Mortal Kombat Review
“My theory is that when it comes to important subjects, there are only two ways a person can answer. Which way they choose, tells you who that person is. For instance, there are only two kinds of people in the world: Beatles people and Elvis people. Now Beatles people can like Elvis and Elvis people can like the Beatles, but nobody likes them both equally. Somewhere you have to make a choice. And that choice, tells you who you are.”
As it is for overrated musicians of the past, so it is for well-regarded retro one-on-one beat ‘em ups. You’re either a Street Fighter 2 fan or a Mortal Kombat 2 fan. I’m a Mortal Kombat 2 fan, and that choice tells me who I am. Street Fighter 2 was great; it redefined and energised the genre and did so with a lot of class and polish, but here’s the thing: there’s not a whole lot you can do with such a limited genre (which is why games like Tekken and Soul Calibur throw in all the additional modes you can eat) and so, like it says in the Bible, you may as well throw in a fuckload of gore, some palette-swapped ninjas, some really interesting characters and speed things up so nobody has time enough to get bored.
That was Mortal Kombat 2 in a nutshell; it was fast, furious and often bleakly hilarious. It had all the best stories and all the attitude. You can keep your well-loved in Japan fighting mechanics and frame counting antics; I just want to beat the game with Scorpion and find out why he’s so angry all the time. Give me short, sharp combos that feel natural to pull off and brutal special moves that I can execute in a split-second when my brain finally processes all the information that Mortal Kombat is punching directly into my retinas.
That said, the last five Mortal Kombat games were utter dogshit – and I’m not even that convinced about MK1 or MK3 while I’m at it – and so a new Mortal Kombat wasn’t exactly at the top of my most-wanted list. That was until they announced that it was going to use the same 3D on a 2D plain gameplay as seen recently in the masterful Street Fighter IV and the lets-admit-it-was-a-bit-rubbish Marvel Vs Capcom 3. No more side-stepping… that means down and punch = uppercut right in the mush. Just like Mum used to make it. You intrigue me, Mortal Kombat 9. I shall let you into my boudoir.
Firing up Mortal Kombat 9 for the first time is pretty exciting. Well, after a weird delay where there’s roughly enough to time to make a cup of tea before the ‘Press Start’ message finally fucks off and you’re actually allowed into the main menu, but once there you are greeted with Sub-Zero and Scorpion apparently spoiling for a rematch and all the modes you can cough blood over.
Purists will go straight to the Ladder Mode which is your basic Arcade Mode with ten fights, which culminate in battles against the various boss characters, and I’m kind of a purist so that’s where I went. After picking from almost thirty characters (nearly all of whom are from MKs 1-3, thankfully), and picking your difficulty setting which go from (not very) Easy to Maximum (levels of PAIN), you’ll be ready to start twatting your first Kombatant.
It’s at this point that Mortal Kombat 9 gets set in a very frustrating pattern where it will do one good thing and immediately spoil it with something stupid. Right from the start of your first fight you’ll be thrilled that this is 2D gameplay just like it should be but my first attempt to launch into an uppercut was scuppered by the button layout, no worries I’ll go and change the layout – oh fuck, I have to exit to the main menu to set up my layout – okay fine. Hang on, what’s this bollocks? There’s no high/low kick/punch set up. Instead they’ve inexplicably gone for a Tekken-style system where you map your front and rear punches and kicks (effectively mapping strikes to your lefts and rights). It sort of works but it’s just not as good as the old way. It certainly doesn’t improve the flow of your combos either. It’s just… annoying. Still, it’s not game-ruining.
After figuring out the controls, next up are the special moves. Bah! They’ve kept the shitty mappings from the recent Mortal Kombats. So where Liu Kang used to have that charged bicycle kick, that’s now a standard back, forward, front kick. Also, his fireballs and flying kick use back, forward rather than two forward taps. It may sound petty but they’ve done that sort of thing with every character (most annoyingly with Sonya, making her previously-instantaneous leg throw into just another shitty special) which means that every character kind of feels the same. This is also evident in their combos which are basically all the same as well. In MK1 and 2, Kano felt different to Raiden, Sonya felt different to Scorpion. Now they all play basically the same and there’s a reason for this.
