Anyone alive during the 1990s is aware of Mortal Kombat, for better or worse. Maybe it was the movies, the backlash in Washington and the press, or the hours spent huddling around the TV, squirming in awe at Sub-Zero’s spine extraction fatality. It was phenomenon with an approach not previously experienced by an industry coming into its own, and reflecting upon the repulsion we felt at the time is a good barometer for how far video games have come.
Mortal Kombat, the 9th entry in the long-running series, capitalizes on the expectation of extreme violence in the most ridiculous (and oddly entertaining) manner, living up to its birthright. Returning are the usual cast of unbelievable characters, complete with the series’ signature fatalities and subsequent spin-off finishers. Most notable and satisfying are the X-Ray attacks, which zoom-in and peel away skin layers to expose the literally bone-shattering blows inflicted on the target. Cheers to NetherRealm for recognizing the appeal of the move and keeping its execution limited to a single, universal combination for all characters.
The game reeks of nostalgia and fan service, thereby operating within its own shell without going out of the way to appeal to hardcore, “high-class” fighting game fans. By dedicating itself to that cause, it succeeds in drawing previously disheartened MK fans back into the fold. During my experiences with the multiplayer component of the game, most players professed to have fallen off the bandwagon in recent years, citing tired mechanics or repulsion by the 3D take on the fighting arenas.
The success of Mortal Kombat ultimately lies within the fighting mechanics. Instead of relying on the overly complicated combinations and insane frame counting of other fighting games, a player can survive the story mode and hold his own against other average players by learning a few key combos and attacks for each character. As with any skill-based game, the more time someone spends to learn a specific character’s tendencies and moves, the greater proficiency they’ll have against other players.
The story mode forces you to learn 17 characters as the narrative progresses. Over the span of 16 chapters, the stories from the original Mortal Kombat trilogy are retold through an alternate timeline in which Raiden receives and reacts to messages from his future self. The result is a long, dragged-out slugfest of a campaign that is ripe with cliché, unbearable characterization, and hints of racism and sexism. It’s a painful reminder of a bygone era and the nonsensical characters of the series ache for a rewrite. The trappings of the ’90s are in awkward, belligerent force here.
The main pull of Mortal Kombat is obviously the versus modes, though single player and tag-team challenges are numerous. The Challenge Tower provides a weekend-killing, 300 level romp that alters several elements of the traditional arena combat, which resulted in many “Wow, I didn’t know they could do that with this game” moments. The Krypt returns, where players can cash in Mortal Kombat coins for rewards and prizes, many of which are just ho-hum unlocks. Also present are several mini games that let players practice specific skill sets and even Fatalities, ensuring follow-up to the iconic “FINISH HIM” isn’t a disappointing face-slap to end an otherwise intense match.
The online portions of MK are for the hardest of the hardcore. Rarely was I paired with a player of similar skill and the private/player matches were no joke. Initial connection issues were frequent and I found myself waiting several minutes the majority of the time. Before you delve deep into the online offerings, make sure you’re adequately bloodthirsty and capable.
Mortal Kombat exists to please its fans, and the effort pays off. Simultaneously reinvigorating its base and solidifying Warner Bros. and NetherRealm’s care for and dedication to the series, Mortal Kombat demonstrates the continuation of both the lasting appeal and embarrassing nature of video games of the ’90s–and how those practices continue into the modern era.
Things We Liked: Impressive combat system that is accessible without oversimplification. X-Ray attacks are superbly disgusting. Successfully reaps the nostalgia factor.
Things We Disliked: Characterization is dated and offensive. Story suffers due to overt fan service. A.I. boss enemies are overtly cheap.
Target Audience: Hardcore MK fans. Former MK fans disheartened by previous entries. Casual fighting game players.
(Mortal Kombat – Developer: NetherRealm Studios. Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive. Available for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 – PS3 version reviewed. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Unfamiliar with CFD!’s review system? Read our newly revised explanation here.)