Right before Mortal Kombat released I preemptively put a label on it. I assumed the game would appease the MK diehards, but would fall short of drawing the attention of the Capcom faithful. Shame on me for assuming anything, as I was dead wrong. Mortal Kombat is more than just a necessary relaunch of the fabled fighting franchise. This game is the new alpha male which all future fighting games should aspire to take down. That’s some lofty praise, but I kid you not, it’s deserving.
So how does the new Mortal Kombat succeed when so many before it have failed? Simple: NetherRealm Studios has finally let the baggage drop. All that extra noise like animalities, friendships (… seriously?) and 3D battle arenas have been removed to instead focus on the core of what made Mortal Kombat special to begin with: a solid 2D fighting engine and brutality up the ying-yang. And trust me, Mortal Kombat brings the brutality in spades through not only the multitude of gory fatalities per character, but also through the devastating “X-ray” combos that give you an inside look at all the bones you are crushing and the tendons you are snapping.
What’s surprising is that each character only has one X-ray combo, yet I never got sick of watching them. Every time I pulled one off, or whenever one got performed on me, I would behave like I’d never seen them before. Yet, the truth is I’ve seen each like a hundred times now. I guess I can chalk it up to these X-ray attacks being so damn visually satisfying that I don’t mind reliving them over and over again.
The same can be said for Mortal Kombat’s fatalities. While each character has one default finisher, with the ability to unlock more by discovering them in the Krypt, I honestly never got sick of re-experiencing the blood baths. Sure, some fatalities are better than others, but all of them still satisfy on a fundamental level. It probably has something to do with the fact that we’re all sadistic bastards who love to watch people die in the most disgusting ways possible. I don’t know, I’m not a scientist or doctor. But what I do know is that Mortal Kombat once again feels like the game you don’t want your parents to catch you playing. And that’s a good feeling indeed.
Mortal Kombat truly is a return to the golden era of the franchise where gameplay is concerned. The action is once again set on a 2D plane where side-stepping Scorpion’s spears is no longer an option. We’re experiencing a 2D renaissance in the fighting genre, where classic titles are returning to the roots that made them so successful in the first place, Mortal Kombat being no exception. After only one match in the new Mortal Kombat it's obvious that 2D is where this series belongs and should remain.
One thing I want to bring back up is the idea that Mortal Kombat is a streamlined product. That does not mean that this title is now a bare-bones affair with only the stereotypical fighting genre game modes. On the contrary, Mortal Kombat offers up more modes than I have ever seen in a fighting game. Honestly, it makes the recent Marvel vs. Capcom 3 look like cash grab on Capcom’s part. Mortal Kombat comes with the standard ladder gameplay that has appeared in every MK since the series’ inception, as well as a Challenge Tower with 300 challenges, Test Your Might/Sight/Luck/Strike, tag-team battles for up to four players, online multiplayer, King of the Hill, training and a new Story mode. Playing each of these modes earns you koins which can be spent in the Krypt to unlock new items, costumes, fatalities, etc. There’s a lot to dive into, which can seem incredibly intimidating when first booting up the game.
But the one mode I want to spend some extensive time talking about, mostly because it's what I spent the most time with, is MK’s Story mode. In short: it’s absolutely fantastic. MK’s story is a retelling of the first three Mortal Kombat titles… with a twist. NetherRealm Studios pulls a Star Trek and involves time travel into the plot of Mortal Kombat, ensuring that past continuity isn’t outright erased, but instead acts as the driving force for the story of this new game. Every battle in Story mode is strung together by a series of cutscenes that make sure everything flows together fluidly. The plot of Mortal Kombat is cinematic, brutal, witty and goofy exactly where it needs to be, acting as a nostalgic trip down memory lane for MK diehards and a great introduction to the mythos for franchise newcomers. The fact that I enthusiastically looked forward to logging more hours into MK’s Story mode speaks volumes about its quality. Coming from Marvel vs. Capcom 3 where there is no incentive to play the single player game, outside unlocking new characters, this is a welcomed breath of fresh air.
This review might seem like I gloss over a lot of aspects of the new Mortal Kombat. And honestly, I do. But that goes to show you how much this new Mortal Kombat offers. I’ve been slaving away at this game for days now and still feel like I’ve only just scratched the surface. It would seem the creators of Mortal Kombat have learned their lesson about what works and what doesn’t with this series (for the record: introducing DC characters does not). This new game is proof of that. Mortal Kombat is the game that MK fanatics have been waiting years for. For everyone else that considers themselves fighting genre fans, you need to check this one out. Because as far as I’m concerned, the bar has been raised. Now it’s just a matter of NetherRealm not repeating past mistakes by taking this amazing franchise rebirth and squandering it on trivial “upgrades” like they did so many years ago.