It’s quite fitting that NetherRealm Studios’ 2011 Mortal Kombat reboot was simply entitled Mortal Kombat; no subtitle, no number. The PS3 and Xbox 360 release returned the franchise to its roots with hyper-violence, accessible gameplay, eerie atmosphere, and solid (if not the most technical) fighting. A deep roster, excellent graphics, tons of unlockables, and a mind-blowing number of gameplay modes made Mortal Kombat the most beloved series entry since Mortal Kombat II – and the best in the series, period. Now Mortal Kombat‘s on Sony’s PS Vita platform. The textures are a bit rough, and some characters have some truly cheap moves, but very little was lost in the transition.
Playing through the story mode (which spans Mortal Kombat, Mortal Kombat II, and Mortal Kombat III), you’ll understand how Ed Boon and company managed to reboot the game without totally severing present from past. A dying Mortal Kombat: Annihilation Raiden, badly beaten by the maniacal Shao Khan, sends a mental message to Raiden in the original Mortal Kombat, warning him of the murderous times to come. Armed with this knowledge, Raiden acts to prevent the grim future, which results in a huge spoiler that I won’t ruin here.
Mortal Kombat gives you lots of fighting options, and I don’t mean the cast of characters yanked, mostly, from the first three games. You can mix it up in Marvel vs. Capcom 3-style tag matches where you can swap characters and perform entrance attacks. There are also extremely cool Test Your Luck matches where random things happen such as having no super meter, no specials, degenerating health, and much, much more. It brings a nice amount of spice to the gameplay. You can, of course, fight in regular matches, and enter training modes that help you hone combos and master Fatalities. Note: Mortal Kombat leverages the PS Vita’s touchscreen to let you input Fatality motions with your fingers. I preferred to unleash them in this fashion, but purists will be happy to know that touchscreen Fatalities are completely optional.
Mortal Kombat has never been considered a serious fighter in any incarnation, and despite the engine tweaks in this game to prevent damage scaling abuse, it still falls far short of tourney-worthy battles–Street Fighter IV still rules the roost there. Mortal Kombat transports you to a world where uppercuts, sweeps, short combos, and expert cheapness are the prime mechanics, which is the direct result of the limiting combat system. Combos don’t gracefully flow as you land your hits–attacks are much more stiff and pre-determined, which, in a way, fits the hard, brutal aesthetic that the game possesses. Still, there’s a distinct lack of combo creativity.
Yes, the game is as gory as ever. The blood flows quite generously, and it clings to your character over the course of a fight–both your own, and your opponent’s. In fact, there’s a good chance that you can enjoy a Flawless Victory and still come out of the match soaked in crimson.
A full super meter lets you dish out an X-Ray move, a quick combo attack that shows the internal damage that you’ve caused an opponent (in dramatic close-up fashion) and knocks off a nice chunk of the opponent’s health meter. The shattered and smashed parts on display in X-Ray Mode aren’t reflected when you return to regular gameplay, which is disappointing as Mortal Kombat utilizes a control scheme that lets you manipulate the limbs of each fighter. Rendering a limb useless after it gets shattered would’ve added extra flair–and strategy–to the game. Characters, however, do suffer bloodied bodies and tattered clothing over the course of a match.
Single and tag team fighting is fast and smooth when playing opponents online. In fact, if it weren’t for the very infrequent moments of lag, it would be impossible to distinguish online fighting from offline fighting. Online matches also utilize the PS Vita’s mic so that you may talk smack during matches.
Yes, the game is as gory as ever. The blood flows quite generously, and it clings to your character over the course of a fight–both your own, and your opponent’s. In fact, there’s a good chance that you can enjoy a Flawless Victory and still come out of the match soaked in crimson. Taking a drumming from normals and specials will do the trick, but X-Ray (which you can pop off by tapping the X-ray icon when it’s ready) moves do even greater damage. You’ll earn Kombat Koins during your battles, which you can use to unlock production art and other secrets that are hidden in a mass grave. Purchasing secrets is a bit too simple, in my opinion; I would’ve preferred if there were in-fight mysteries that needed unravelling.
Mortal Kombat has always bested Street Fighter in presentation; Capcom’s fighting series typically showcases generic character designs and backgrounds. Mortal Kombat‘s supernatural plot gives the creative team the freedom to whip up backgrounds that range from the fantastic (rampaging monsters in an urban environment) to the macabre (The Pit). The characters (ninjas, cyborgs, mystical creatures, special forces members) look great for the most part, and move smoothly during fights, but they can appear a bit awkward in some cut scenes. The textures aren’t as good as the console versions.
Mortal Kombat‘s soundtracks have never been truly memorable, and that tradition continues here. But that’s not necessarily a negative. The tunes are moody, and at times threatening, an appropriate backdrop for the carnage.
Mortal Kombat does not require a memory card. The game saves to the cart, as will any future gameplay tweaks/updates/DLC. And on the topic of DLC, Mortal Kombat includes all the console DLC–free of charge!
That’s not all: there’s a new Fruit Ninja-like slicing mini-game where you cut items that certainly aren’t edibles, and a new balancing mini-game where you must use the PS Vita’s accelerometer to keep a fighter on a beam positioned over Mortal Kombat‘s infamous spiked pits. Boon and company love to keep the franchise fresh with new additions, and these were unexpectedly fun diversions that will please those in need of a lightning quick gaming fix.
Finally, there’s also a new challenge tower with over 150 brand new missions, some of which demand you tap incoming projectiles to prevent taking damage. This, of all the touchscreen additions, felt the most out-of-place as fighting and making multiple screen taps feels awkward. Mortal Kombat also uses the PS Vita’s augmented reality powers to let you fight against any real-world backdrop. It also supports in-game smack talk using the integrated mic.
Whether or not you’ll enjoy Mortal Kombat depends on how you like your fighting. If you loved Mortal Kombat II, consider this is the ultimate Mortal Kombat experience. If you prefer the Street Fighter style of play, the game won’t shine as brightly. That said, NetherRealm Studios should be applauded for breathing new life into the franchise, and making it even more fun now than the experience was in the ’90s.