Mortal Kombat


Written by Chris Price
09 Monday 09th May 2011

Mortal Kombat was never better than Street Fighter – merely different. More rhetoric than experience, it catered to an audience captivated by its risqué sense of humour and mature content. The blend of relatively effective digitised motion-captured character and bloodshed proved striking and individual enough to make the title a hit. Over the next four years the winning formula of hidden characters, ridiculous moments and injection of in jokes helped shift thousands of the three direct follow ups.

Mortal Kombat revelled in being a bad influence, angering the tabloids. It cemented its position in gaming history, ushering in the culture of the anti-social gamer (a tag it’s only just starting to offload). Gameplay shifted the emphasis from timing to repeated patterns, uppercuts and the all important Fatality Execution Manoeuvres (goretastic one-chance finishing moves - showboating at its most exquisite).

Yet almost two decades later, Street Fighter 4 has updated the flow, weighting, trajectory and timing of the original for a new audience, and in the process, redefined the 2D fighting genre – again. Mortal Kombat on the other hand, has been in relative freefall, even foregoing its trademark gore for 2009’s MK vs. DC Universe. Mortal Kombat’s ninth release (You mean you never played Mortal Kombat Special Forces?…) is a bolts and brass redevelopment by NetherRealm, an effort to halt the series’ increasing obscurity. With a range of new championship modes and a ‘winner-stays-on’ style online battle, the sense of being huddled around an arcade machine in a smoky youth club has never been more alive. Mortal Kombat 9 is the fighter going social. 

Initially, MK9 is keen to display that the crimson free exploits of the MK vs. DC Universe are long gone. Each strike is visceral, optimised for smearing blood across floors and walls and delivering real-time damage per character (repeated facial strikes will leave an opponent a pulpy mush of red with the odd bulging eye). 3D support adds some limited distance to the redesigned ‘Deadpool’ and ‘The Pit’ levels. 2.5D visuals (2D fighting, with 3D rendered characters) allow for some excellent effects  demonstrating that the franchise has come a long way since Ed Boon and John Tobias digitised garden ornaments for backgrounds. New to the exhibition of brutality are X-Ray strikes, delivered after building the now obligatory ‘Special’ bar from repeated attacks and successful defence. Tap both shoulder triggers to deliver a context sensitive flurry of attacks in glorious 3D where spines are separated, skulls fractured and testicles – well, that’s left your imagination.

The fighting system has been tweaked with the introduction of a basic tag-team method for quick tag strikes and combinations. A basic juggling system allows for successive combos and an obligatory special bar adds a simple risk/reward system, you can supercharge special moves at the expense of a bar. Fighting is quick, fluid and exciting; requiring chained attacks to take advantage of openings in your opponents defence. Sweep and uppercut combos still prove effective as do quick-fire flurries of punches. Learning from the mistakes of the ruthless MK Deception, specials have generous input windows that make even play on the Xbox pad surprisingly effective. Its brand-defining fatalities return, as do other ‘italities’, bolder and bloodier than ever before. Suffice to say, if it can be ripped off, it probably will be. 

The most overwhelming element is how much of a ‘classic’ update it is. Shang Tsung returns in his David Lopan apparel, alongside a cast of 30 including Kano, Sonya, Johnny Cage, Goro, Stryker, Cyrax, Sub Zero, Scorpion. A training and story mode along with a 300 task challenge tower ease you into the experience in bitesize chunks. Dan Forden returns to exclaim ‘Toasty!’ as does the Test Your Might mini game (balanced with ‘Test your Sight’ variant).

It might not be exceptionally clever, but its gloriously OTT (adult) action signifies a triumphant return to form. Mortal Kombat 9 manages to recapture that slightly naïve, forbidden glory of the original. Even the teenage humour has been refined resulting in a highly entertaining spectacle. In recapturing the spirit of the original, it’s spot on. Whether that’s a good thing depends entirely on whether you like cutting peoples heads in half.

Mortal Kombat is out now on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3

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