Mortal Kombat has not only gotten back to its gore-filled, blood-spraying 2D roots, it’s gone as far as chucking in a delicious amount of throwbacks to previous games. Being a long time Kombatant, this is the first thing I really noticed. Well, the thing after “HA SCORPION LOOKS AWESOME”.
The selectable cast spans the entire MK universe and stops just before MK Armageddon. The obvious reason being that Armageddon was in fact, Armageddon and there couldn’t be a succeeding game without destroying everything made before. However, as a bitter, bitter man, I like to believe that NetherRealm Studios recognised the colossal blunder that was MKA and used MK9 as a game for the fans, to ensure Armageddon never takes place. Possibly a stretch of the imagination on my behalf, but hey, it helps me sleep at night.
The new game’s graphics look gritty and dirty. You can fight in familiar settings from the ‘classic’ Kombat games, where you can bludgeon each other into oblivion in such favourites as the Enchanted Forest, The Pit 2 and Acid Pool. The Outworld environments really add to the hellish, disturbing brutality that we have come to associate with Mortal Kombat.
If you can risk taking your eyes off the action for long enough, you can admire a Hellraiser-esque cast of armourers and torturers going about their daily tasks. The background fighting has gone from a man squaring off with a surprisingly calm man on fire, to a rather well animated scuffle between opponents. The Earth stages are still quite good, but well, they’re on Earth, so how interesting are you expecting them to be? The correct answer is: “Quite”. Some are battle-damaged, some have Johnny Cage action movie gags and some have dragons destroying buildings for some reason.
Apart from the trend of having all of the women dressed for maximum side boob and minimal gravitational abiding clothing, the characters are done well. Though they’re hardly the most detailed of models in the world, they work, they give the characters a lot of depth and tie in very nicely with the cut scenes. The costumes look excellent and the attention to detail in movement is outstanding. It’s the little things that really make the game a truly enjoyable experience. Jax moves as fast you’d expect a man with giant metal arms to move, Baraka moves with the same violent sadism as you’d expect from a maniacal Tarkatan and Mileena moves like… a sexy, crazed, murdering psychopath.
As I mentioned before, the story mode takes place from MK1 to MK Armageddon. You play through as most of the characters in 1vs1 or 1vs2 battles. Some ‘games’ go quicker than others, but there is a real feeling of progression, as opposed to the usual disorganised mayhem of other games in the genre.
Not saying that every loose end is tied up, but NetherRealm has gone through a bit of a process to really flesh out their characters. We see short scenes of Lin Kuei robo-ninjas Sektor and Cyrax as humans. We’re shown Kabal’s “extermination accident”. Though they’re brief, they not only add a little weight to their own character, they also flesh out valuable back story of other characters involved. A few missions of the story can shift ‘the one with the net and saw’ to ‘Cyrax, unwilling participant in the Lin Kuei cyber ninja program’.
The other game mode is 300 challenges of varying difficulty. They can range from testing your might, fighting zombies to ‘resolving’ a dispute over a teddy bear. This part of the game gets pretty tedious, with 300 challenges, I’ve only just hit halfway and I’ve little incentive to progress. They’re often repeated with ever-so-slight differences and you really get the impression you’re just doing the same thing over and over. Though this shouldn’t really be unfamiliar ground in fighting games, I feel this could have been a hell of a lot shorter.
(Being the inquisitive type, I googled to find the reward for finishing all 300, and the good news is the completionists among you will be treated to a skimpy, gravity defying Mileena costume to fight in.)
MK9 is a lot of fun to play. It’s not overcomplicated to the point of controller-breaking, but a practised Kombatant will definitely have the advantage over the common button-masher. The combo system has evolved from long chains of combos to shorter, sharper runs. Combos can be two hits long and still push back to reset the fighters. There are many opportunities where someone that’s done the hard training can set up sickening juggles, but for a casual, there’s a lot to play with and with slightly different timings, there wouldn’t be anything beyond a noob.
The fatalities in MK9 range from brutally violent to hilariously excessive. I’ll definitely admit, there’s a few completely boring ones in there too. I finished the game using Cyber Smoke, and after trying out both of his finishing moves, I preferred a standard uppercut.
Unfortunately, the majority of finishing moves are locked on first play. That’s Fatality 1, Fatality 2, Stage Fatalities AND Babalities. While this is a nice idea to ensure the player earns enough Koins to unlock them, this can be a little boring in the beginning when you’ve only got one to choose from. Having said that, I’m really enjoying digging around for them, and trawling the Krypt makes the eventual discovery that little bit more rewarding.
The addition of X-Ray moves puts a MK spin on the ever-popular super meter. They take off roughly 30% health, fire on different conditions and look spec-tac-ular. Each character has their own personalised way to express their feelings through bone-breaking violence. Upon building up enough power, the player can hit two buttons to unleash the move, and if the condition (near, jumping, far-ish etc) is met, the character will execute a series of particularly violent movements on their opponent.
The impact inflicted by each movement is shown on the victim through an x-ray (OMG NOW I GET IT!) of their anatomy. This shows the fracturing of skulls, the breaking of bones, the crushing of frozen stomachs and the puncturing of organs. Though this is definitely a very “Mortal Kombat” thing to do, I can’t help but think this ‘humanising’ of violence is the real cause of the restriction in Australia.
Mortal Kombat 9 is a whole lot of fun to play, it’s hardly a perfect game, but unlike previous claims of getting back to its roots, I’m actually willing to put my personal thumbs up behind that cliché. The game is fast, easy and delightfully brutal. There’s a lot here to get stuck into and mess around with, but only a die-hard or trophy-hunter would get a significant benefit from doing absolutely everything. It’s a bloody step back in time to when games when ninjas ruled the fighting game circuit and it’s a great effort.
NB: I didn’t mention the in-game music, as I was barely aware of it over the screaming and sound effects. If you want to hear it, you’ll have to change the levels in the options.