Up until this reboot, Mortal Kombat 4 was my favorite Mortal Kombat game. It’s not a universally accepted choice, but it’s the truth. I didn’t enjoy Mortal Kombat 4 for its story or strange new characters, I played it as a 2D fighter and enjoyed it for its smooth gameplay and — at the time — the art style.
I didn’t like the look of the original Mortal Kombat games. I’ve always thought the digitized sprites were ugly compared to the hand drawn style of Street Fighter II. And as shallow as that may be, that was the primary factor that kept me from enjoying those games.
I tried the subsequent titles on the PlayStation 2, but they never grabbed me either. I didn’t have problems with how they looked, just how they played; the different fighting styles and weapons took it a bit too far from what I enjoyed which was beating down ninjas on a 2D plane.
Like Street Fighter IV, the ninth Mortal Kombat game went back to the series’ roots with the return of the original cast of combatants, a retelling of the first three games and the return to a 2D plane — no more sidestepping in this one.
But unlike Street Fighter IV, Mortal Kombat was feature rich and brimming with content. The story mode was the big surprise with its seamless transitions between story cutscenes and fights. I played as each one of the 16 or so “good guys” and went through the classic back story. Not only was it a good opportunity to try out characters I wouldn’t normally choose, but it established a definitive version of the story which we can all pick up in the next game. And believe me, there will be a next game.
I haven’t done so yet, but if I wanted to, I could pick a single character and go through the standard arcade mode to see their own wacky ending on my own. Instead, I enlisted the help of my brother to tackle the 2 vs 2 ladder mode where each of us controlled a fighter and fought our way up to Shao Khan. I’ve never played a fighting game that did this before; allowing two players on two different controllers tagging in and out during a match. It was like co-op in a fighting game and it was awesome. The game even featured 4 player mode in the same vein. Plus this wasn’t a simple tag-in-tag-out game; there were special partner moves and combos to pull off as well.
Two things I remember Mortal Kombat for were uppercuts and fatalities. Uppercuts always felt gratifying to connect with and that continued to be true with this game and then some. Landing punches and kicks just felt a lot more visceral compared to any other fighter out there. And while the fatalities were still gruesome displays of cruelty, I think their newest addition — the X-ray moves — were far more cringe worthy. Landing an X-ray move meant we got see a CSI style closeup and x-ray view of femurs, jaws and other bones being fractured and broken in the most unpleasant ways imaginable.
X-ray moves also served as Mortal Kombat’s version of an Ultra Combo where if it connects, the opponent would lose a third of his or her life. It’s the great equalizer and I’m so glad they added it. It added a an element of fear and caution in matches that would have otherwise been disregarded. And obviously, it also allows for epic comebacks.
Even after all this time, I still couldn’t believe Mortal Kombat was powered by the Unreal Engine 3.0 middleware and running at 60 FPS. The game looked great and, by the nature of Mortal Kombat, it was already a very dynamic and flashy game with people flying or teleporting everywhere. However, not content with those simple special effects, they incorporated bodily injuries to the fighters as well. It’s not an accurate representation of character damage, but I appreciate their attempt — even if it did mean I had to see chunks of flesh missing from of Kitana’s face.
What I appreciated most about this Mortal Kombat was the obvious love and attention they invested into the game. Even their collection of mini-games and challenges in the aptly named “Challenge Tower” had little dialog exchanges and were generally amusing. They could have made Kombat Kode modifiers an option in a menu somewhere, but they decided: “No. We’re putting in Kombat Kodes and you’re going to have to input them in during the loading screens before a match starts.”. Even the little things like being able to skip the introductory logos of the game and the silent install of game assets over time were considerate decisions by the developers, Netherrealm Studios.
Mortal Kombat is a fun game for everyone. The moves are easier to pull off than the typical Capcom fighter and there’s enough content for those who wish to fight solo. It may not be as deep as Street Fighter IV or as stylish and frantic as Marvel vs Capcom 3, but I certainly had a lot more fun with it. Hell, I’m still having fun with it! It has quickly become my most surprising title of the year thus far and quite possibly my favorite fighting game of the generation. This all around package will be really tough to beat.
For more information on Mortal Kombat, visit the official site.