One of the grandaddies of the fighter genre has been lacking over the last handful of years. The last few games haven’t packed the same bloody punch the originals did and the last game that introduced characters from the DC Universe also lacked the series’ trademark gore. Fortunately for fans of both the series and the fighting genre, Mortal Kombat marks a triumphant return to form for the ailing franchise, including the return of many classic characters from the first three games, some of the goriest fatalities yet and more than a few original features as well.
Is Mortal Kombat‘s much needed reboot the breath of fresh air the series so desperately needs? If you click that little read more button you’ll be able to find out in my review, but here’s a little spoiler: fuck yeah it is. The Baby Factor: If the three original games got together for a bloody threesome then jumped into a DeLorean and cranked it to 88mph until they reached 2011, Mortal Kombat would be the beautiful, bone-cracking incest baby.
For the uninitiated, Mortal Kombat is a retelling of the stories from the first three games after Raiden realizes all is lost at the end of Armageddon. He warns his past self to do things differently in order to change the future, since he’s such a great guy and cares about humanity and all that jazz. I’ll admit I’ve never been a huge fan of the stories since they tend to be a bit silly, but the story here, while still similar to past games, is much more grown up. If you’re an MK fan, you’re going to love it.
One of the game’s strongest features is in fact its single-player campaign, and not just because of the improved storytelling. The story trots along, introducing new characters as you progress through the chapters. It’s more cinematic than past games with a bunch of fights seamlessly blended in. Transitioning between the cutscenes and the fights has been done rather well and NetherRealm deserves some commendation for accomplishing that.
This game isn’t the most polished or complex fighting game out there but it’s accessible enough for the casual player and deep enough for fans looking for a challenge. I’ve always been dreadful at fighting games, with the peculiar exception of the early SoulCalibur games, but I found learning some of the more complex combos in Mortal Kombat not terribly difficult. When the lengthy single-player story wears out its welcome there’s still plenty more to experience, starting with the Ladders.
There are a few different ladders to climb including the classic 1 on 1 duels and the newer tag team fights that accommodate 2 vs 2 fights. As opposed the campaign where the difficulty seemed to be fixed at a certain level, the ladders let you choose the difficulty setting so people like me don’t have to get our arses kicked time after time.
Did I mention the fatalities are better than ever? Well they most certainly are. In past games I was never able to perform a fatality, but I proudly managed to perform several with a select handful of characters. The fact that each character has several at their disposal, including the return of the hysterical Babalities that transform your character (or your opponent’s) into an adorable baby, keeps them from ever getting old. This time around however, the fatalities aren’t the only badass moves at your disposal; let me introduce you to my favorite addition to the series, the x-ray moves.
Unlike the other more powerful combos, the x-ray moves are very easy to pull off and they’re just as fun to watch as the fatalities. Each character has a unique x-ray attack that can be initiated when your super meter is full. When unleashed, your character begins a series of incredibly powerful blows where each hit zooms in on the opponent’s beaten body to show what their insides look like as they get hit. Bones crack and splinter, organs burst and some of the hits, like a powerful groin kick, are sometimes difficult to watch. I guarantee you’ll be cringing at a few.
Alongside the ladder games are four mini-games; Test your Might and Test Your SIght are classics from past games and the two new modes, Test your Strike and Test your Luck bring something new to the table as well. The former is similar to Test Your Might with a twist that involves hitting a certain block as opposed to going through all of them and the latter adds a slot-machine style reel that determines your opponent and the unique effects for the battle (including one that adds zombies into the mix!).
The other thing that’s likely to take up a good amount of your time is the Challenge Tower that offers 300 missions for you tackle as you climb your way to the top. Each fight brings with it a unique way to play the game. Some are puzzles rather than actual fights while others remove certain abilities (like no blocking) or add effects (your health drains over time) that force you to mix up your strategies in order to conquer them. From the very beginning their pretty tough and they only get progressively difficult the farther you get, but if you can beat the Tower than I’m pretty sure you win the title of Mortal Kombat Badass for life, though that has yet to be confirmed.
When you grow tired of playing alone and think you’re badass enough to take on players online, the multiplayer is just as robust as the rest of the game’s modes. The online mode is a remarkable attempt to make playing with or against others online feel like you’re playing the game in an arcade. You can host or join a chat room that holds a bunch of other players where you can challenge someone to a duel or watch one that’s underway. The King of the Hill mode is especially interesting as challengers line up to take down the current champion and watch the fights going on in a theater-like room. If you don’t plan on buying the game new you should know playing online requires a pass that comes free with a new copy of the game but can also be purchased online.
Every fight nets you Koins, which can be spent in the Krypt to unlock concept art, sketches, fatalities, character outfits and much more. There are literally hundreds of things to buy so it’s going to take a very long time for even the most dedicated fans of the series to find everything. It’s all very elaborate – instead of scrolling through a list of items you’re weaving through tombstones, bloody swamps and tortured souls to find the items you wish to purchase.
In the end, this is like a long-awaited love letter to its fans. It’s beautiful, gorier than ever, has more content than I’ve ever seen in a fighting game and it offers hundreds of hours worth of enjoyment. There’s little I could say about the game that’s negative but if I wanted to nitpick I could say it took too damn long for the series to finally make its glorious return to what made Mortal Kombat great in the first place: visceral combat, a kickass story and buckets of blood.
The Final Word: This is a game that caters heavily to its fans but offers enough enjoyment for newcomers to the series; it’s everything a Mortal Kombat game should be and more.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of Mortal Kombat, which was provided by the publisher.