Status : One playthrough of Arcade mode, one 2 player team ladder playthrough, story mode finished and challenge tower complete.
“I’m not interested in Mortal Kombat, I’ll wait for a price drop and get Portal 2 in the meantime”.
That was my input on one of the biggest release days of this year. Half of my planned Portal 2 review is still in progress or might even be co-reviewed, half of my Portal 2 review is waiting until Sony and these hackers stop their shit and get service running smooth again. Mortal Kombat also had a pretty quick price drop which was when I decided to snag the game.
For me, Mortal Kombat was a fad I jumped into along with many other kids my age, just like pogs and Yu-Gi-Oh. Never had serious interest in them, but it was what all the cool kids played, so of course I tagged along. I bought most of the early series, played so I could look at the fatalities, feel really trendy by playing a game that dares to go against spelling “Combat” with a K and then move on to a fighting game that wasn’t so stiff. It was more about the spectacle than kompetition… see what I did there?
Having played Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe last month with ol’ Prota, I can honestly say I was hardly expecting a fighter worth my time, but gave it a chance anyway. So, how does this game measure up with other recent fighters?
First, I gotta ask : Is there music? I unlocked a bunch of music tracks in the krypt and all, but nothing is memorable at all. I’m too focused on the fight and maybe looking at the move list, so unless it’s somebody speaking, it goes over my head every time.
The game looks nice, in a morbid sort of way. Blood splatters, limbs fly and death is brutal. Some of the x-ray moves make me cringe like watching fatalities in the old days, while surprisingly only a couple of fatalities make me shudder. The character models getting permanently busted up as damage accumulates is a great addition.
What makes a fighting game worth playing for me is in the controls. From what I recall, Mortal Kombat suffered from sluggish controls. Thankfully, it is no longer the case, as controlling each character feels smooth. It reminds me a little of Killer Instinct, where pulling off basic combos are really easy, but stringing together more hits takes a lot of timing and skill. As a combo increases in hits, the damage dealt is gradually lessened also, making it pretty hard to take out a player with a single combo (haven’t seen it yet myself).
A three segment super bar is also present that works in three ways : For one bar segment, you can enhance any special move in your character’s arsenal. A variety of changes can occur : More damage, an extra hit or two, bouncing in the air to allow for a follow-up juggle, harder to evade, harder to block… the variety of strategies you could employ are crazy. At the cost of two bar segments, you can break any combo the opponent has you in and toss him aside, so you can have a quick breather. The full three bars allows you to use the character’s trademark x-ray move, which not only looks brutal as mentioned before, but does heaps of damage.
My playthrough of the game started humbly, chilling on the futon with my girlfriend while beating the hell out of many great warriors in story mode. We really got into the story! Brief cut-scenes bridge each fight and tell an interesting story of one god’s attempts to change the future. The characters all have a little personality to them. It’s also interesting to see how Raiden’s group grows, and how Shao Kahn’s group falls apart from the inside. A theme to be revisited is that they do an amazing job putting the player into the world of Mortal Kombat, and story mode does so by forcing you to play as a good portion of the cast.
Following a script, fatalities are removed as well as permanent damage. Understandable, so instead of complaining I just enjoyed my time. The only serious pain in the ass was the very last fight, otherwise it was an entertaining series of battles with a few retries here and there. It lasted a respectable 8 or so hours as well, so essentially, the night I ran through the entire story mode was like watching a fun while long movie. My only complaint is that sometimes it feels like certain people act out of character – Kung Lao posing around like a dick after winning one fight, only to ignore the surprise right behind him for example. He’s a shaolin monk, not a wrestler that needs to play to the crowd.
The characters can act stupid at times, but I think that’s what they were going for. Nothing is serious here, which can be perfectly illustrated by the challenge tower. There are 300 challenges in total, some of which try to tell some semblance of a story. These challenges play out like one big cartoon : there might be some silly dialogue at the beginning, a fight to the death, only to have them come back alive for a future episode, sometimes even teaming up with the character that just killed them. It comes off as silly, and encourages the player to see what could happen next.
