Sometimes I feel like an ancient warrior when thinking back to the many great games I played two decades ago. Street Fighter was the founder of my favorite genre and opened the doors for many variations of the concept. One of those was Mortal Kombat. The game didn’t excell in gameplay compared to other fighters, the basic moves were the same for all characters, and the special moves were very limited. However, it created a name for itself with the buckets of blood that poured out of opponents and the deadly Fatalities that allowed you to humiliate your enemies. It resulted in a gruesome series, but it never managed to recuperate from the arrival of 3D. “Time to bring the game back to its roots”, the guys at Netherrealm must have though, “and please the fans again”.
This returning to the roots has been taken very literally at NetherRealm. During the last Mortal Kombat tournament every warrior defending Earth dies and the god of thunder, Raiden, sends a message back in time to himself just before the first tournament. This means every warrior from the first game is back, but also each one that made its entry up until Mortal Kombat 3 as the story runs through the three first games.
Story? Jup, Mortal Kombat is just about the first fighter that comes with a full singleplayer story and this is told by means of cut-scenes. Everything goes over fluidly making that you never get to see any loading screens and each chapter focuses on one character and how they justify their presence in the tournament. Those expecting some serious story, however, will be disappointed as things become quite ludicrous. However, it does fascinate enough for those that love the Mortal Kombat universe. The biggest problem with the Story Mode itself is the lacking possibility to skip the cut-scenes so that you’re forced to watch. Not really a problem as long as you keep playing, but quite irritating if you want to take some time off after your last fight with Shao Kahn as the next day your forced to watch the entire five minute cut-scene all over again.
The well-known ladder matches return as well and you can play them in tag team too. Another welcome new feature is the Challenge Tower, a long track of various challenges you need to get through ranging from the classic “Test Your Might/Sight/Strike/Luck” to variations in the combat like a magnetic floor, the world upside down, an enemy who can only be defeated by a special move, or dozens of zombies you need to take down with Strikers pistol. It doesn’t only deliver plenty of playing time but is also created with a lot of love by the developers, making not feel like a small bonus but a full game mode.
Those new to the series or not good at fighting shouldn’t be afraid. The game has an excellent tutorial where you can learn all necessary combos, special moves, and fatalities. If you forgot in the heat of battle how you can do Scorpion’s teleport move then you can make a quick pause and check all movements, including Fatalities and Tag Team combos. Still getting your ass kicked by that irritating Shao Kahn with his ever-repeating special moves in the Story mode, then the game automatically lowers the difficulty after a couple of defeats.
What makes Mortal Kombat rise above previous parts is without a doubt the better worked out gameplay. The standard moves are no longer generic, except for the roundhouse kick, sweep or uppercut. Also you can keep making combos so that your opponent doesn’t immediately fall down. It needs some practise but certainly is key to success. Another important factor is the new “special bar” which is divided into three sections and slowly fills as you get beat up more or manage to block attacks. If your first section is filled you can do an advanced special move like Nightwolf who shoots three arrows with his bow instead of one. Save a little longer and you can do a Kombo breaker to stop your opponent. Get beat up even more and you can perform an X-Ray attack which decreases your enemy’s health with one third. In exchange for three filled sections you get a beautifully animated attack where bones are splintered, knives go through eyes, or guts get quite the beating.
Those who think saving to an X-ray move is always the best choice are wrong. Correct use of the Kombo breaker or advanced attacks can equally well lead to victory. It strongly depends on how well your opponent plays, how you handle your character and what the terms are for your X-Ray attack. Johnny Cage’s X-Ray for instance can only be used as counter attack making that you need to delude your opponent and make sure you aren’t using your special bar for nothing.
Those that like to fight other humans can go online on the condition you’ve got an Online Pass. You can participate in ranked, player or private matches, and next to that you can also chat in lobbies and challenge others or check out the new King of the Hill fights. In King of the Hill you can check out fights with up to 8 players. The winner contantly gets new challenges and the other 6 players can cheer or howl. At the end of the fight you can then give a score for the bloody entertainment.
Graphically you get a smooth and beautifully stylized game on your screen. The cut-scenes are displayed with in-game graphics which make that when zooming in textures look less sharp. Nonetheless it does remain quite good that the game seamlessly goes back to a fight. The voices aren’t bad, but the funny story and hilarious dialogues are a joke.
The Mortal Kombat reboot is without a doubt a good one. The improved gameplay is the strongest point of the game and makes it accessible for everyone while keeping it difficult to master. The long list of special moves through the complete character roster makes the game a painful exercise for your memory, but also gives enough satisfation if you keep hanging onto the crown in King of the Hill without having to play over and over again with the same character. In short, Mortal Kombat is back and strikes a Fatality!