Mortal Kombat has been quite... different over the last few years. While the MK series had some great ideas under their belts ranging from an armageddon to an epic crossover, the gameplay has, quite admittedly, have not made the transition over to the 3D realm well... While the stars were brightening the dark sky with the tweaks made in Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe, Midway filed their losses and declared bankruptcy, possibly destroying the series a la "Armageddon..." That is, until, Warner Brothers, alongside with NetherRealm Studios, revived the series in a big way: Going back to basics with a new story, gameplay mechanics, and great fatalies. Is this as big as the revival of Scorpion? Or should have Armageddon finished it off?
Hot N Cold
Story and Presentation
Following the events of Armageddon, many, if not ALL, of the familiar faces such as Sub-Zero and Scorpion lay lifeless outside the Pyramid where Raiden and Shao Khan do battle for one last time. Shao Khan, after losing the right to take over Earthrealm numerous times, pummels Raiden left and right, throwing all around the arena. Before he can lay the finishing blow however, Raiden uses his Amulet to send a message to his past self in the form of premonitions and a cryptic message ("He must win!") in order to prevent this outcome. It's from here that the game reverts and retells the events of the first three Mortal Kombat games, allowing newcomers and hardcore fans of the series to join in.
As with EVERY story involving time travel (like Back to the Future, The Butterfly Effect, and Steins;Gate), changing the past isn't easy: Raiden doesn't truly know HOW things will play out, only what COULD happen, such as Scorpion killing off Sub-Zero. It's an intriguing narrative that keeps the Story Mode entertaining, as the story not only follows the lore Ed Boon (who's also in charge here) created, but also tweaks events differently, such as preventing certain outcomes that I won't spoil here (but involve killing off plenty of characters). Speaking of characters, Story mode is similarily done in the same manner as the other present generation game "Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe," where you control a certain character for the entire chapter (Johnny Cage for chapter one, Sonya Blade for chapter two, etc.) with cut-scenes seamlessly tying into the fights. It's a welcome change from the drab Konquest mode that gives you the story upfront instead of needless fillers.
But while Story Mode won't last you quite as long (ranging from 6 - 9 hours depending on how good of a player you are, though the difficulty scales if you're having too much trouble), there's always the classic Arcade move to mow through (though with no gimmicks like Endurance) and the towering "Challenge Tower," which is a series of 300 challenges to play through. While Arcade is a simple "no frills" affair, Challenge Tower offers unique challenges, ranging from fighting without arms to throwing your arms at the opponent, allowing a greater diversity. And if some of these challenges aren't your cup of tea (like if you have trouble adapting to these foreign rules), or if they prove too difficult (like fighting 3 Shao Khans in a row without healing or boosts), you can thankfully buy your way to the next challenge, easing any and all frustrations you may encounter. The only other thing that's curiously missing is the omission of a Versus mode (and no, Training Mode with an AI DOES NOT COUNT).
My Life, Your Entertainment
But the real reason to play this game (other than the eye pleasing, deliciously gory fatalies) is the new gameplay mechanics. First and foremost, the game has finally reverted back to its 2D self while still maintaining its "klassic kontrols" scheme of four attack buttons and one block button, meaning that gameplay is much easier to pick up and play. If you fondly recall the ol' MK2 days, rest assured that you still perform moves and uppercuts the same way. However, the depth of the game had not only been retained, but refined with the introduction of new game mechanics.
While characters still perform their signature moves, from Scorpion's Spear to Sub-Zero's Ice Ball, these moves can be enhanced to be more effective by ulitizing the bar found in the bottom of the screen. This bar is filled via performing special attacks, actions, or just getting whooped. The bar is also divided into segments, which, when the bar is filled up, opens up a new ability to perform. Using one of these bars can enhance a super move like Sub Zero's Ice Ball, turning it into a beam of ice to make it harder to avoid. Using two of these bars allows you to break an opponent's "kombo" with a "Breaker," a non-damaging attack that stops the enemy from hurting you anymroe and sending them flying back for some breathing room.
