Monday, April 25, 2011

Nearly a Flawless Victory, But Close Enough to One... The Mortal Kombat (PS3) Review

Note - This review is now updated with online impressions now that PSN got back up.

Mortal Kombat is back in a big way and it is glorious. The franchise has been through a lot despite still being successful over the years. Even though the past 3D games weren't amazing especially in the last generation of consoles and even the teen rated MK vs. DC Universe, the 9th entry brings things back properly to 2D and a mature rating that gets taken advantage of fully by Netherrealm Studios, still led by the franchise's co-creator Ed Boon. This new iteration brings the storyline back to the first three games, but retold in a different way in which I will talk about more in a bit. With a mix of old-school and modern gameplay from classic tactics of the old days to crazy juggle combos the franchise has been known for, this is arguably the best Mortal Kombat game since the 2D games back in the 90s and one of the best fighting games in a while because it feels more of a complete package compared to some other recent games that have out (cough, Capcom, cough) by having enough modes to satisfy both single and multiplayer audiences.

Other than the standard arcade mode (ladder mode) of a series of fights and then a confrontation against Shao Kahn, the story mode is the main single player mode in this new Mortal Kombat. There are many attempts throughout the franchise of making this mode right especially with the 3D games, but they finally achieved what they wanted along here. It begins with Shao Kahn nearing victory against Raiden during Mortal Kombat: Armageddon and before Kahn was able to finish him off, the thunder god was able to communicate to his past self of the events that could happen. It is to him and the fighters representing Earth Realm to rewrite the story and prevent Kahn from merging Outworld with Earth Realm by winning the tournament. It is definitely a retelling or a different take of the first three games with some unexpecting twists. I was surprised throughout my time with it how impressive MK9's story mode is to the point is the best story implementation I have seen in a fighting game. Even though it still feels like a series of fights except with nearly half of the roster that is pretty much a who's who from the first three games, the story flows seamlessly from one character to another as one big event. Each character has their known beefs that are settled with other characters such as Sonya an Kano, Scorpion and Sub-Zero, etc. Another great feat with the story mode is there is no load screen at all throughout the campaign as the loads are pretty much a disguise during the numerous cutscenes. Speaking of the cutscenes, they are done well for the most part with the expected cheesy dialogue, but that dialogue works for game like this. Story mode does not take that long to beat, which is around six hours, but the boss characters like Goro, Kintaro, and Shao Kahn will give you a tough time at first due to their cheapness, but you'll eventually figure out their patterns and capitalize on their mistakes. Those three being tough does bring back the times of the 90s with the early MK games when they were still tough to defeat then.

Mortal Kombat's other main single player mode is the challenge tower, which is pretty self-explanatory being well a tower containing 300 challenges to beat. They also contain the franchise's signature mini-game Test Your Might from the first game along with some new ones that test your sight, strike, and luck. Test Your Sight is basically picking the right cup from a series of cups after being moved around a lot. Test Your Strike is a different twist of Test Your Might as you mash buttons to a certain area of the meter and once its green in its limited window, its good to strike the object then. Test Your Luck revolves around a slot machine that picks the stipulations for the fight from your character, any damage buffs or nerfs, certain moves being disabled, and the various kombat kodes (that were introduced in MK3) that spice up the gameplay. As the mode indicates, you can be on the lucky end of the stick when you have limited abilities as it can get insane. The rest of the challenge tower is a mixture of objectives to complete. Some of them can be normal fights, win being headless or armless, survive a wave of zombies by just spamming fireballs, meteors coming from the air, ninjas firing ice as you from afar, and so on. The tower basically throws you from one crazy situation to another using the whole roster. There is an option however to skip challenges if you feel stuck in one by spending kombat koins, your in-game currency that is also being used to buy stuff from the krypt, which also makes a return. All in all, the challenge tower is a great mode that has its fun at times, but also filled with cheap moments as well with the numerous stipulations they offer.

Even though there is a good amount of single-player modes that will keep players busy for hours, the core fighting is what matters especially for Mortal Kombat and the system this time around is really fun to mess around with in both casual and tournament level play. As I mentioned before, it is a mixture both old and new school MK. The old school tactics still remain from the good old Scorpion spear to uppercut while new school tactics have chain combo strings that keep fights in close quarters and help along with juggle combos. Projectiles and movement are still definitely a huge part in the core MK game as someone with a good projectile game and move around especially by telporting can be dangerous to deal with such as Noob Saibot, Ermac, and Smoke as they can deal big damage combining those two aspects together. The air game can also play a significant part too if you have someone that can deal damage there like Kitana, Kung Lao, and pretty much any character that has an air throw or a dive kick. Besides the regular one on one play, there is a tag mode, which the potential for crazier combos increases with two characters playable. The tag mode can be pretty fun as well as a good diversion, but personally most people will sticking to one on one fights. All of this makes you wonder if this game is even balanced, but MK games in the past have known for not being balanced with certain characters dominating and the same can be said for this ninth game. However, this does not make half of the roster useless just by tiers alone and of course its still early to tell who is too good and who sucks, but there are early contenders out there for high tier characters.

