McGinnis: “Kombat” RebornWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Here’s a fact that will bring pause to most veteran gamers out there: “Mortal Kombat” is almost 20 years old.
That’s right, “Mortal Kombat” — the granddaddy of uber-violent fighting games, the most controversial arcade game ever, the title which almost single-handedly created the ESRB ratings code — is almost old enough to buy beer. There are gamers out there who have never known a world without Raiden, Johnny Cage, Sub-Zero and their spine-ripping ilk.
Of course, it hasn’t been all wine and roses in the past few years for the Kombatants. The path to current-gen systems has been less-than-straightforward. After a few quality outings on PS2 and the original Xbox, Midway, the publisher which has been behind each installment of the franchise since its birth, decided to take a different tack with the series’ next iteration: “Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. “
While still a fun game to play, the sight of characters like Liu Kang grappling with iconic heroes like Superman and Wonder Woman felt, well, slightly ridiculous, and longtime fans of the series cried in protest at the first Kombat game to be rated T for Teen, rather than the M for Mature every Kombat Connoisseur (Konnoisseur?) demands.
After the fallout of Midway’s collapse, series brainchild and industry veteran Ed Boon announced that under the banner of new publishers WB Games, a new installment of the franchise would be released, one that promised to bring MK back to basics and reconnect with what made it stand out in the first place: Fast paced fighting, outlandish story and buckets and buckets of gore.
The end result is simply titled “Mortal Kombat,” and it’s meant as a rebirth and rebooting of the franchise. Gone are nearly two decades worth of head-scratching continuity, and in its place is… well, an all new head-scratching continuity. But anyone who comes to an MK game for story is not only barking up the wrong tree, they’re in the wrong forest.
No, the real meat and potatoes of any fighting game always lies in the fighting itself, and it is here where the new MK shines, for the most part. While the combat (oh, sorry, I mean “kombat”) has been stripped down and simplified, it retains enough complexity to still have strategy and depth.
The graphics remain crisp and fluid, retaining and enhancing the great look many of the prior games in the series had refined over time. But instead of a 3D space, as every game in the series had maintained for over ten years, this new Kombat follows the lead of Capcom’s recent “Street Fighter IV” and brings the action back to a 2D plane. While this may superficially seem to limit the action, in actuality it intensifies it. No longer will you have to worry about parrying attacks or making sure you’re facing the right way, you can just get on with the bloodshed.
And oh yes, there is bloodshed. Boon and his team at Netherrealm Studios apparently took to heart all the criticisms of “MK vs. DC”’s lack of gore, because this new game heaps it in by the bucket loads.
In addition to the famously gruesome Fatalities which allow contestants to dispatch one another in a hilariously disgusting way after a defeat, the game now incorporates in-round attacks which are just as cheerfully over-the-top — none more so than the “X-Ray” special moves, which zoom in and allow you to see fighters’ bones breaking and skulls cracking during a particularly nasty attack. (How the fighter continues on despite these mortal wounds is left unexplained.)
There are still flaws in the fighting system, however, ones most any MK fan will have become accustomed to. Some of the attacks seem wildly unbalanced, and virtually impossible to dodge effectively. And the main bosses are almost impossible to take down, unless you have the game set on its lowest difficulty setting (and even then, it can be a struggle). It’s good for a boss to be challenging, of course, but there’s a difference between challenge and throw-your-controller frustration. When you think you’re doing well against Shao Kahn and he drains over half your life bar with just one blow — I don’t care who you are, that’s maddening.
The game is still a blast to play, and anyone with even the slightest tinge of fondness and nostalgia for the franchise will enjoy it immensely. It’s just that after nearly two decades on the block, you’d hope that the creators (sorry, “kreators”) of this gaming universe would have made a few changes and addressed some concerns that have been voiced since it all began. As it stands, they have made a very good game that does justice to the “Mortal Kombat” universe. I just hope that eventually they’ll make a great one.
Email Jeff at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com