And finally, by using three of these precious bars (if you still kept them for this long), you can activate a powerful special attack dubbed "X-Ray Attack," Mortal Kombat's answer to Street Fighter's Ultra Combo (without the K). These attacks are usually meant to do major damage as either a means to come back from behind (taking off almost a third of their health) or to completely destroy the opponent in a devastating way. These attacks are risky to perform, as they are essentially hail mary shots, but that, as well as the abilities "enhance" and "breakers," only adds to the depth of the game.
Do you save up your bars to perform these "X-Rays" or do you constantly enhance your moves so that you might not even need 'em? Do you hope to bank the entire bar on an X-Ray attack or use two-thirds of it as a safety measure to stop the enemy if he caught you off guard? And how WILL you land the X-Ray? Do you try to catch the opponent off guard, or do you inplement it in a kombo, while ensuring the move connects, possibly reducing its efficiency (as damage scaling, where the more hits you dish out, the less damage they start to do) along the way?
If all of this is making your head spin, fret not: The game is, as I've said, easy to jump into. Moves are extremely easy to pull off, especially with the game providing a list of them in the pause menu, and some of the characters have kombos where you hit the same button a few times over and over again (including fan favorites and poster boys Scorpion and Sub-Zero). And if that's not enough, there's a training mode to get your learn on, a practice mode to make perfect, and even a beginning difficulty if you rather learn by doing.
However, with this being said, sometimes the game's AI don't play fair: Opponents can often read your moves, doing an appropriate counter at the right moment. While the best players can do this as well, it shouldn't be apparent in the Normal difficulty: With no regards to my skills, the AI shouldn't be able to react that fast if I JUST think to teleport or jump in the air. Heck, once I even "tricked" the AI by mashing buttons, making them do the counters to the moves that I wasn't even doing. It's isn't ALWAYS a problem, as the AI "allows" you to hit them in return, as well as repeated failures causes the AI to go easy on you, but it's still something to note.
The only other thing to note is the bosses. While Shang Tsung is just like any other character, Goro, Kintaro, and Shao Khan are enhanced to feel more like bosses, but it's incredibly cheap: While I'm fine with increased damage and defense, as well as a few unblockable attacks, these bosses have "super armor" that enables them to be kicked square in the face and not flinch at all (though the damage is still counted). While you can get by by knowing when and where to attack (essentially their backs right after they perform an attack), it doesn't make the bosses feel more challenging as much as it does annoying and catering to a specific play style (usually you can jump over their combo and throw a few punches of your own, but doing it ad nausem isn't fun, but tedious, and completely makes the game boring).
Yet that NEVER gets old. Could go "On and on and on...."
Online and ending notes
As with any fighting game in this generation, this game includes an online mode where you fight against other people (after first buying or redeeming a Kombat Pass). Like MKvsDC, you can go into a chat room (named after their dimensions like EarthRealm and Edenia) or make one of your own and either challenge people to a match or wait to be challenged yourself. It's a pretty standard affair, but with features lacking in other fighting games, such AS a chat room as well as a "win ticker" (where they annouce who wins a match in the chat room), it's a much appreciated treat. But the real appeal of online is NetherRealm's unique take on the "Arcade" experience...
Remember in the old days when Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, and Marvel vs Capcom 2 hit up the arcades, there were people crowding around the machines watching the people play, learning their play style, having the winner stay and reserving your place in line by inserting a quarter? While that experience has been recreated here... Enter "King of the Hill," a game mode where up to 8 people can enter a "Quarter Up" style competition. While two people battle against each other, the other 6 can spectate and even cheer and approve the action and boo and disgust the noobs. It's a pretty cool experience, with the nice touch of having either a Mortal Kombat avatar or your own Xbox Live avatar represent you.
While these online offerings are cool, I did have some problems with it however... For one thing, lag is present in most of the games I played, though in varying extents. Most of the times, there's maybe a VERY small lag input that can be adapted to, but sometimes the lag can be horrendous, resulting in slow motion kombat with both players wrestling over control. Secondly, while I love "King of the Hill," there are times when my console (I played on both the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions) froze whenever people enter or leave, and once my console crashed on me, forcing me to TRY to turn it off... While they don't happen often, the fact that it COULD is something to be wary of.
As for the rest of the game, the game runs smoothly outside online, and in a game that is all about timing and execution, this is a huge relief. Another is getting your money's worth; While money doesn't factor into my score, there's plenty to do here if you're willing, from beating the lengthy story, scaling the 300 stage Tower, and beating Arcade with every character as well as plenty of secrets to unlock via the Krypt and the help of the internet. Everyone, sans a certain robot fellow, has an alternate costume, with one donning three (the others can get a Klassic kostume via DLC).
Everyone also have at least two fatalies, all of which are interesting and immensely satisfying to watch. Fatalies are a huge part of the series, and despite the team's best efforts to retain them in the T rated MKvsDC outing (as well as that relatively dull Kreate-A-Fatality shown in Armageddon), they are back in full force this time around; Over the top gore abound, expect to see plenty of head decapitations, arms ripping off, and buckets upon buckets of blood (and even a nod towards a certain someone's Fatality in the last game). While Fatalies don't essentially make the game, it certainly doesn't break it either, and the inclusion of them in this game means that NetherRealms is doing things right.
Presentaion and Graphics ---- 9.0
-The character models are awesome to look at, especially when they're torn apart and brutally beaten. The backgrounds are entertaining as well, with animations that help keeps the scenary memorable. And seeing the outrageous Fatalies are always a treat.
Sound ------- 8.5
-The announcer is just as booming as ever, and the pre-battle battle cries makes the series a lot less quiet. The sound effects from the beatings are entertaining and ear-pleasing, and the voice action, while a little awkward, fits the characters well.
Controls ----- 8.75
-While I find the PS3 controller easier to handle, the controls are still easy to pull off, and the more mainstreamed scheme (such as just pressing two buttons to use an X-Ray) makes it easy for anyone to get into. There are some mishaps, but otherwise, the controls are solid.
Fun Factor --- 9.0
-The fighting is satisfying in this game and offer plenty of ways to go about it. With breakers, you can prevent a lot of the beatings, and the X-Rays makes it possible to come from behind. Seeing cool things in action makes losing a lot more acceptable, especially if it ends in a gruesome Fatality or the adorable Babality (yes, they went there).
Content ------- 8.75
-Story Mode's about 6 - 9 hours, Challenge Tower offers a lot to do if you don't plan to skip too much (I skipped like 75 - 100 of them and it still took me like 6 hours), and beating the game with everyone's Arcade is sure to last a while longer. And with friends or random strangers to play against, there's always something to do.
Final Verdict - 9.2
-This game's got plenty of things to do, and it makes it fun/ easy to do it. They knew what to expect when they designed the game, such as allowing skips in the Tower, difficulty scaling down after repeated losses, etc, and it shows. Seeing the brutal X-Rays and the bloody Fatalities are so awesome that they are bound to put a smile on anyone's face.
What affected rating?
Doesn't effect (no bareing on score):
-No versus mode? Seriously, it's not that hard to include... I want my Sub-Zero vs. Noob match ups! And no, Training Mode DOES NOT COUNT. However, it's not fair to deduct points for that.
Hinders (hurts score):
-Cheap bosses. I know the game is trying to be challenging, but the challenges in Challenge Tower were challenging... The bosses were just cheap. Yeah, I beat them with relative ease (had more trouble at the Tower) but I was bored to tears doing my 1-2-3 combo (not the button inputs by the way) over and over again...
Helps (Increase score):
-Fatalies are SO welcomed!
-Fun, frantic, refined gameplay.
-Story provides a great narrative that few fighting games have. While there are better ones out there (BlazBlue), it certainly rises above others (what IS going on in Dead or Alive?).
See You In My Nightmare