Thursday, September 1, 2011

Review: Mortal Kombat (2011)

Rating: M for Mature

Platform: Xbox 360, PS3

Genre: Fighting

Game Reviewed on: Xbox 360

I have many fond memories of playing Mortal Kombat in the local arcade. It was over the top, gratuitously violent, and adults hated it. Of course, a game as violent as Mortal Kombat will always draw the ire of politicians and advocacy groups. That and the downward spiral of Midway Games forced the MK series to withdraw from the spotlight. This, ladies and gentlemen, is why I love the new MK so very much.

When I first saw the "Kollector's Edition," as they called it, I knew I had to get it.  I've always been a big fan of Scorpion, (who isn't?) and the bookends screamed to me.  I now use them to hold my Xbox 360 games upright.  Let me tell you, it is a true work of beauty!

See what I mean?  This is why I knew I had to get them.  They fit the overall style of the MK universe, they actually do something useful, and they look flippin' sweet! But anyways, enough gushing about that.  Let's get down to the nitty gritty.

The new Mortal Kombat, or MK9 as it's also known, is an attempt by MK co-creator Ed Boon to take the franchise back to its roots.  It wanted to pay homage to the very beginnings, but learn from the mistakes of the past.  It's an admirable goal, to be sure.  I remember the furor over violent games corrupting the youth. (See this post to see what I mean)  Part of what made the MK franchise so fascinating was how over-the-top the game played.  Fatalities did stuff nobody would dare.  Every iteration pushed the envelope more and more.  And from a kid's perspective, parents and politicians hated it, so it HAD to be awesome.  It was the GTA of my formative years.

When Netherrealm Studios sat down to go over what they wanted to do with this game, they picked all the right things to include.  All of the skills the "Kombatants" used in their original games are back in pure, unadulterated form.  Not only that, but they included a "special technique" bar that's a staple of other fighting games to augment your skills.  Use an enhance on Liu Kang's Bicycle kick technique, and fire appears around his feet.  Stuff like that.  For the first time, every Kombatant has an X-Ray technique.  Fill your enhance bar all the way, and you'll start into a slow motion sequence that zooms in on the victim as your character snaps bones and rends flesh.  Every character has a different X-Ray technique.  Even though they go into really painful detail, it's kind of fun to watch it go down.  At least, until you've seen each and every one a good thousand times, then you just wish you could skip them and get back to the fight.  Every character has a unique feel and vibe to them, and characters fit a wide variety of fighting styles.  The animation is fluid, the voices sound like their characters, Johnny Cage is a bona fide jerk, and Sonya has a chest three sizes too big for an FBI special forces agent.  But hey, it's fantasy!  Who cares about realism?

 Quite probably the staple of the fighting game is the arcade mode, which MK9 fills in beautifully.  Fight against ten random challengers, then fight against Shang Tsung, Kintaro, and Shao Khan himself.  Fighting game veterans will find welcome challenge in the arcade mode, and the Training center will prep you for battle in everything you want and need to practice.  But that's just the half of it!  The Challenge Tower comes back in all the awesome goodness from the earlier games.  Each challenge will put different constraints on the challenge, like being unable to use enhance attacks, or only using grapple for the finishing blow.  Some of the challenges become full fledged mini game modes, like "Test Your Sight," a modern take on the classic shell game.  "Test your Luck" shows up on occasion, which pits you against a random opponent and a random kombat modifier.  Modifiers include weakened attack, you take more damage from enemy attacks, you cannot jump, et cetera.

All these fancy bells and whistles earn you Kredits, which you can use in another MK staple: the Krypt.  MK brings the Krypt back to unlock concept art, additional fatalities, alternate costumes, fatality storyboards, and more.  I like how much is available to unlock in game, and how often you gain Kredits.  Playing through the arcade mode can earn you up to 2500 Kredits per match for a perfect game.  Most matches will net around 75-300, depending on whether or not you use a fatality and how much damage you pull off with each combo.

I also really like how great the tournament support is already out there for this game.  as of the time of writing, there's already 4 balance patches out there and more on the way.  I have honestly never considered entering a tournament scene for a video game prior to MK9.  This is definitely the sort of game that I can see long term tournament support and a long term community.

In short, this game feels like all the best bits from the old and new games coming together.  MK9 is arguably a contender for game of the year, if not a finalist.  If you like fighting games, this is a must play.  If you remember the original, this is a must play. If you like games with lots of unlock-able content, this is a must play.  If you have a weak stomach or conservative morals, this is not for you.  This game is over the top, chock full of gratuitous violence, and that's what makes the game so memorable.  Sadly, it also makes it unsuitable for persons with weak constitutions.

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