Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Mortal Kombat Review

It is probably fitting I release this two days after the American ninjas of Seal Team Six delivered a pretty epic fatality to Osama Bin Laden; considering the way that videogames such as the Call of Duty  have risen to become the fastest selling  franchises,  I would not be surprised if Seal Team 6 is in fact comprised of robots with assault rifles controlled by nerds with itchy trigger fingers thousands of miles away.

Can anyone explain how it took a few good men took 40 (ahem, more likely it was 15) minutes to wipe out a whole compound while suffering no casualties and it was not  a videogame?

As for Mortal Kombat , the franchise has finally caught up.

Ever since the rise back to relevance of the fighting genre thanks to Super Street Fighter 4  , I have been waiting for MK to do the same.  I lived through the first real "fighting-game" era in the arcades when Street Fighter 2  dominated the market. Along came Mortal Kombat, a fighting game that brought a whole new emphasis to the conclusions of fights rather than the actual mechanics. The buckets of gore and endearingly fun fatalities served as a point of escalation in the fighting genre for years to come. Since peaking with Mortal Kombat 2 ,  the franchise slowly became a mockery of itself, maintaining it's stale combat mechanics of jump/ sweep/ uppercut while introducing more types of fatalities: animalities, friendships, babealities etc.

Beware - it becomes evident how quickly the animators ran out of ideas after the first 10 seconds:

After several sequels and forays into 3D, MK  has followed in Street Fighter's footsteps and returned to its roots. Like SF4, that aptly titled Miortal Kombat  is 3D rendered reimagining of the entire MK lore, while moving the fighting plane back to 2D and adding several new mechanics.

The MK lore as we knew it was already pretty flimsy. Back in the day, stories were patched together as quickly as new iterations of the arcade game were churned out. The new MK takes the overall framework and characters of those previous iterations and pulls a Star Trek  by allowing a younger Raiden to see the future of the original series' canon and thus try and change the timeline in the new game to avert tragedy. If this at all seems confusing, I should probably throw up the disclaimer that that STORY DOESN'T MATTER.

Honestly, if you enjoyed this series growing up - hell if you got a kick out of the first movie - you will enjoy this game. Every character has been reimagined with stunning graphical detail with voice acting that is as campy as the story. After playing through the story mode, I finally figured out what makes this series so nostialgic and relevant.

Frankly, it's not the fatalities. I spent the first 15 minutes of the game going through each characters tier 1 fatalities in the training mode, and actually kind of freaked out that my excitement had already peaked. It wasn't till I actually spent time fighting that I got it: it's the characters.

Sub-Zero and Scorpion have always been the pinnacle of cool, and pretty much skewed my perception at a young age of what ninjas were capable of; hell my mom even made my brother and I matching Sub-Zero and Scoropion costumes that we wore multiple Halloweens in a row, just because those characters were so badass (I was Scorpion of course). Even though the fighting mechanics in those old games were terrible,  the series never took itself seriously enough to warrant a decent fighting engine. It was all about cool characters ripping peoples heads off, and I was fine with that at the age of 9.

At the age of 26, I needed something a little bit more. Thankfully, Mortal Kombat  has finally adopted a decent, Major League Gaming  level of fighting engine. Now, those same awesome characters you used to love actually do equally awesome combos and moves. Though the tuning is not as tight as SF4,  there is enough variation and arial leeway with moves to create an infinite string of combos with the right precision. Thankfully, most moves are extremely easy to pull off - at least with the D-Pad.

Since the PS3 network has been down, I have been kind of dreading how some of my favorite characters will fair in online compitetion. The D-pad gives the player the precision and peace of mind to pull off any move, but really doesn't feel as ergonomic or fast as the analog stick. Unfortunately, as everyone knows, the analog can be damn near rage-inducing when trying to pull off some moves. I do not know if it was MK's design, but I find myself now instinctively switching back and forth between the D-pad and Analog stick, which can be quite cumbersome on the fly. I'll have to wait and see how important the online component will become to me, as that will determine if I take the extra step to go buy one of those damn arcade joysticks; hell, at least I can still use it for SF4 or Marvel Vs. Capcom .

The other big introduction to the series that has been a long time coming (every other popular fighting franchise has a varition of it) is the "X-Ray Power Bar."  Once filled, the character only needs to hold 2 buttons to execute a move that, if landed, is a cinematic exploration of how each character likes to shatter bones or smash internal organs. They are veritible game changers in combat, as some characters X-Ray moves can reduce an enemy's health bar by up to 40%. Yet, you can go another route with the bar, and use portions of it as you see fit to execute some enhanced super moves that do extra damage, or a one time combo-breaker. Definitely adds a much needed strategic aspect to every fight.

The final verdict: if you were at all a fan of Mortal Kombat at any point of your life, this game is the summation of it's greatest features, rendered beautifully with some much needed updated fighting mechanics. How it will hold up to the  test of time will probably be determined by how many friends you can convince to buy the game and duel online. In a world where there is no PlayStation Network, the single player was an enjoyable trip down memory lane.


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