Silly in theme, the later challenges are brutal. A number of which made me want to punch something in frustration. The fights themselves are usually altered in some crazy way : traps on the field, fighting without limbs, adding requirements such as hitting certain body parts. The great tests : Test Your Might, Test Your Strike, Test Your Luck and Test Your Sight are also present in the challenge tower. Some “fights” include fighting waves of zombies with projectile attacks before they kill you in one hit or throwing bombs into a can for bouns koins. A great variety of battle conditions adds to the charm of the tower, and the Mortal Kombat universe. You get to see Johnny Cage’s trouble on the set, Cyrax quest for functionality and follow Liu Kang and Kung Lao’s tag team travels together for example.
There is a large variety of levels too, spanning the locations of the first three MK games. You have your dojo arenas, a few places around Outworld, and parts of the city that were invaded. In that regard, it really does feel like the older games rolled into one. Most if not all of the characters from the original trilogy are here too. If you plan to finish both story mode and the challenge tower, you can expect to use each character decently because you are forced to use them all, and learn to use them adequately in battle. You won’t be doing tournament level combos or anything, but because of this, you could come to love some characters you might have otherwise skipped.
Not only that, but by playing through the story and the challenge tower (arcade mode works too although it’s generates slowly over there) earns you coins, which you can spend to purchase a ton of bonus material, the commands for the extra fatalities, alternate costumes and music tracks, a proof that there is music of some sort that I’ve been ignoring. Also, you can uncover various kombat kodes (was it kodes or codes?) that have an effect in versus matches. You unlock items in the krypt which you explore in a first person perspective. It’s a peaceful experience, running to each corpse to find what it has to reveal. One time I got a little too relaxed, and found out the hard way that those sons of bitches snuck a screamer into the krypt… you know, like those websites that your asshole friend always sends to you to that end with a sudden ear splitting scream and creepy image flashing on the screen for a few seconds. I almost pissed myself both times that it happened.
Over the weekend, I brought MK over ol’ Prota’s for some old fashioned fighting. Like me, he was skeptical about the game, and we had some rounds against each other and as a team on the ladder. That night I was drunk and passed out a little early, and was surprised to find out he stayed up a little longer just to mess around and practice some characters. The next day when a friend of ours came to visit, he came in with the same exact initial attitude to the same results. This is the kind of fighter that’s hard to put down, especially when playing with your buds.
Finally, how does this game stack up against other recent fighters? To be frank, this is the game I wish MvC3 was; a fighter not too centric on combo use, with a wide variety of characters and strategies that can be employed. It’s good being able to fight, get hit by even a skilled player, and instead of getting thrown around like a rag-doll, having time to recover and put up a good fight. In MK, the battles are less lopsided, and more entertaining to both watch and play. It’s only something I’ve heard (thanks, Angry Joe!), but once I get service, I’ll be able to play rotation matches and actually spectate the other fight! When it comes to tag battling, I’ve also preferred two characters to three. I hear a lot of comparison between this game and BlazBlue in terms of content and variety, but I never was a BB kinda guy.
In my eyes, this game stands among other classics in the fighter genre such as Killer Instinct, Street Fighter II, Soul Calibur, Marvel vs. Street Fighter…. it has that something that keeps me coming back for another round instead of letting it collect dust in, say a fancy metal box somewhere.
Mortal Kombat, the game I was least looking forward to was an unexpected blast to play. My current pick for fighter of the year, leaving other anticipated games like Skullgirls with big shoes to fill. The fighting fan inside of me is excited for what’s to come in 2011. If you haven’t yet, do yourself a favor and give it a try!
Next up : Probably L.A. Noire because although my copy of Brink came in today, I have to wait for restored PSN service to play with some friends.