Mortal Kombat |
When it comes to fighting games I’ve always preferred the Tekken and DOA franchises, but that all changed last year when I did my review for Mortal Kombat on the Xbox 360. For some reason, after 30 years, the game finally just “clicked” with me and I was hopelessly hooked. Mortal Kombat has been around forever, or so it seems, so it is understandable that the series has found a home on virtually every console and handheld released since the franchise moved from arcades to your living room.
As expected, Mortal Kombat is now available on the PS Vita, and thanks to Sony’s powerhouse handheld nothing has been sacrificed in the content or production value of this fantastic port. If anything, this could be the ultimate version of the game, as it not only brings all of the content from the 2011 console release including all updates, DLC content, and characters like Freddy Krueger and Kratos, but it also adds a bloodbath of new and exclusive content for Vita gamers.
For those already familiar with the console version and just want to know what’s new, let’s start with the Bonus Challenge Tower featuring 150 new challenges, many of which make use of the Vita’s accelerometer and touch features. You can now use your finger to swipe items on the screen, tap rockets to detonate before they hit you, shake the Vita to explode bombs, or fire ground-based rockets to juggle a character and keep him from hitting the ground. The touchscreen can also be used for classic X-Ray and Fatality fight moves and finishers. Also exclusive to the Vita are 16 additional costumes including several new ones for the DLC characters, and the Krypt is loaded with new character artwork.
The new Bonus Challenge Tower is a daunting endeavor with each level offering a new task or challenge. In one level you may simply have to beat your opponent while another you’ll find yourself hastily wiping away the blood that is splattering your screen with every attack just so you can see what is going on. The challenges mix in traditional controls with the touch, swipe, tilt, and shake features of the Vita including two new Vita-exclusive mini-games. There is a lot of unlockable content assigned to this new tower ensuring that you’ll want to finish all 150 levels.
Test Your Balance uses the accelerometer to have players carefully balance their character so they don’t fall into the deadly pit below, although with some new never before seen fatality sequences you may want to fall in a few times. The challenge increases as body parts start flying at you to knock you off, and the balance beam keeps getting shorter. Test Your Slice is the other mini-game and plays out much like Fruit Ninja where you are furiously slashing away at flying fruit as it arcs through the screen. Occasionally a bomb will get tossed in and you have to shake your Vita to detonate or Sub-Zero pops up and you can tap him to freeze the fruit.
For those who want to exploit every last feature of their Vita, check out the hidden AR Easter Egg. By going into a Practice mode and hitting Triangle during character select to choose an Arena, then pressing LT+RT you should hear Shao Kahn’s evil laugh and your next fight will take place in the Kombat Tomb from MK2 with the Outworld horizon being replaced by whatever your Vita camera happens to be pointing at. The effect is enhanced further with the original background music by Dan Forden and the original MK2 bird sprites flying around your virtual arena.
Vita exclusives notwithstanding, Mortal Kombat reboots the series with a clever time travel element weaved into the story that sends Raiden back in time so you can relive the events of the first three Mortal Kombat games. In the world Raiden knows, Shao Kahn has killed everyone (as shown in a grisly opening cutscene) so he must change key moments in history to create an alternate reality – hopefully one in which everyone is still alive, so from time to time Raiden will have these flashes and will try to change certain events. The concept is cool but the overall story is still pretty weak and comically bad at times; a shallow excuse to steer you from fight to fight using pre-selected characters and locations.
The story is surprisingly long and depending on your skill level can take upwards of 12-15 hours (thanks in part to the unskippable cutscenes), and then you have a 300-fight ladder tournament and of course, the endless challenge of the multiplayer battles, both online and with local Wi-Fi. With all of your favorite characters present and accounted for along with thousands of moves and amazing combos, there is enough fighting action lurking in Mortal Kombat to keep you popping blisters on your thumbs for the next year.
After several disappointing attempts at 3D, Mortal Kombat returns to its 2D roots and showcases a vibrant new art style that blurs the lines of comic books and video games with some revolutionary new graphics. The characters in Mortal Kombat have always been greatly exaggerated but now they are larger than life with crazy costumes, insane animations, and female proportions that make Lara Croft looks like a young boy. The big standout in this game are the unearthly environments packed with so much detail I kept getting my ass kicked while trying to admire my surroundings. But nothing can prepare you for the fight, combo, brutal X-Ray, and horrific Fatality animations, all coming at you at 60fps.
The music fits the franchise and the fighting genre and there is some outstanding sound design that demands this game be played with some quality headphones. The audio mix brings the environments to life and blows you away with powerful sound effects for each bone-crunching combo. Great voice acting (and excessive cleavage) helped move the story along.
Of course at the core of any fighting game, especially a Mortal Kombat game, is the fight engine and this reboot manages to maintain the purity and balance of the Mortal Kombat legacy while adding a few nice features that will amaze even the veterans of the series. The Super Gauge is a key component to the strategy in Mortal Kombat. This three-section bar fills up as you take damage and then you can spend that energy in various ways, either one section at a time or in one big burst. Spend one segment and you enhance your special move, spend two and you can break an opponent’s combo, or if you can hold out and spend all three sections at once you will deliver a bone-shattering X-ray attack complete with slow-motion animation and sickening sound effects that results in a significant portion of your opponents health bar vanishing.
This single new feature not only adds a long-missing element of strategy to the standard fighting genre, it also allows gamers to tailor their playing style and create surprising new fighting techniques for characters that we “think” we already know so well. Sure, most gamers are going to instinctively go for the flashy X-ray attacks, which only makes using the one and two segment attacks that much more critical to winning fights.
It’s worth noting that the Vita’s physical controls are particularly suited for Mortal Kombat. After finally getting used to my 6-button tournament stick I was a bit concerned about going back to analog sticks, but the controls are surprising responsive and the game plays just as good as the console with a gamepad. Even better, the D-pad seems to be in the ideal position for those that would rather use it than the analog stick. Either way, Mortal Kombat controls and plays like a dream on the Vita.
The lengthy story mode is a great way to get introduced to the large cast of fighters and experience all the locations, and there is some surprisingly good voice acting. Some fights are incredibly hard, and there were several choke points in the game (usually where I was forced to fight two opponents). Completing the daunting 300-match ladder tournament is one of those goals that will lurk in the sidelines for months to come not to mention the new 150 challenges in the new Bonus Ladder, but all of this content makes up for the multiplayer limitations of playing this on a portable system. In fact, I am far more likely to complete both ladders on the portable version than I ever would on the console just by their casually short pick-up and play design.
Multiplayer is usually the big draw for fighting games, but being on a handheld your accessibility to online competition could be more limited that you’re used to, plus you entirely lose out on the two-player-on-one-system option. Local multiplayer is flawless, with instant response to your button presses, smooth animation, and fluid framerates that never dipped below 60fps. Naturally, you’ll need two Vitas and two copies of the game to enjoy this mode. At the time of this review we did not have the opportunity to test the online infrastructure gameplay. Given the lag issues we had with the console version we remain “cautiously optimistic“ for the Vita, especially considering we are now playing wirelessly versus a wired Internet console connection.
I enjoyed this new vision of Mortal Kombat more than any previous edition in the franchise and the Vita version is by far the most feature-rich and content-laden edition of them all. Everything you enjoyed on the console version is carried over and there is so much new content, and it’s all perfectly suited for spontaneous bursts of gaming with challenges and fights lasting no longer than a minute or two. If you love Mortal Kombat or just want an uber-violent and bloody fighting game to take with you on the road then Mortal Kombat is by far the best fighting game on the PS Vita and one of my top five titles on the system overall.