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'Mortal Kombat' bloody great fun
May 19, 2011
By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada
The days of coin-ops are all but gone, but they won't soon be forgotten thanks to games like the new Mortal Kombat, which is a love letter to old-school gamers if ever there was one.
Few video games over the last two decades have left a mark as indelible as the one made by the original Mortal Kombat. It was as violent as games get, and few can forget the first time they stood in front of an arcade machine and saw Kano rip a still-beating heart out of an opponent's chest, or Sub-Zero decapitate someone with his bare hand as the spinal cord hung below.
Those fatalities, as they were aptly named, may have given Mortal Kombat a certain "wow" factor, but the popularity of the game went beyond that. It was accessible to more than just the hardcore gamers. Anyone could memorize a few moves with their favourite character and at least be competitive.
Over the years, several iterations of Mortal Kombat were released, but as time went on, the gameplay went further and further away from what made the first three games in the series so popular.
For 2011's version of Mortal Kombat, the folks at Netherrealm Studios (still headed by Ed Boon, who co-created the series) wiped the slate clean. It dropped the 3D fighting planes, the weapon combat, and gimmicks like the kart-racing "Motor Kombat" mode.
Simply put, this is the Mortal Kombat you grew to love in the early and mid-1990's. It's a return to form with 2D fighting, all your favourite characters, and oh-so-much violence.
The great thing about the characters in this game is that no two are really alike. No longer are Sub-Zero, Scorpion and Reptile simply the same person with a palette-swap. Everyone has his or her own strengths and weaknesses, and everyone reacts differently to attacks. There was clearly a ton of work put into this game and it shows each time you try a different character.
There are a lot of things that make this one of the greatest fighting games ever made, but one reason Mortal Kombat is so enjoyable is that Netherrealm managed to do something so many developers strive for but never manage to achieve, which is to make a game that's just as much for the hardcore gamer as it is for someone more casual.
Each character has a few basic special moves - shoot projectiles, slide, teleport, etc. - that anyone can pull off. These can all be found by simply pressing the pause button and going to the moves list section. They're not difficult to memorize, and they put any new player on an even playing field.
That said, the more intense fighting game afficionado can focus on one character and learn more advanced moves including combos that number in the double-digits. There is a superb training mode that will allow you to hone your skills and practice on dummy AI to your heart's content.
A new addition to this Mortal Kombat is the devastating X-ray move. Each player has a meter that's split into three sections. As you pull off moves or take damage, the meter powers up. If you let it fill up and hit a combination of two buttons, you can pull off your X-ray move, which slows the fight down and shows close-ups of characters' insides being obliterated. We're talking organs being crushed, bones being shattered, and tendons being hacked. It's a good way of taking off a lot of power at once and getting back into a round.
In terms of content, there is a near-ludicrous amount of modes in which to pass the time. The classic ladder fight makes an appearance, where you choose a character and fight 10 opponents, leading up to a showdown with Shao Kahn. Finishing the ladder - on any difficulty - allows you to see a short ending specific to the character you use.
The single player options don't end there, and in fact, Mortal Kombat has arguably the greatest single player modes in any fighting game, ever.
Story Mode is a wonder to behold. It revolves around the thunder god Raiden, who attempts to alter the future after having a vision that shows Earth Realm's fighters (the good guys) losing the Mortal Kombat tournament to Outworld's minions (the bad guys).
At its core, Story Mode is split into chapters that focus on a few key characters. Each chapter has the character you're controlling competing in three or four battles. You'll go back and forth between realms, and will see the origins of things like how Jax got his metal arms and how Kabal ended up horribly disfigured. A lot of it is silly, but damned if it isn't fun to watch and play through. A shame you can't skip cutscenes during your first playthrough.
There's also the Challenge Tower, that is sure to take up several more hours of your time. This is a ladder that consists of 300 challenges you have to get through. Some are as simple as pulling off all of a character's special moves within an alotted time, while others have you taking on multiple competitors in a row.
Though some challenges are rather lame, a lot of them are downright genius. For instance, one challenge has you taking part in a fight where your character slows down more and more every few seconds. Another has the world literally tilting depending on how well you do against your opponent; the more attacks you land, the more you tip the screen in your favour, and the more health you get back while taking health from your opponent loses.
One problem with the Challenge Tower - and the Story Mode suffers from this same issue - is that you're forced to use several different characters you're likely not familiar with. Although this is a good way to learn different characters, it's not fair when you have to do something like string together combos (something that takes a ton of practice and dedication, usually in training mode).
Completing challenges and the story mode earns you "Kurrency" which you can use to unlock items in the Krypt. The Krypt is a neat distraction, but once you're done (and it really doesn't take all that long to unlock everything), there's not much more use for Kurrency. Plus, it would have been nice to see a few more really rare unlockables, like hidden characters. Finding a new character fatality, for instance, isn't really that spectacular a treasure when all it takes is a quick Internet search to find them all.
The online portion of Mortal Kombat is a ton of fun, though it's not without its flaws. The mode that's absolutely addicting is King of the Hill, which sees two players compete while others wait in line for their chance at dethroning the champion.
King of the Hill is as close as you're going to get to playing in an arcade without actually lining up in front of an arcade machine. Players' avatars can taunt or cheer while waiting, and best of all, the winner is given "respect points" by everyone after each match. You may have won, but if all you did the entire match was pull off the same move repeatedly, and then botched your fatality attempt, don't expect 9's or 10's.
You can also do classic one-on-one or tag-team matches, but oddly, four buddies can't hop into a room to take part in a tag-team match. These only allow one player on each team to control both of his combatants.
To make the chaos run even deeper, players can input special codes before each match that alter all kinds of criteria. You could compete in a match where jumping is disabled, or your special meter is always completely charged, or one where you fight without arms. Luckily, both players have to input the same code in order for it to work.
Another odd thing that was left out of online is "Test Your Luck", which uses a slot machine to randomly add several of the aforementioned codes. It's a great way to play some truly chaotic rounds, but this mode can only be done locally; why it was left out of online is anyone's guess.
Despite these tiny hiccups, it's truly rare to see so much content crammed into a fighting game. But it's not just quantity in Mortal Kombat, it's quality as well. Characters are wonderfully balanced, arenas and models look fantastic, and nothing is toned down for a "Teen" rating.
This is without a doubt the greatest game in the series, combining everything you loved from decades past, with features every gamer in the 21st century demands. If you're one of those people who hasn't touched a fighting game since the 90's, Mortal Kombat is just the thing to get you back into the genre.
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