Mortal Kombat – The Review

At the cusp of cutting edge journalism Grig doth venture once more as we shun recent news juggernauts such as Cheryl Cole getting the boot from X Factor USA because as it turns out, she wasn’t worth it. We guffaw in the face of the Presidential visit knowing that even the most powerful man in the world wont find even so much as a sniff of a Super Street Fighter IV AE machine on our rotting turf, so he might as well go home and wait for the DLC like the rest of us. And we turn our noses up at the likes of the now not-so secret footballer and his sordid antics with Imodium Thomas or whatever her name is (good one!), even going so far as to forsake carrying the story just so that we have an excuse to get more hits via carrying a picture of her in a bikini or some similar non-item of clothing. This is the real breaking story that is sure to be sweeping round the world faster than a Rebecca Black Friday follow up – Grig Orig has made up it’s mind on Mortal Kombat! Delve in now to get the full verdict on the game that by now, you have probably traded in.

So Mortal madness is upon us again. Things are looking good, and things are looking as they should be. Fatalities and oodles of gore? Check! That trademark rigid, slightly awkward yet still enjoyable gameplay? Check! Still not being quite as good as Street Fighter? Check! Yep, things are just as we left them. It’s time to party like it’s 1993!

Grig – Behind the times again.

Mortal Kombat is back (and has been for a few weeks – sorry bout that!) and its sporting a fresh lick of paint, putting right it’s previous crimes this generation by off-loading those DC Universe lightweights and getting down and dirty with the original cast once more! Gone are the strafing shenanigans of 3D arenas, and back to the fixed 2d planes of yore we go, as the series well and truly returns to it’s roots – and all the better for it the game is! And if that doesn’t deserve a hearty ‘Ahoy!’, then by jove, I don’t know what does!

On booting up the game and spending a few minutes flicking through the options, circling the proverbial pool looking where best to jump in, you can’t help but be impressed by the lengths the developers have seemingly gone to in order to cover all the bases on the beat ‘em up field of expectation. This is an area Mortal Kombat really shines, as the sheer wealth of modes and content (Kontent? Let’s not even start going down that path.) available is a big step up from some of it’s stable mates and really does a job of showing up some of Street Fighters short comings that still wont be addressed even with the coming Arcade Edition. From the gargantuan Ladder and Story modes, to the more humble Test your Sight, Might and Luck mini games, there’s more meat rammed in here than a Rick Waller quadruple mega-burger. Detailed character bios and artwork are the order of the day in terms of a fine layer of presentational polish, and NetherRealm have even gone so far as to lavish us with alternate costumes via the age-old payment method of a bit of time and dedication, accessing them as unlockables. Well, one alt costume at least. The future surely has DLC costumes written all over it, but for now it’s a nice change in light of the standard class of 2011 payment option of cold hard cash, usually to unlock stuff normally already on the full-priced disc you bought (Capcom, EA and Activision – you listening you swines?!). And in times where Capcom have seemingly (and bizarrely) lost the very good challenge mode in the transition from SF4 to Super, and now trials for ‘The Arcade 4’ from Super to AE, it’s good to see NetherRealm studios avoid the back peddling, pressing onwards and upwards in triumphant fashion. The result of which is a game that we take our hats off to and confess – they have done a sterling job in bringing the good-ship MK bang up to date. Street Fighters Arcade Edition extras are starting to look ever more the half-hearted last roll of the lazy dice.

What do they take us for, a bunch of boobs?

The characters included in this iteration are a high quality bunch of familiar faces, spanning Kombat’s lengthily history. Again, all the boxes are ticked. The male contingent are well detailed and look typically like they’d happily brutalise you in a seconds notice for even being in the same room as their pint, let alone spilling it, whereas the females are your typical band of buxom bum and boobs-out bimbeteers. There’s certainly no Chun Li style dignity preserving reservations with the ladies in this game – if they’ve got them, they’ll be at least double D and 80% uncovered. At LEAST! My condolences to Sonya Blade though – the designers have gone a bit OTT with her. Looks like she’s had two truck-sized airbags installed on her for Grigs sake. She could claim benefits. But I digress. Basically, if you’ve got a favourite, they’re probably in here. And where once Mortal Kombat’s cast had about as much character as a sack of potatoes and as much individuality as the Borg, kudos must go to the developers for pouring large efforts into making sure that this is no longer the case with said personages. There’s not even so much of a hint of some of the players palette-swapped pasts with this update, as each and every character is more defined and fleshed out as an individual than they’ve ever been. This is a distinct breath of minty-fresh air to our menthol vapour-craving gaming nostrils having had Capcom clog them for far too long with the radial-blast propelled face-full of diarrhoea that is their continued (and unwanted) Street Fighting shoto-a-thon.