Along with the core fighting, meter management plays a huge factor especially in high-level matches. The super meter in this game has three uses. One block of meter can be used for enhanced special moves, or as we like to call EX moves in the Street Fighter world that were also seen in MK vs. DC Universe. Using an enhanced version of a special move has its purposes as it is very situational, but usually they can be used to continue big juggle combos. Two blocks of meter are for combo breakers, which is toward and block at the same when being caught in a combo. Like enhanced special moves, combo breakers are also situational and can the turn the tide the match at times when used correctly. Most of the time though it is best to save your meter not wasting it on breakers so you can use all of it for the x-ray move. Each character has their own x-ray that can be a throw, projectile, or just a regular attack. By simply pressing the L2 + R2 buttons at the same time, you can deal at least a third of a full health bar, which is a huge chunk of damage and change the tone of a match at times. If done during a juggle combo, the damage does scale, but still it is nice to do during those instead of randomly doing it out of desperation hoping it hits.

Of course, another reason the Mortal Kombat franchise has been known for is the fatalities and a return to the mature rating is indeed a good thing. They still require a specific sequence of commands, but they're still awesome to nail and see as some of them can be very gruesome and gory while others can be a bit disappointing depending on with your character's expectations. There are modernized twists to classic fatalities by the staples of the franchise and they're still as good as they were in the 90s. Each character has two fatalities, one known at the gate from the move list and one hidden. The hidden one can be done if you know the inputs by heart, but you can also get them at the krypt if you're unsure. Stage fatalities are also in such as the signature pit one, the dead pool from MK2, trees eating you at the living forest, and being run down by a train in the subway. As far of other finishing moves from previous games like babailities and friendships are concerned, let's just say one of them makes a return too and if you don't know by now, you can find out easily on the internet. Fatalities can even be practiced in the game's training mode where there's one for regular training as seen in other recent fighting games and another just for fatalities in case of the inputs to do them as well as the distance for it to work. The game's tutorial does an okay job getting you started with the basics, but it is still about practicing certain matchups and juggle combos in training mode. The krypt is also where you can unlock alternate costumes if you haven't beaten ladder mode with a certain character along with various art and mockups.

There is of course online multiplayer as if you played Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, it is pretty much similar to that with the options. Ranked & player matches are expected and there's lobbies straight out of the old online days before matchmaking took over where you can meet up other players challenging them in the process. The challenges can be standard one on one matches, tag, or king of the hill, which is basically endless battle in the Street Fighter IV games. Netherrealm approaches that a little differently as avatars are watching fights in a theater and they can vote by respect points how good the king is after winning. Its another good approach to bring back the arcade days of putting down a quarter and watching the competition do work. Latency can be a problem as players will drop in and out during fights which can affect your performance messing up a move or a combo. During my time with the mode since PSN got back up, the game crashed on me at the character select screen. The flaws don't stop after that as the netcode is not up to snuff compared to most fighters as you're bound to run into laggy matches every time you turn on the game. Along with the disappointing netcode, finding ranked matches does not work and you're lucky if you find one at its current state, so your best bet finding matches now is by the lobby system. Netherrealm does know about the online issues and did announce a patch that would fix those in the coming weeks, so I hope the netcode gets better with that.

Graphically, Mortal Kombat looks great on all aspects. The backgrounds can be dark, gritty, and colorful which are modernized takes on classic stages from the first three games, which is finally cool to see in a way they were meant to be in the first place when we all first envisioned it back then. The character models themselves look pretty sharp especially when they looked all beat up as you will see all the blood on their bodies as well as the scars from their outfits. Fighting games rarely slow down frame-rate wise and it is still the case here even though it can slow down during an unlockable character''s victory pose in the challenge tower and even lock up, which only happened once during a challenge as Kano. These are specific instances though during my playtime with the game, so who knows if the same is true in other people's hands. The sounds are also dark and gritty, which is fitting to the theme especially with the music. The voices for the characters are great as most of the new ones are fine that fit their personalities even though some old voice recordings remained the same like Raiden's torpedo and the "Toasty!" pop-up after an uppercut, which is a good nostalgic touch.

It is about time Mortal Kombat was done right after many years of struggle to trying to bring back the magic for a new era. A simple return to 2D, only having characters we know and love from the first three games, a retelling of the events from those games, and a fun fighting system that satisfies both the casual and hardcore/tournament crowds were all that was needed for the game to be amazing again. This game's release also brings back the classic rivalry with Capcom (now with Street Fighter IV & Marvel vs. Capcom 3) for fighting game supermacy. It is actually nice to see Western and Japanese game philosophies clash again in this genre of gaming as this could be saved for another article in the future of what I mean regarding these two different styles. Honestly, Mortal Kombat is a fighting game done right in this era of gaming today being filled with hours of content with the awesome story mode and challenge tower when playing alone. Then there is the online for more hours of fighting action along with messing with characters on training mode. There are minor gripes especially for tournaments such as the button configuration issue, but I'll leave that gripe for the tournament scene to deal with even though I hope they fix it via a future patch. Mortal Kombat 9 is nearly a flawless victory, but damn close enough to one.

Score = 9.5/10

  • Fun & deep fighting system for both casual/hardcore crowds
  • Plays well on both stick & pad, comes down to personal preference
  • PS3 version bonuses with Kratos as a playable character (he's not that good to be honest) & option to play in 3D
  • Hours of single-player content w/ story mode & challenge tower
  • The best story mode ever in a fighting game
  • Definitely the best return to form for the franchise
  • Boss characters are cheap just like the 90s, but they can still be beaten easily here
  • Button configuration is handled poorly (especially for tournaments)
  • Online mutliplayer issues (netcode not good now, difficult finding ranked matches, game crashing during king of the hill, etc.), but will be fixed by an upcoming patch.

No comments: