Before I continue, let me first preface this article by saying that much of my knowledge of Mortal Kombat 9 is garnered purely from interviews and videos, and therefore speculative. I won’t know for absolute sure how well the game delivers on its promises or hype until I get a chance to play the full retail release, so take that into consideration before reading. That being said, from the looks of things, the much-anticipated arrival of the next-generation iteration of the venerable Mortal Kombat franchise is shaping up quite nicely, and strangely enough, it looks as though it may actually be able to teach Capcom’s latest frenetic fighter, Marvel vs. Capcom 3, a few things about presentation and polish.
The argument here pulls a few classic examples from the age-old Western vs. Eastern development debate, and depending on which philosophy you subscribe to, you may furiously nod your head in agreement or facepalm based on the following. Before you accuse me of fanboyism (which is a common occurrence when discussing video games in a public space) allow me to point out that I am completely infatuated with Capcom’s latest fighter, despite its numerous shortcomings. Even so, after watching a number of trailers and reading a handful of interviews, Mortal Kombat 9 actually looks like a more complete and polished game than the popular superhero brawler. Here’s why.
An Actual Storyline
To some, a storyline in a fighting game seems completely and totally irrelevant, and in the grand scheme of things, that’s probably correct. However, when developers at least attempt to include some form of narrative in a genre notorious for its routine omission of such a feature, it’s an appreciated gesture and establishes some much-needed fiction to encapsulate the action. It gives each individual fighter depth and personality, which allows players to develop more tangible connections or understandings of their favorite characters. In Marvel vs. Capcom 3, we get a series of six fights that leads to an altogether boring (even on the Very Hard difficulty) final boss fight that concludes with two hand-drawn comic book-style panels, and a handful of meaningless text that doesn’t even make any sense, considering you just fought six random teams with absolutely zero connection to your character.
A lot of commotion was made about bringing Frank Tieri onboard to write for MvC 3, but the only thing that really stands out is the pre-fight banter between characters that have some sort of relevance towards each other. It’s truly a shame that Capcom had the Marvel license to work with and didn’t try to do anything unique or interesting with it whatsoever. It doesn’t hurt the gameplay (which is still fantastic), but it would’ve been enjoyable to see two beloved franchises interacting in some meaningful way. Even though Mortal Kombat’s story is one of the most convoluted and long-winded narratives you’ll find in any video game, it’s there for the fans to explore and enjoy, and that goes an incredibly long way towards fostering brand loyalty and passion. It’s disappointing that we didn’t see an equally ridiculous or nonsensical story in MvC 3, a feeling that’s only exacerbated by the incredible pre-rendered cinematics that hint at some sort of conceptual story that could have been something special.
Ridiculous? Sure, but admit it, it’s also kind of awesome.
Modes That Don’t Suck
The recent updates to Marvel vs. Capcom 3’s ridiculously sparse mode offerings include Shadow Mode, where you spar against AI “personalities” based on real people’s tendencies, and Event Mode, which tasks you with completing predefined tasks to earn titles and Player Points (which are pointless after unlocking the game’s four hidden characters). Mortal Kombat’s announced modes include the insanely awesome Challenge Tower, a 2 vs. 2 Tag-Team mode, The Krypt, and a lobby mode called King of the Hill (basically Endless Battle from Super Street Fighter IV). Ed Boon has stated that there are still a number of secrets to be unveiled in the near future, and DLC characters are in development. What’s more, even the standard fare modes have some additional flair that adds to their effectiveness and enjoyability. Little touches in the Training Mode such as highlighting the correct location to stand when performing a fatality make the game’s finer features immediately accessible and understandable.
In fact, the overall polish of MK9 makes the game appear much more synergistic and complete, and makes the product stand out on its own. Compare that to the half-assed, barebones setup of Marvel vs. Capcom 3, and you’ll begin to feel like there were some huge missed opportunities on Capcom’s end. In MvC 3, we get Player and Ranked Matches (both with some serious matchmaking issues), the aforementioned filler modes, a lobby mode that lacks a spectator option, and Mission/Training Mode, which both do very little to introduce new players to the concepts of a very complicated and flashy game. What blows my mind about this skeletal feature set is that Super Street Fighter IV had some fantastic modes that offered genuinely fresh ways to experience the game, as well as a spectator option and the ability to save replays. How these features never made it into Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is beyond me, but it’s utterly disappointing and slightly insulting to know that these omissions are entirely possible but never included. Spectator mode has been speculated to be patched in at a later date, as it was with the XBLA version of Marvel vs. Capcom 2, but considering we saw similar additions in the retail release of Super Street Fighter IV, I’m not exactly hopeful. Which leads me directly to my next point….
The Challenge Tower is a highlight of the mode offerings in MK9.
Ongoing Support & Keeping the Fanbase in the Loop
This is where the Eastern vs. Western development model argument really comes into play. Typically, Japanese games are finished the second the final build is released to manufacturers (although there are some exceptions), but as American gamers are well aware, that is simply not the case with Western titles. For better or for worse, Western games are almost always followed up by a number of patches and title updates that fix bugs, add content, or mess with balance. Personally, I love the idea of a game constantly evolving past its initial launch, and to be fair, Capcom has released a recent patch that addressed some glitches and significantly altered some characters (namely Sentinel’s vitality being cut, which is a very controversial topic). It’s good to see Capcom paying attention to the game even after launch, but it also failed to publish patch notes (a commonality in Western-developed titles) and we have no idea what the developer is currently working on.
A familiar screen for anyone who has played MvC 3 online.
The closest thing to a general forum for the game is Shoryuken.com’s community, and considering said community is primarily located in the United States, it’s unlikely that the Japan-based Capcom is paying attention to the numerous complaints and demands that fans are asking for. Sure, we got two new DLC characters (which were already on the disc to begin with) and there are plans for at least two more, but what about the more pressing matters at hand? When is a fix coming for the abysmal matchmaking system (a recurring problem with Capcom fighters)? Is a spectator mode even being worked on? Nobody knows the answers to any of these questions save the developer itself, and we are left to muse whether or not these problems will be addressed in the current version of Marvel vs. Capcom, or if we’ll be seeing a new entry within a year with all these additions firmly in place. On the other hand, NetherRealm Studios knows that they really have to nail every single aspect of MK9 to get their esteemed reputation back, especially after a few recent franchise failures (MK vs. DC Universe was a complete joke). This includes providing tons of fan service, a healthy amount of modes, and reassuring early adopters that the game won’t be abandoned after April 19th rolls around. You can bet that people will make their voices heard if things are wonky at launch, and if a patch is required, we’ll be informed when it’ll be ready and what it will entail, as opposed to updates randomly popping up with mysterious changes that take days or weeks to discover.
Of course, in the end the only thing that truly matters are the gameplay mechanics and how they all fit together, and Marvel vs. Capcom 3 has gameplay down pat. It’s a fast, satisfying, and thrilling fighter that has a combo system with a lot of flexibility and tricks to be learned, but the auxiliary features are lackluster in nearly every imaginable way. While I haven’t had a chance to play Mortal Kombat 9, I’m eager to see if the glimmering polish and meaty modes are not simply matched, but collectively surpassed by outstanding gameplay mechanics that deliver a truly unique fighting experience. Should that happen, Capcom better wake up and pay attention, because a new challenger has appeared. read