Rating: ★★★★½

Doom may have revolutionized the way we see violence, but Mortal Kombat gave us the glorious, 3rd person gruesomeness that will forever burn in our memories as one of the goriest, most talked about arcade games ever. The first installment of the famed series since Midway’s demise, as well as the first next-gen title, does not fail to please in every way major media conglomerates report: ridiculous gore, bloody scenes, and a complete disregard for the children.

Just what we’ve been waiting for.

Mortal Kombat 9, simply dubbed Mortal Kombat by developer NetherRealm Studios, which was borne from the transfer of the Mortal Kombat franchise from Midway to Warner Bros. and headed by MK legend and co-creator Ed Boon, is a recollection of the series. Jam-packed to the brim with MK lore and story, as well as challenges, fight scenarios and a never-ending line of gameplay, Mortal Kombat simplifies the world by taking place ten years after the first Mortal Kombat, where Liu Kang won the tournament and saved Earthrealm (that is, Earth). Other characters, like Sonya Blade, Jax, Johnny Cage were not present then, and are “new” to the fighting contest, to magic, and to over-the-top gore.

The single player campaign, dubbed Story Mode, follows the story of 17 of 28 characters – only including those with some good in them, so players can always be the good guy – through the Mortal Kombat contest, Outerworld Emperor Shao Kahn’s plan to steal victory from Liu Kang, and the invasion of Earthrealm. Much of the dialog is cheesy mcsqueezy, but the points get across and that’s all that really matters in terms of plot. Every character is properly introduced, properly fought with, and properly killed off when need be. The only thing that would have made the campaign perfect would have been making the boss characters not completely and utterly cheap, to the extent where myself and colleagues have either ripped out our hair, or hair on our heads has just turned grey. Or both. Then again, without it Mr. Boon wouldn’t have really made a Mortal Kombat game, now would you Ed? I’m looking at you Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3.

Besides the story, Mortal Kombat also includes all the staples of the series: a ladder contest with five difficulties and character-specific endings, 300 levels of a Challenge Tower, and a catalog of unlockable items only attainable by playing the game and earning points. The story mode takes roughly 5-6 hours to complete (there is no difficulty setting for story mode), and the challenge tower could take anywhere from 10-30 hours, depending on how strong of a player you are. The challenges therein are often simple, and often ridiculously difficult. Load screens do tend to take up much of the time (between reloading levels to start again and loading brand new levels, there is a lot of wasted time), but frankly the challenges range so far that putting a time on completing it is ludicrous.

X-ray attacks are charge-based super moves meant to even the odds…and show some fun gore

Finally, players can also hang play around with several tutorial modes, including a fatality tutorial; a Test Your “” selection of games, featuring Luck, Skill, Sight, and Might, and various types of each can be unlocked by playing through the challenge tower; and finally a Necropolis and Krypt mode, which allows players to spend earned points to unlock game extras, such as new fatalities, character bios, developer art, etc. A single player can have an incredible amount of fun playing all alone, without ever bringing another player into the mix.

The other big fighting game to release this year, of course, is the exact opposite of Mortal Kombat. Where Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is extremely fast paced all the time, Mortal Kombat is what would be considered a slow fighting game. More experienced players will be able to play just as fast as anyone used to Japanese fighting games, but there’s a stricter learning curve because precision is so much more important. For the rank amateur (that is, even good players who don’t practice for hours daily) playing well requires serious knowledge of the game mechanics, of the moves and combos, and plenty of practice. Nobody is going to pick up a controller and beat the game on medium the first time through without problems, while MvC3 and other Japanese-style games do have a certain measure of luck, where pressing as many buttons as possible can work. Not so with Mortal Kombat.

Such gameplay also makes combat more difficult to get into, and requires a serious investment in time and patience. Even expert gamers will need to sit down and fail over and over again to get into a rhythm, push the same sequence of buttons over and over and over again to finally burn combos and special moves into their heads. It’s almost exactly like playing on arcades back in the day.

Mortal Kombat not only supports two players, but up to four total for tag-team play, both on and offline. Getting friends together, for either one on one or tag-team battles, is incredibly fun. A final mode, King of the Hill, stacks a group of players against one until the “King” is eliminated, but the fun part is how other players can watch the match with their Xbox Live avatars on a sort of movie screen, and at the end of each match players can score respect points for each win. It’s as close to the authentic arcade experience any online game has ever reached. And players get the chance to see some amazing games live.

Tag team combat includes a set of tag-in attacks, so seasoned players can bring the hurt even when switching out

The only downside to online play is how slow it is, especially for players. Lag would be fine for the viewers, but the people actually in the game should have no lag. Instead, everyone is equally slow, and often online matches are so slow that all too often fights are more akin to snails mating.

(On a side note, the artwork is great…except that all of the characters are ugly, even the women. It’s fine that the developers decided against making it a sensual game, even though there are more than a few scantily-clad femme fatale’s. Levels are incredibly made, fatalities are gruesome and funny (usually one or the other, though not always), and artwork is generally fantastic. But why everyone has to have so many hard shadows and be so ugly is beyond me.)

This newest Mortal Kombat hits the sweet spot for gamers looking for that real, old-school arcade experience in the comfort of their homes thanks to a brilliant method of online play. Practically unlimited single-player gameplay only boosts the desire to chug quarters into a machine, and ironically I’m thankful that the game costs $60. Who knows how much we’d all spend on a game like this if arcades were still alive today.



James Pikover

 
Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.