to his past self, warning of the future events - and the coming end of worlds. The story then follows Raiden in the past (during the events of Mortal Kombat 1-3) as he attempts to make sense of the visions he is receiving - while also fighting to prevent them from coming true. It may not win any awards, but the plot is interesting and provides sufficient motivation for the player as they jump between characters, trying to keep Shao Khan from destroying all realities.
That said, Mortal Kombat is all about the violence and without a cast of recognizable, memorable characters, there'd be no reason to continue maiming your enemies for more than a rental period - fortunately, this is not the case. Since the game is a return to the series' roots, just about every fan-favorite is present, including our ten favorite characters. Whether you're interested in classics like Scorpion and Sub-Zero, or robotic favorites Sektor and Cyrax, there are characters to fit every play-style. With 25 characters in the Xbox 360 version (Kratos is added to this total in the PS3 version) as well as two secret unlockable characters, each of the kombatants has a distinct feel about them making for a varied fighting experience.
Not only are each of the characters given depth in the story mode, as they are forced to do battle with one another, each of their personalities and characteristics are shown quite effectively during kombat as they move around the battlefield. While games like Street Fighter have iconic characters that are instantly recognizable, the characters that make up the Mortal Kombat universe seem to have that extra level of personality that helps bring them to life.
The characters would be nothing if the power behind the Xbox 360 and PS3 weren't up for the task - resulting in fluid kombat that features incredibly detailed character design. While the fighters and environments are all rendered in 3D, the gameplay takes place on a traditional 2D plane. Gone are the days where Scorpion, Sub-Zero and Reptile are all identical ninjas with slight color alterations. Rather, each character has their own distinctive flair, standing out from one another on the battlefield. The detail put into each of the characters and their alternate costumes is impressive, as each of the fighters realistically begin to show damage as the fight rages on - exposing bone and tearing away clothing.
Blood also reacts realistically, covering the fighters as they beat on one another - as well as coating the environment around them. Not only that, but the stages also react to the fighters' presence. On the desert stage for example, sand is pushed around as the kombatants move back and forth, forming in piles at their feet. Compared to games like Marvel Vs. Capcom 3, it's great to see this level of player interaction with the environment, especially when each of the stages look so great, filled with just as much personality as the characters. While it's only a minor detail in the grand scheme of things, it really helps to draw the player into the game.
The one question that is on everyone's mind though, is whether the gameplay is worthy of the Mortal Kombat series. While Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe attempted to stay as true to the Mortal Kombat universe as it could, given subject matter, the gameplay ended up falling short - feeling clunky and slow. Luckily, this iteration in the series returns to the pure fun that made up the original three games in the series. While it looks beautiful on next-gen consoles, this is a classic Mortal Kombat game through and through - with a lot of improvements. The latest installment is sure to satisfy casual fans of the series while also introducing plenty of expert combo mechanics for hard-core players. It may not be as quiet as deep as tournament-favorite Street Fighter 4 but there's plenty of depth to this Mortal Kombat for expert players to discover. The title offers, without a doubt, the most refined gameplay in the series.
All of the extreme violence normally associated with the series is back, and in high definition glory, so that you can see every bone-crunching blow and blood splatter. Speaking of crunching bones, one of the most interesting new additions to the series is the ability to unleash an incredibly strong X-Ray attack - after filling up a special bar at the bottom of the screen. These attacks, provided the player lands one on your oponent, will launch the fighter into an unstoppable frenzy, unleashing a cinematic barrage of blows, slowing down time and showing an X-ray image of the opponent as their bones and organs crunch under the force of the blows. While squeamish gamers may not have the easiest time keeping their eyes on the screen, it really helps to keep with the extreme levels of violence that comes to mind when people think of Mortal Kombat.
Just as they all have their own distinct visual flair, each of the playable kombatants have their own distinct play-styles - with some favoring ranged battles, while others would rather get in close to take down their opponent. Regardless of your play-style, there is a character to suit it. However, mixing it up is a must - since they are all equally fun to play as, and if you're going to put together a strong, well-rounded team for tag matches, you'll need to experiment with each of the different characters.
The incredibly fun, brutal, nostalgic gameplay would be nothing if there weren't enough interesting modes to support. Luckily, Mortal Kombat delivers where it counts. As previously mentioned, there is a fully-featured story mode that gives gamers the motivation needed to follow the colorful characters and take sides. On top of this, gamers also have access to the fighting game staple of Arcade mode where you fight through a series of increasingly difficult opponents before facing a final boss. As players work through each of the modes, they earn Koins. By entering the Krypt, Koins can be spent on unlockables like new fatalities or alternate costumes. One of the additions that was most impressive though was the wealth of tutorial modes.
Rather than just provide gamers with the button combinations to pull off each move and combo, the tutorials in Mortal Kombat actually teach the basics of the game, all the way down to basic movement, and all the way up to the specific button sequences for each character's fatality. It's great to see that the developers are making it possible for people who are completely new to jump in and learn the games mechanics - without having to resort to trial and error against AI opponents.
On top of these modes, there is also the Challenge Tower which consists of 300 challenges ranging from simple fights between two pre-determined combatants, to mini-games like Test Your Might and Test Your Strike. While the idea may seem like it would get old quickly, the special rules that are placed on the fights, as well as the mini-games dispersed throughout, help to stand as a nice diversion after long bouts online. Of course, there is competitive online play but, in addition, NetherRealm has included the new King Of The Hill mode - where players are grouped into a party where two participants do battle as the others spectate on-screen in a fashion reminiscent of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (not to mention your local arcade in the mid-90s). In addition to the spectator view, players have the ability to throw things at the screen if they don't like how the battle is going - as well as rate the battle afterwards.
While it may not do enough to reinvent the wheel and draw in new recruits to the fighting genre, Mortal Kombat is one of the best examples of what a fighting game should be. With a wealth of modes to play through, more than enough unlockables, an interesting cast of characters to fight with, and immensely satisfying gameplay that harkens back to the series' roots, Mortal Kombat is the game that series fans have been waiting years for - and is a welcome addition to any fighting game aficionado's collection.
If you're a fan of all things Mortal Kombat make sure to check out our list of the 10 Most Awesome Mortal Kombat Characters as well as our feature A History of Violence: A Look Back At The 'Mortal Kombat' Series.
Mortal Kombat is out now on the Xbox 360 and PS3.