It seems weird to be caring so much about Mortal Kombat in 2011. The last time I seriously enjoyed MK was Ultimate Mortal Kombat III. There have been several games since (MK 2011 is the 9th game in the series), but once the games moved from 2d to 3d, I just kind of lost interest. If you’re like me and used to love the old MK games but haven’t given the series much attention since, this year’s Mortal Kombat is for you.
Mortal Kombat definitely feels like a love letter to the fans. There are no new characters and every character in the game is from MK 1 through 3 (with the exception of one). The crazy thing is that pretty much every character from the first three MK games is here; it doesn’t matter which iteration you liked because it will probably be represented. Even crazier, several of the moves are the same as they were back in the day. For example, Scorpion’s harpoon move is still done by pressing back, back and a variation of punch. It makes the game super easy to jump into and get the hang of.
But MK isn’t just for long time fans. The game is incredibly easy to pick up and learn. The combos and moves are all very simple inputs and the real trick to getting good is just to learn the timing required to pull off moves when you want to. Just like with the earlier versions, the game features a dedicated block button. This has been something I’ve always loved about MK and it feels very natural. Gone is the run button, replaced by double-tap style dashes.
When playing against other people (the real focus of any fighting game), MK is great. There’s a kind of subconscious level of meta game that you start to develop because of how well balanced the characters are. Each character feels different and handles situations differently. That said, the simplicity of the combos and controls makes it easy to try new characters, so you never feel confined to the one guy you are good with.
Online mode is in and the netcode seems fine. I’ve tried both versions and they seem smooth and stable, though the recent Playstation Network outage has limited my time to experiment with the PS3 version. King of the Hill mode is the new draw in online mode and it’s a blast. You fill a room with several players, with one as “king.” The other players take turns trying to beat that king and become the new king. Meanwhile, everyone else who’s waiting can spectate the match, rate the winner, etc. It’s a ton of fun and a great way to see how other people are playing the game.
The surprising thing about MK is that the offline content is actually quite good as well. There’s the challenge tower (similar to modes in Soul Caliber), in which you fight your way through 300 different challenges of differing difficulty. Some of the challenges are frustratingly hard, but you can use koins (the in-game currency) to buy past them if you give up.
The other surprise is that story mode is amazing. You can do the classic ladder-style single player, where every character has his or her own ending, but story mode is the real draw. It basically frames pre-determined fights with two or three minute story cutscenes. It’s broken up into chapters, and each chapter has you playing a different character. Even if you’re not into the story, it’s a great way to try out several different characters.
Both the challenge tower and story mode (as well as the arcade ladder) will earn you the afore-mentioned koins, which you can spend in the Krypt. The Krypt is full of unlockables that you purchase using koins, but you never know what you’ll get until you spend the koins on it. For the most part you’ll just be finding concept art, but occasionally you may unlock new fatalities or alternate costumes.
Speaking of fatalities, they’re back and gorier than ever. After the outcry that Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe was a T-rated game, this new MK is back to the roots of hyper-violent and disturbingly comical finishing moves. I would describe one or two here, but they’re best experienced firsthand. In addition to fatalities, there are new “x-ray moves.” These special moves enter slow motion and let you see inside your opponent, showing off just what kind of crazy damage you are doing to them. It’s absurd in a silly way, because you’ll do something like stab a guy in the eyes (Kitana’s x-ray move) and he will just keep fighting. It feels very appropriate to the MK tone.
All in all, Mortal Kombat is full of content (or perhaps I should say kontent?). Not only is there the challenge tower, arcade ladder, and story mode but there’s also a very informative practice and training mode, several mini-games, and tag-team modes. Almost all of these styles of play can be taken online or played locally with several people as well. Throw in the unlockables in the Krypt and you have a very, very complete package.
If you’ve always been interested in getting into a fighting game, Mortal Kombat is the one that’s going to do it for you. It’s easier to learn than other games out there (even I find Street Fighter and Marvel vs. Capcom to be too intense), and the amount of content will keep you in the game long enough to make the sixty dollar price tag worth it. If you can stomach (and hopefully find humor in) the hyper violence that MK is known for, you’re in for a great time.