Mortal Kombat Review
I'm starting to think that 2012 will be the year that everyone remembers as the one where we learned to never, ever count out the dedicated gaming handheld device. The Nintendo 3DS and Sony PlayStation Vita both arrived in a very different marketplace than they'd faced before, a marketplace dominated by gaming apps, touch controls and the almighty iOS platform. Leave it to Nintendo and Sony to disprove the handheld doomsayers, and disprove them they have. The 3DS's sales numbers have literally exploded, bolstered by AAA titles like Resident Evil: Revelations and my current obsession, Kid Icarus: Uprising. The PS Vita hasn't been available for as long as Nintendo's newest handheld, but with titles like Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Disgaea 3, the Vita's future is a bright one. The latest feather in the Vita's cap is Mortal Kombat, an enhanced port of last year's console fighting revival. Sorry, smartphone gamers. With games of this amazing quality becoming commonplace on the dedicated handhelds, the Apple/Android platform doesn't stand a chance of claiming the top spot.
Having not played a Mortal Kombat title since (I'm dating myself here, big time) Mortal Kombat 2 on the Super Nintendo, I went into this port still associating the series with those awful films featuring the Jock Jams soundtrack (MORTAL KOMBAT!!! Sorry, I couldn't help myself). Aside from strolling by the now-closed arcade (i.e. every arcade ever), characters like Cyrex, Milena, etc. were a complete mystery. Thankfully, this itineration of the classic series contains something that should be required of every fighting game: A fully fleshed-out single player story mode, complete with tons of cutscene-based plot development. I remembered names like Kano and Sub-Zero from the old days, but the story mode brought me up to speed while simultaneously introducing me to characters I didn't know, like Jax and Baraka. It'll take about 6-8 hours to see it all, and it really should be the first thing you tackle in-game; its the perfect foundation for new and old fans alike.
The Kombat doesn't stop there; this is a fighting game boasting more options and modes than it's console big brother, and probably more than most other fighters. It has all the requisite modes - arcade, tag match, survival, etc., but since you know what those entail (or you should), I'm not going to go too far into them. We will stick to the other, more unique modes, the first of which is a literal Godsend: a fatality tutorial/practice mode. The control-throwing difficulty of pulling off fatalities in the old days is completely evaporated by this mode. Pick your fighter, pick your opponent, practice the fatality (using on-screen directions) and move on. I couldn't believe it either, but Mortal Kombat was actually able to teach me to execute these difficult combos with about a 90 percent success rate. Middle school me would be extremely impressed with today's me.
Even better, the fatalities can be input with the Vita's touch screen, further easing the process for those of us who suck. The swipes and button presses are somewhat forgiving in timing and accuracy, allowing almost every player to commit all kinds of post-fight homicide. This brilliant concept, when married with the fatality tutorial mode that will let you practice these moves without having to slog through an entire two-round fight, gives everyone a chance to see what Mortal Kombat should look like. No more wasted seconds furiously inputting d-pad commands next to a defeated, swaying opponent? That alone was enough to sell me on this one.
This port also features a challenge tower that appeared in the console game, as well as an all-new, separate challenge tower that takes advantage of the Vita's control features. The first tower's difficulty ranges from smack-yo-momma easy to rip-your-hair-out hard, and beating these challenges can be extremely gratifying. These challenges, along with just about every other in-game action, reward you with Koins (ugh) that can be redeemed for a number of things, but we'll get there in a second. The second tower is almost as much fun, but certain actions guarantee that you won't be playing them on the bus. Using the camera, motion controls, touch controls (a particular favorite was wiping blood from the screen) are all socially unwelcome, but they can be a blast in the relative security of your living room. As far as I can tell, these two towers contain around 300 different challenges to beat so, yeah, you'll be plugging away for a while.
Remember the Koins? You'll be spending them in the Krypt (double ugh), a huge map littered with purchasable mystery objects. You never know what you are buying until you've bought it, so each purchase provides a little charge of excitement. The objects can yield everything from concept art to new costumes to even new character fatalities. Once you get started with this, you'll find it very difficult to not play just one more match for just a handful of more coins, ahem, Koins. The last time I saw a fighter with this kind of addictive unlocking was with the import-only DS game, Jump! Ultimate Stars. Before that, it was Soul Calibur on the Dreamcast. Both were games I sunk hundreds of hours into, and Mortal Kombat appears to be poised to be my next socially-crippling obsession.
Mortal Kombat wouldn't be a video game without an online component (in some gamers' eyes, certainly not mine), and what you get here is overall pretty good. You are going to need WiFi to fight online (why in the hell did we all buy the 3G Vita then?!), a disappointing development to be sure. Other than that stain, the online Kombat is actually kinda fun. I saw no lag and was able to easily connect and jump into fighting, but the matchmaking, admittedly, isn't the best. There is absolutely no rhyme or reason to partnering up myself, a novice, with a Kombat savant boasting of a 300/2 win/loss record. And though it has almost nothing to do with the game itself, it is refreshing to see almost no one utilizing the old "sweep 'em in a corner" Mortal Kombat cop-out. Though I did enjoy the handful of online battles I mostly lost, I don't see myself returning to this mode very often. Sure, I lost a lot, a WHOLE lot, but my aversion is more to online gaming in general, rather than a swath of global opponents handing me my butt on a silver platter. Bravo for single player content!
It's been decades since parents' groups decried Sub-Zero tearing the heads off his opponents, but that same feeling runs through this new vision of Mortal Kombat. There is a reason this series has almost legendary status, and despite my aversion to needless, bloody violence and even most fighting games in general, Mortal Kombat shines through as not just the best fighter on Sony's new handheld, but perhaps one of the Vita's best games overall.
Final Rating: 89%. Mortal Kombat shines through as not just the best fighter on Sony's new handheld, but perhaps one of the Vita's best games overall.