Mortal Kombat is an improvement over its predecessor and a return to form for the series thanks to a slew of entertaining modes and a fantastic story that sets a new standard for the genre.
The Mortal Kombat franchise has a long and rich history. After all, the violent fighting series has been around for decades and it eventually became part of popular culture for its violence, fatalities and memorable characters. During the PS2, GameCube and Xbox era, Mortal Kombat wasn’t the franchise that everyone fell in love with back in the arcades and a series of mediocre games did a poor job of convincing new players while retaining the core audience. Gladly, those days are over and the 2011 reboot is a return to form for the series that everyone has been waiting for.
So what makes this reboot worthy of such praise? Believe it or not, the story mode is one of the most important factors that make the game so easy to recommend. For decades, fighting game fans without friends were forced to play insipid and obtuse arcade modes and while Mortal Kombat has an equivalent of those, it also has a story mode that features all the great characters the franchise is known for. Since story mode is one of the best parts about the game, I’ll refrain from including a detailed description. Just know that like its predecessor (read: Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe,) there are seamless transitions between cutscenes and gameplay which makes this entire mode feel fluid and the loading times are barely noticeable. Also, Mortal Kombat takes its lore and makes it accessible and entertaining to both newcomers and veterans alike.
In terms of gameplay, this reboot also shares some similarities with its predecessor. Each of the face buttons represents one of the fighter’s limbs and the fifth primary button is used for blocking. Some attacks launch the opponent into the air so you can use juggle combos to make extra damage. One of the innovations come in the form of a super meter which has three levels and lets you perform a special ability at level one, interrupt an enemy combo at level two or use an X-ray attack at level three. X-Ray attacks are the most powerful attacks in the game and you can use them by pressing both triggers at the same time when the special bar is full. These attacks look gruesome and as their name suggest, the game shows you the bones and tissue of your opponent as they break and tear from the inside.
Finally, there are tag team matches where you can swap positions with a partner by pressing the right bumper. By using a bar of the super meter, the teammate that enters the arena does so with an attack which allows you to extend a combo. There are also tag assists which work in the same way as the tag combos, but the partner performs a special move and immediately leaves the arena. Of course, there are fatalities and even when they don’t add anything meaningful to the outcome of a fight, they do look impressive as are as bloody as you’d expect from a Mortal Kombat game.
There are other modes apart from the story. In Challenge Tower mode, you climb the Tower of the Elder Gods one challenge at a time. Challenges encourage you to defeat opponents, perform special attacks, use fatalities, target different part of the enemy’s body and so one. For your efforts, you get in-game money as well as the right to access to the next challenge. From what I’ve seen, there are dozens of challenges to complete and even when there no voice acting and cutscenes between them, they are entertaining because they are varied.
Other modes include Arcade ladder (the traditional Mortal Kombat mode where you climb a ladder as you defeat enemies in the tournament,) Tag team ladder (the same but with the possibility of using two fighters) and the test skills which are some basic minigames. In Test Your Luck, you spin a slot machine which determines the rule of the match and the modifiers (for instance, your character is poisoned,) in Test Your Might, you press buttons to increase your strength and then press the triggers to smash objects and Test Your Sight is a game of three cups and a ball.
In the extras menu, you’ll find the Crypt. This is a virtual cementary where you can use the in-game currency you’ve accrued in all the other modes to purchase unlockables and secrets. These include cheat codes, damage models, concept art, music, outfits and fatalities. There are literally hundreds of items to purchase and even though most of what you unlock are aesthetic items, I found myself going back to try and find all the characters’ fatalities and outfits.
Of course, there’s an online mode that features ranked matches, player matches, private, room and leaderboards. Although playing online is not the best way to experience a fighting game, most of the matches I played worked well enough. The problem is that there’s barely anyone playing online and the few that are have pretty much mastered the game’s mechanics. If you’re easily frustrated, make sure you have someone to play with locally.
Apart from the deserted online lobbies, there are other problems. Some of the boss fights are extremely difficult and this is maddening. In my fight against the main antagonist (which by the way made a lot of damage and took very little,) I was stuck for a long time. So I had to come up with a strategy that was based on precise timing, jumping behind him and using the hook attack over and over. I’m sure other people will use an intricate string of combos, but I was so frustrated that I couldn’t come up with anything else.
In the end, Mortal Kombat is the fighting game that fans have been clamoring for years and years. The game manages to bring back some of the most iconic parts of the series as well as some fantastic new modes, including the best story modes to ever grace a fighting game. This reboot bridges the gap between casual players and longtime fans and it achieves that in an elegant and irresistible package that’s hard to stop playing.