Revisiting ‘Mortal Kombat’ (2011)

NetherRealm's soft reboot still holds up eight years later!

Review by J.T. Johnson

By 2008, Midway Games had released “Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe” on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It largely followed the same stale formula as the trilogy of games that appeared on PS2 and Xbox beginning with “Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance” in 2002. In addition to having nothing new to bring to the table, “MK vs. DC” also had to tone down the violence thanks to the inclusion of characters from the DC Universe.

Not long after this, though, Midway Games went bankrupt and eventually closed their doors for good. This is when Warner Bros. Interactive stepped in and acquired most of Midway’s assets, including Mortal Kombat. After this, Warner Bros. put Mortal Kombat co-creator Ed Boon in charge of a new studio called NetherRealm Studios and in 2010, a new game was announced that was simply titled “Mortal Kombat”.

Many people thought that the new game would be a reboot of the series and they were only half-right. The game is a remix of the first three games in the series, but with a time travel twist. At the end of “Mortal Kombat: Armageddon”, Shao Khan and Raiden are the last warriors standing during the end times.

It looks as though Shao Khan will be the victor and Raiden is almost defeated. Before he is killed, though, he takes out a special amulet and sends a mental message throughout time to his younger self around the time of the first “Mortal Kombat”. Throughout the game’s story mode, Raiden gets visions of the dark future and attempts to change events for the better, but this definitely comes at a cost that plays out through the game.

For a fighting game, ‘Mortal Kombat’ actually contains a pretty impressive Story Mode.

The game itself revitalized the series by doing something rather simple. The developers went back to the roots of what made the series popular in the first place. While the 3D entries into the series were fine enough, this game returns to a 2D playing field but with fully rendered 3D graphics. This is why the game is often referred to as a 2.5D fighting game and it works astonishingly well.

Not only is the story nostalgic and effective, the gameplay often brings back great memories of the old arcade fighting games while still attempting and succeeding at doing its own thing. The game feels great and it feels balanced for the most part beyond its main boss (more on that in a minute). Of course, one of the main things people play these games for is for the Fatalities and there is no denying that.

Thankfully, this game went above and beyond on the finishing moves and they are almost all pretty gnarly and fun to watch. I’ve stated before that the reason I accept the over-the-top violence in these games is due to the very fact that it’s so overboard that it mostly comes off as darkly comedic rather than just outright violent. However, I always want to warn that if you are not a fan of violence in any shape or form, then this game is definitely not for you.

Now, for the characters. The game features an impressive roster of 25 initial characters. There are also two additional characters that are unlocked through playing the Story Mode. After the game was released, several additional fighters such as Rain, Kenshi and Skarlet were added to the roster.

If you play on the PlayStation 3, you also get a special surprise with Kratos being added to the roster. According to Boon, there was supposed to have been an exclusive character with the Xbox 360. Without going into too much detail, he eluded that Microsoft couldn’t agree as to which character the game could have and the deal fell apart. One last addition to the roster is a bit of an odd one, but understandable seeing that Warner Bros. owns the character.

The game is a 2.5D fighting game, meaning that while the game is graphically 3D, it is played on a traditional 2D plane reminiscent of earlier games in the series.

Outside of the Mortal Kombat franchise, film monster and pop culture legend Freddy Krueger was added to the roster as well. He fits in surprisingly well and it was cool to play as one of my favorite movie monsters in a Mortal Kombat game. In short, he was the new character that I never knew I wanted in my MK game.

Beyond the traditional ladder where you simply fight other combatants on the way to fighting Shao Khan, there are other game modes as well that add more flavor to the game. There is the Test Your Might ladder where you have to break certain objects which is a throwback to the original mini-game found in the first “Mortal Kombat”. Then there is Test Your Luck, a game mode where you not only fight someone else, you have to deal with certain game modifiers such as missiles and acid rain that can either help or hinder you during battle.

Finally, there is the now familiar Krypt that was originally introduced in “Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance”. This is an area where you open up hundreds of coffins that unlock certain elements such as alternate skins and Fatalities. There are also other things such as behind-the-scenes stuff and concept art that you can also unlock. You do this by using the Koins that you earn when you play the game and this, along with the various fighting modes, adds way more replay value than what can be found in other fighting games.

There is one major flaw in the game that keeps it from getting a perfect score, though, and that is the main boss Shao Khan. No matter what difficulty you choose, he is a cheap bastard of a character. You will get beaten a couple of times before he pretty much nerfs himself (such as taunting more after you’ve retried a couple of times) and this is usually enough for you to finally beat him.

There is a pretty solid though cheap way to beat him and that also takes away from the fun of finally beating him. Beyond Shao Khan, though, this game is still pretty effective eight years later. I definitely prefer “Mortal Kombat X” from a gameplay standpoint because they pretty much improved upon everything that they introduced here in this game. Despite that, I still find the Story Mode in this game to be better and it still has that wonderful nostalgic feel for long-time fans of the series while being a great entry point for those new to the series.

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