Part 4 of my ongoing series, in which I try lots of fighting games to find one that I'm good at.
It's been a little too long since I've devoted some time to trying out another fighting game. I played Persona 4 Arena a lot, and enjoyed it thoroughly because of my appreciation of the Persona series. On the other hand, I haven't been playing it much recently because I burned myself out on it. I liked the Story mode but it was REALLY long. In fact, I played more Persona 4 Arena more than any other fighting game I've played this entire year just working through all that single player content. I'm still not sure if it's the game I'll be devoting a ton of time to in the future, but I've played too much of it to not come back at some point.
Since then I picked up another game I've been interested in for a long time. Mortal Kombat Komplete Edition was $20 at GameStop. That's a full game, four DLC characters, and that awesome Mortal Kombat movie from the 90s for 20 bucks? How could I not get that?
This always makes me laugh and I don't know why
Mortal Kombat was one of the first fighting games I ever played. Being a kid in the 90s, I looked at this game with intense violence and gallons of blood and said "I need to play this because my parents hate it!". And I did! Granted, I only played it in short bursts at a friend's house, but I still have memories of laughing hysterically at the ridiculous Fatality moves in the original game.
So, my first reason to pick up this game was my innate fondness of the Mortal Kombat aesthetics. I love the ridiculous violence, stupid costumes, and bone-crunching sound effects. The game just looks and sounds BRUTAL.
How is this not instantly fatal?!
The second reason I wanted to try this game? I was persuaded not to.
As I do with every fighting game I'm interested in, I watched a lot of videos and streams of the game before and after trying it. People in comments for the EVO 2012 Mortal Kombat matches HATE this game! Whether it be complaining about certain characters being cheap, being upset that such a casual friendly game is played in high-level competition, and worst of all, calling the game boring. I can't ignore such negativity.
I also know some people who were pretty negative about Mortal Kombat and as far as I knew, haven't played it. That's always been an interesting phenomenon I've noticed with gamers, especially those in the "fighting game community". They love seeing things fail. If a game didn't get the amount of entrants that you personally needed at a major tournament, it's dead, move on to the next one. If a game you don't like is being played it's dead and no one else should play it. When a new game of a similar style comes out, the old game is DEAD and we will all move onto the next game now (example: Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is out. Every other 3D fighting game must now be ignored. This is what people actually believe).
It's a unique form of pessimism that I'm not too keen on, so maybe I haven't been playing fighting games long enough. But I don't care to follow a trend and stop playing a game because someone on the internet told me it's dead. In fact, the negativity towards this game just made me want to play it more because that's just how my brain works.
Since I'm counting here's what games are dead right now:
-Dead or Alive 5 and Soul Calibur 5, because only one 3D fighting game is allowed at a time (Tekken Tag Tournament 2)
-Skullgirls, since it hasn't gotten patched and isn't at any major tournaments
-Mortal Kombat, because...they don't like it I guess
-Persona 4 Arena. A new Blazblue or Guilty Gear game is coming out so we're dropping P4A.
So, I'll stop ranting and talk about the actual game now.
There's a lot to talk about for this game, perhaps more than any game I've played for this series so far. There's a TON of content in Mortal Kombat.
After finishing the tutorial, the first place I went was the Challenge Tower. This isn't just a lot of increasingly difficult fights, it's full of unique match stipulations, mini-games, and activities that I don't think you can replay anywhere outside of the Tower. So far I've done Test Your Sight/Might mini-games, a pseudo shooter level, played matches where I could only use special moves or can only defeat my opponent while having half of my moves locked, and even had a rather pointless fight over a teddy bear. Seriously.
After progressing to a point where I got totally stuck in the Challenge Tower, I switched over to the Story mode. HOLY CRAP this is a great story mode! I don't know anything about the Mortal Kombat mythology as a whole, but this story mode felt like an abridged, yet slightly altered version of events that happened in past games. The graphics and overall presentation are superb; I especially enjoy the way cutscenes seamlessly transition into fights without a loading screen. The fights are generally without gimmicks as a contrast to Challenge Tower, but I was so enthralled by the story itself that I didn't care. I did have to drop the difficulty to Easy at one point to progress, but the fights are still significantly challenging on that difficulty. The 1v2 fights are still unfair and took many replays to pass, but the game even fixes this issue by subtly dropping the difficulty if you fail too much.
And I fail too much, so I definitely noticed that.
Then there's a whole Extras menu to explore. Every time you finish a fight in pretty much any mode, you get koins to use in the Krypt. This is where you piss your pants from jump scares unlock concept art, extra fatalities, codes to input before fights, music...more concept art. There's a ton of stuff to unlock, and therefore, a lot of reasons to keep playing. Since I cannot actually play online, I appreciate when a game gives me plenty of reasons to keep playing in single player, and Mortal Kombat has a TON of reasons to keep playing.
Now, I got all that out of the way because I need to discuss my issue with the game. It doesn't teach you how to play it very well. I'm probably spoiled by having playing games with really in-depth tutorials and combat training, but Mortal Kombat does not have that. And I think it could use that.
