Mortal Kombat is probably my all time favorite franchise. I’ve played through all of them. I own or have owned the vast majority of them, I even played through the terrible, terrible adventure games. When Mortal Kombat 9 was refused classification here, I went a little spare. Now with our fresh R18+ rating, our first legal taste of the game has happened. It’s violent, bloody and graphic. But is it any good?
This isn’t so much a reboot of the first three games, universally recognized as the good ones, more like a retread of an alternative timeline. Raiden, god of thunder and protector of EarthRealm, has sent himself a needlessly cryptic message from the past just before being killed in the previous game. Naturally, the Raiden from this alternate timeline, which starts as MK1 begins, drives the rest of the game. His motivations are basically win the Mortal Kombat tournament and keep Earthrealm safe from the evil Emperor Shao Kahn of Outworld. There are a few differences between this timeline and the established timeline, meaning longtime fans of the series can still be surprised by story developments.
The switch back to 2D has really improved things. The fighters can be a little hard to handle at first, Mortal Kombat has never been known for its tight controls and this is no exception. If you’re used to smoother 3D fighters like Tekken it could take some time to get used to these. Thankfully the move list (which includes fatalities and finishers) is easily accessible.
The gimmick supermove in this game is the X-Ray: A short scripted animation displays the fun ways you’re shattering your opponent’s bones. It could be argued that these are the reason we’ve waited so long for this game (I wouldn’t be surprised if this is what tipped the ratings board over). And this is where we have to discuss the problems with Mortal Kombat. It feels like a game from a few years ago because it is, and the game is a lot worse off because of it.
One of the biggest problems with the game is balance. The story mode really struggles to find the sweet zone between too easy and impossible. Most of the fights are at one extreme or another and I know that Cheap AI is a Mortal Kombat staple. I am aware that Boss fights are supposed to be difficult, but there is Cheap AI and then there’s MK Cheap AI and then there’s this.
The moments I said “Are you serious?” to the game included a tag team match against two of the series’ most prominent boss characters at once, and again as a boss character flat out decided he simply wouldn’t take the already reduced damage. This wasn’t challenging, it was annoying.
And then there’s the context of the fights. I thought the whole point of the game’s story mode was to justify why these characters, who under normal circumstances would be relatively friendly to each other, are ripping bones out. Sometimes the use the flimsiest excuses I have ever seen. One of the first fights had Johnny Cage (my player character at the time) approached Sonya Blade and tried hitting on her. When she refused I was forced to fight her. I am not very comfortable with the idea of beating up a woman who doesn’t find me attractive. It’s disturbing, and does nothing for either character.
I’m being harsh here. The engine is solid and you will certainly have some fun at your next party obliterating each other. All of your favorite characters from the franchise are here. Liu Kang, Sub Zero and Scorpion all make appearances within the storyline and control roughly how you remember from the 16-bit days.
One of the cool things about this is seeing some of my favourite characters in different states. For example Cyrax and Sektor make their first appearance as humans in the events before Mortal Kombat 3, where they were turned into Cyborgs. This edition also contains guest fighter Freddie Krueger. The Nightmare on Elm Street antagonist fits right in to the MK universe both flavour-wise and as a gameplay element.
Having just reviewed the vastly superior Injustice, MK definitely comes off second best. Which is understandable, as we have a two year old game competing with a much better game from the same company.
Injustice’s simplified control scheme, stronger story and vastly superior AI show what a massive difference two years can make. And honestly I think that’s most of the problem here. If I was reviewing MK when it was supposed to come out, I would probably be a lot happier with it, or at least more willing to accept its flaws. As it stands, Mortal Kombat will sit happily with Guitar Hero and Mario Party as games to bring out for a few laughs when friends are over.