It’s Baraka. Second name, Bama (except it’s not).

Sonya Blade: Riot gear must be worn when fitting her for a bra.

 

Tag! You’re it!

One of the areas that benefits from having a good line up is the Tag mode. Don’t know which character to learn? Take two and get used to them that way as you battle online or against the CPU. Far from feeling cheaply stuck on, the mode is well realised with interesting scope for different set-ups and character switching combos at your disposal through different partner combinations. And with the ability to have two players controlling a character each on a team, much fun and hilarity is there to be had by all, both online, and off if you’re social enough to have the novelty of more than one friend. And round at the same time. Yeah right!

Challenge mode is an epic jaunt of curious tasks that is a true test of your Kombat skills and is a sure fire way to hone your abilities. 300 challenges await you and range from the ‘Tests’ mentioned earlier, to taking on countless foes with perplexing tweaks like only being able to use certain attacks. Or more strangely, taking on hoards of the Undead by shooting ever-increasing waves of zombies as they charge you down like merciless mercenaries of maniacal madness! It’s certainly an interesting side road to venture down next to the main games furious fighting, and it will keep you going for a fair old while which is no bad thing. Frustrating at times, a joyous hoot at others, surely all those that endure to the end will certainly be better competitors for having done so.

A trump card that Mortal Kombat has pulled out in the past is the intriguing Story mode. This time around, Raiden is being hit with constant visions of coming woe that is shortly set to unfold in the not too distant future. It’s really just a different way of going about justifying beating the brown out of each other, and is a method by which the developers can introduce us to the numerous cast members as you take control of each of them in turn as their segment of the tale unfolds. The story is decent as far as most games go, and the voice actors are a far cry enough from the atrociously brilliant likes of Resident Evil 1 so as not to be anything of a distraction. It’s an intriguing aspect of the game that certainly fleshes it out beyond the anonymous beat downs you give characters in the other standard arcade style modes. So now when I’m beating someone to a pulp, I know that I’m doing it for the greater good of the Kombat universe, and not just having to imagine it’s because they told me my Mums pants are the size of a galleons mainsail. Anyway…

Too hot to handle, too cold to hold.

The real meat of the game however, is obviously in the gameplay, and I have to give it to the developers – this is the best Mortal Kombat has played yet. While some may argue that that’s not much of a statement in terms of what’s gone before, this is still a big step up for the series closing a lot of ground on their competitors, if not quite completely level pegging them. But you can’t say they haven’t pulled out all the stops in trying! The games potential for combos and attacking options is vast and pulling off a blinding assault leaving your opponent reeling is almost as satisfying as you can get in a fighter. The gameplay has mirrored the advancement in the games graphics and has again moved to stand alongside the current standards set by Street Fighter with tech throws, EX moves, focus attacks (combo breakers?) and super specials (X-Rays), all keeping the frantic and often exhilarating action ticking over. More subtle touches such as cancels, right up to less so discreet touches like massive-number-of-hit combos, are all present and seemingly correct giving the latest Kombat the deepest gameplay the series has yet enjoyed.

Round 1, fight! My money’s on Ryu. What do you mean he’s not in it?

But while the game is undeniably great, there’s still something jarringly awkward about the way it handles. Naturally, long-term fans wouldn’t have it any other way, however it is something that anyone who’s experienced the fluidity of street fighter would find hard to ignore. While I applaud the game for trying to stand toe to toe with its long-term nemesis, it is unfortunately still the lesser of the two. In terms of pure compulsive fighting action, Mortal Kombat can sometimes feel like a duck out of water plodding awkwardly along with it’s clunky controls that are something of a series trademark. You just can’t help but will it to start flowing a little more. You could argue that this is where Mortal Kombat gets it’s unique feel, but at the same time is probably the one element that’s holding the game back the most. If the controls were just a little looser and the links from one animation to the next were just a little smoother, then perhaps it could really break some new ground. Again, I can’t help but feel that one other particular staple of Mortal Kombat – the blocking method – would be best executed differently. While many other beat em ups have comfortably used a hold button to block, like Virtua Fighter, there’s something quite unnatural feeling about it in Mortal Kombat and I can’t help but think the more instinctive directional hold back would work better. While I’m sure fans would go crazy at such suggestions, and as my description for improvements just draws the game even nearer to just being Street Fighter, I would certainly like to have the option to try it.