The game's tutorial teaches everything a basic tutorial should. What each of the five buttons do, how to perform special attacks, and the mechanics of the tag system. That's serviceable, but my issue with this is that it doesn't go far enough. There are over 30 characters in this game, and they often don't share commands. Besides the basic Crouch+Back Punch for uppercuts and Away+Back Kick for Sweeps, that is.
The tutorial teaches you Johnny Cage's pop-up move to begin Juggle Kombos but no one else's. You'll learn how to do special attacks for a few characters, but every character has several special attacks with pretty different commands. I think what this game really could have used was a command tutorial.
Trying to learn the moves of so many characters in training mode was a pain. I'd have to pause, look up the move or kombo, and unpause to try it out and hope I got it right. It's a simple process, but when I'm playing a new game I like to test out every character's capabilities and see who fits my playstyle the best. Doing this for every character in the game is immensely time consuming and could've taken much less time with a command tutorial.
There are also some quirks in Mortal Kombat that took getting used to. I've never played a 2D fighter with a block button before. The same basic principles for fighting games apply, you block high to avoid middle and high attacks, you block low to avoid low attacks. The thing that caught me off guard was that there are a LOT of overhead attacks (high attacks that must be blocked high), and a fair amount of combos that seemed to just break guards randomly. I never figured out why my guard would be broken on certain attacks or combos, and the game never mentioned guard breaking moves so I found myself getting frustrated when I got hit when I thought I was blocking correctly.
The combo system doesn't exactly work like any other game I've played. I got stuck on the combo section of the tutorial for a long time until I looked up this little tip: you have to input these combo commands as quickly as possible, or they will not work. It's strange to get used to and makes the character's movesets feel limited when you don't really experiment to get certain moves to link: if you're not doing the particular combo on the movelist and inputting commands as quickly as possible, it's not gonna work.
One unique Mortal Kombat element I did understand and immediately took a liking to was the way the meter works. It's not just a meter that lets you know when you can use your special attack. When it's full you CAN do a very damaging X-Ray move, but in some cases this might not be the best choice. You can use one chunk of this bar to use an Enhanced Special Move, which is just as it sounds: a stronger version of one of your special attacks. If you have two bars you can perform a Breaker to get yourself out of a combo, and this could turn the tide of the match. The meter also carries over between rounds. I wasn't expecting it, but this game has one of the smartest applications of a super meter I've seen. If you're about to lose, it might not be the best idea to save your meter for an X-Ray attack because you might get KOed before you can use it. On the other hand, the meter seems to go up more quickly for successful blocks and taking damage than hitting your opponent a lot, so you could use an Enhanced Special Attack or X-Ray as a comeback mechanic. The Breakers seem almost necessary when you're in the unfortunate position of being juggled in the air (which happened to me more than once in online matches.
What I Liked:
-A TON of content. Even if I don't see myself getting good at this game, I know I'm gonna keep coming back to it for a long time. Either to play some goofy fights in Challenge Tower, finish the incredibly-well done Story mode, or try to figure out the secret commands I can make my Avatar do in the online lobbies.
-The game's overall presentation. These characters aren't realistic but the sound effects are bone-crunchingly BRUTAL and these moves look like they hurt a lot. The X-Ray and Fatality attacks are a bloody hilarious spectacle that I never got tired of seeing.
-Unique application of the traditional Super meter. The X-Ray meter can be used as a comeback mechanic since it builds faster for taking damage than attacking, but if you're taking too much damage you'll just be dead. Breakers are a good risk-reward spending of meter because it can get you out of trouble but usually leaves the bar empty. Enhanced Special Attacks do extra damage but can easily be blocked if you use them incorrectly.
What I Didn't Like:
-The training and tutorial modes don't go far enough. You learn a few special attacks and key elements of the game from the tutorial mode, but it leaves out a lot and would be better served with a full command training mode. They even split some more basic training elements away from Training/Tutorial and put them into the Challenge Tower, which doesn't make much sense. Since every character is different in terms of some basic commands and Special moves, why not put in a mode to help me learn these moves better?
-The fact that you need to input most combos as quickly as possible to do them successfully. It makes the combat system feel a bit more stiff and not open to exploration.
-Difficulty in single player modes, especially Story mode, was pretty harsh. Even on Easy some of the fights seemed unfairly difficult.
I left Mortal Kombat feeling a little conflicted. I love the game's presentation and single player modes, but I don't feel like the game ever gave me the tools I needed to get any better than mediocre at it. I passed a lot of Story mode and Challenge Tower but felt like I was kinda flailing through it, and my online fights were ALL miserable failures. It would take me a lot of time to get better at this game, and some research outside of the game to do so. And while I do like the game, I don't think I like it ENOUGH to do this. That could just be my problem though. I had fun but the game isn't very friendly to newcomers.
Since I have an admitted preference for 3D fighters over 2D fighters, I've bought Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown and will probably get Dead or Alive 5 soon. It'll take a bit more time to learn the systems of new fighting games while so many other good games have been coming out this year, but I'll keep at it until I find the one game that I'll get really good at. Unfortunately I don't think Mortal Kombat will be that game, but there's so many more to try. Seriously, what's up with fighting games this year? There's like a million of them...but there are worse problems to have than "there's too much stuff to play", right?