Playing this Mortal Kombat revamp is like meeting up with an old school friend. They’ve become a lot wiser and more mature, and also better looking, but because you can still remember all the stupid things they did back in the day it’s kind of hard to take them seriously. But since when did people take Mortal Kombat seriously anyway? For me all sense and sensibility went out the window after performing a fatality in the arcade original and witnessing (approximately) three skulls and six rib cages burst out of my hapless opponent.
But I digress: what the developers have done here is strip away all the tat and clutter that they used to bulk up the last 3D Mortal Kombat games and go back to basics, much like Capcom did with Street Fighter IV.
The roster is compiled from the pick of the Mortal Kombat litter, and every character has had a tweak to make them look more modern and edgy. Johnny Cage now resembles a movie star from this era rather than the ’90s, while space pirate Kano looks like he’s walked off the set of Bulletstorm. Backdrops are renditions of those from the first three games too, including Mortal Kombat II’s living forest and Mortal Kombat 3’s subway station. There’s plenty of detail to take in and there are stage-unique fatalities – easily the series’ goriest yet – to learn.
Story mode takes around three hours to finish and retells the stories from the original three Mortal Kombat games. Fans of the series are in for a treat – you get to see Cyrax and Sektor before they became cyborgs and learn how Jax lost his arms. Everybody else will be left wincing at the corny dialogue: “You fight pretty well… for a girl” says Johnny Cage painfully. You have to admire the way that the cut-scenes and fights are seamlessly blended together though. The sound effects really impress too, especially the sound of Nightwolf’s arrows piercing through the air and the metallic clunks as you knock the anti-freeze out of Cyber Sub Zero and his robotic chums. And yes, Liu-Kang still makes still makes those pleasingly daft high-pitched noises when leaping through the air and whatnot.
As you may expect, there’s a gimmick. But rather than just for show it does add a tactical element. Blocking attacks and performing special moves builds up a meter with three different segments. When partly filled you can perform enhanced moves, like unleashing three projectiles instead of one. When half filled you can perform a breaker to instantly stop an enemy’s combo, and when fully filled an absurdly detailed bone-breaking x-ray move can be used that’ll knock off around 40 percent of your rival’s health. The thing to consider here is that the x-ray attack can be blocked, and if this happens the power meter will go back to being empty.
When performing a throw you can also choose which direction to lob your opponent in, ready to set them up for another attack or combo. Tag matches can be quite tactical too, although they could have been made even more so if your partner’s health rejuvenated while out of battle. It is however quite satisfying defeating two opponents without even having to call in your second pugilist.
AI is a mixed bag; you can usually spam the same special move two or three times before the AI notices what you’re doing and decides to block. Goro has some very cheap attacks – his ground slam has quite a large damage radius – while final boss Shao Khan more or less has the same attack patterns as back in 1993, even stopping to gloat now and then by putting his hands on his hips.
As well as online play and arcade, tag ladder, story and challenge modes there are a few mini-games. Nothing in the same vein as Deception’s Puzzle Kombat or Armageddon’s Mario Kart-inspired Motor Kombat, but they’re nice enough. Test Your Luck starts off with a fruit-machine reel which dishes out items that will either boost or hinder your chances of survival. Test Your Might pays homage to the arcade original’s button bashing block smashing game of the same name. Then there’s Test Your Sight – a grizzly take on the ‘cup and ball’ gambling game where instead of a cup and a ball a severed head and an eyeball are used.
With a solid feel and a surprisingly refined and technical fighting system, Mortal Kombat certainly proves that ‘less is more’.