The online side of the game – once I’d finished spending about 2 hours mentally bracing myself for some form of interaction with another actual human usually involving anxiety, then despair at how pathetic I am, followed by more anxiety, and then finally playing the game for about five minutes before I have to have a half hour sit down where I recover from the shakes – is a bit of a hit and miss affair. Searching for ranked or player matches gleans nothing more than your time being wasted as you sit and watch the dragon logo spin around while it tells you it’s searching for a challenger. But does a challenger ever turn up? In a word, no. Not within a decent amount of time or regularity in order to maintain the heat of battle anyway. So unless you want about 1 fight every half an hour, avoid these broken options and jump into player lobbies where endless opponents await all ye who enter! There are often numerous lobbies to join, and with up to 100 players per lobby you will never be short of a few matches. With the ability to challenge or be challenged by anyone in the lobby, along with a live text feature on which people usually put taunting messages to their fellow players, this is a great way to set up online fights and is something I would like to see incorporated in some way into future fighters.

Now that’s fan service! No wait, come back! I can do better! Actually, I can’t.

The Wrath of Kahn

One of the recurring problems that beat em ups have tended to have fallen into of late is the strange difficulty setting of the computer controlled end boss, and sadly, Mortal Kombat is no exception. Instead of adorning protection when climbing into beat ‘em up bed again with the harlot that is the AI, the big MK simply dove in hammer and tong without thinking twice and is now paying the price for its actions. For alas, like many who’ve gone before it, it’s ended up in the clinic the next morning suffering from full-blown CCPUD (Cheating CPU Disease). And it’s caught it big time.

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m all for a challenge, and this game at least provides some semblance of a difficulty curve leading up to the final boss rather than the sheer brick wall of some of it’s peers, but when it so completely negates any skill and instead forces you into boring patterns of attacks over and over, something is surely wrong. In this rather peculiar case, on normal difficulty at least, if you are defeated by Shao Kahn 3 times, on the fourth go the AI completely disintegrates and he goes from an indestructible Shire Horse of a man to a dribbling lunatic who just stands around taunting letting you beat him up for an easy win. Where’s the fun in that? Balance people! Balance! Dismayed, cranking it up to expert at least stopped this. But then you still have to contend with one of the most one-sided fights you’ll see this side of Seth’s smoothly buffed groin-pad. This unfortunately is when the aforementioned pattern-play is required, crossing him up over and over because if you actually try and fight him, you’ll be there the rest of your life. It’s a poor show, and while it’s better than the typical hybrid-end-boss with the games most recognised moves slaved into one generic character – see Virtua Fighter, Dead Or Alive 4, Street Fighter IV, etc – it’s still as dull as you can get. And that hammer? Oh my…

But, these are only a few annoyances in an otherwise solid game.

Konclusion… sorry.
As we said before, while street fighter is still king of the gameplay tree, Capcom could certainly do with taking some pointers from Mortal Kombat, both in terms of depth via play modes, as well as giving the fans what they want in terms of characters – both areas Capcom have refused to barely budge despite putting out a new version of their game.

Graphics: 85% – Very good characters with lots of detail and on the whole, decent animation – except for Kitana’s hair. Epic representations of familiar and new environments. Graphics good enough to have the game banned in Australia!

Gameplay: 85% – Street Fighter is still the top dog in raw playability, but the gap is closer than it’s ever been. Plenty of plus points and most importantly an enjoyable play to boot. The slightly stiff controls are drowned in a sea of quality, but every now and then, rears its ugly head.

Sound: 73% – Adequate, if often unspectacular. Fans should enjoy a nostalgic tingle from recreated tunes of yesteryear, but Mortal Kombat has never had the kind of music you could belt out a rousing whistling chorus of, a la street fighter. Its effectiveness has always been its eerie atmospheric subtlety. Decent voice acting that never sullies the experience with actors that have been well utilised in story mode and do a good job of reflecting the personality of the characters.

Presentation: 82% – Well rendered screens and slick looking recreation of the classic Ladder. Krypt and Nekropolis get the nod-of-Grig. Plenty of unlockable design sketches and character/stage art to go along with the usual CGI and gameplay attract sequences also make us happy gamers. Decent enough direction and acting in story mode, and a mention must go to the nice extra of watching fights with others using avatars in a cinema-esque setting. It all screams ‘look at me and see how cool I am!’.

Lastability – 88%: Plenty of Kombat (another one slipped through, Captain!) for your buck here – the sheer wealth of modes is exceptional. Online will last you ages as it’s very ‘just one more’ish, and with a grig load of people out there in online lobbies that are easy to navigate, it means you’ll always be able to find a challenger. Loads to unlock and with a real depth plus potential for tag match-ups, it means you’ll still be unearthing new combos and tricks for months to come.

Overall: 85%. A solid game and a worthy alternative to SSFIV, though we really couldn’t recommend it over Capcoms faltering masterpiece purely from a gameplay perspective. But if you’ve run Ryu and co ragged and are looking to pad the time before AE under whelms you, you could do a lot worse than Mortal Kombat.

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