You see, where I was hoping for MK2 meets Street Fighter IV, what we’ve got is MK2 meets MK4-8. This is evident in the controls but also the graphics which are detailed enough still a bit ugly. I know the days of digitised sprites are long gone but one look at Johnny Cage’s awful shoe-brush hair or Sonya’s special forces meets lap dancer costume will make you wish they’d tried a bit harder. Not only that but everyone looks overly-muscley and kind of squashed – almost like playing a 4:3 game in forced widescreen. Liu Kang inparticular looks like a bodybuilder rather than his usual generic Bruce Lee rip-off self.
So okay. Fine (he wrote petulantly), this isn’t the game I was hoping for but even when you make peace with that, Mortal Kombat 9 still finds ways to simultaneously delight and annoy you.
After several battles with Mortal Kombat regular cast members, you’ll face off against Shang Tsung who will give you a pretty tough time as he warps around and flings magic at you rather than, you know, fighting you. Then you go up against Goro or Kintaro (the unfortunate result of Goro knobbing Tony The Tiger) who was a fucking arsehole in MK2 and is now a complete fucking arsehole thanks to a weird defensive move where he just stands there, flashes white, eats your attack with no damage and then combos you in the chops. Finally you go face off against the big man, Shao Kahn, who as ever is a cheap piece of shit with a hammer.
It is nice to see all the old faces but do the bosses really have to be this difficult? They are beatable but you’d better play as cheap and nasty as you can as Mortal Kombat 9 doesn’t encourage a fair fight at all. In fact, on the higher difficulty settings it just ends up playing like Virtual-On or something with more laser shit on screen than Jean-Michel Jarre having a paddle in Dr Evil’s shark tank. Maybe it’s just me but I remember Mortal Kombat being all uppercuts, throws and roundhouse kicks. I’ve looked, I can’t even find a decent roundhouse kick in this game. Chuck Norris am disappoint, Son.
One thing you’ll notice about Ladder Mode is the complete lack of any kind of story (save for a short ending for each character) but luckily this is rectified in the Story Mode which is where you’ll find all the story you can eat as the game re-tells the tales of the first three tournaments, albeit it in an oddly disjointed way. If you’re a fan of the Mortal Kombat story, this mode will definitely keep you interested even if I’m still not sure how exhuming Queen Sindel makes it possible for Shao Kahn to invade Earthrealm. If you’re going to attempt a story, just rip off Bloodsport like MK1 and 2 did.
This mode provides a sizeable chunk of story with sixteen chapters (played mostly from the perspective of the good guys) all with three or four fights each. Anyway, it’s fairly standard stuff albeit with the fatalities turned off so that the likes of Kano and Baraka can keep fucking with your life. Just as you are settling into it and enjoying the smooth difficulty curve, they go and do something fucking irritating like making you fight two opponents who can tag in and out and have no compromises to them whatsoever. There is also a tag-team version of Ladder Mode but it’s very ordinary and the combination attacks lack the effectiveness and attractiveness of the Capcom efforts. Again, I know MK1 and 2 did this sort of thing but here it just represents a horrible difficulty spike. It gets worse as you go along with one fight in particular being capable of making your cry yourself to death and of course, just to prove the point I made earlier, the cutscenes are all unskippable. Bravo.
Playing matches in these modes gives you coins that you can spend in the Krypt. As much as I appreciate having a metric ton of unlockables, once again MK9 does it in a slightly stupid way. Firstly you have to navigate in a clumsy first-person kind of way around the Krypt. Once you’ve found an unlockable, you have to select it and endure a shitty animation as it is given to you (to be fair you can skip these) and then you’ll get it. It being the movements for a fatality, alternate costumes, one of those shit versus codes (you know, ‘remove blood’ or ‘no jumping’ or something fucking pointless) or, most likely, a bit of concept art that manages to be instantly boring and usually fairly poorly drawn. I seem to remember one of the recent MK games giving you Mortal Kombat 2 in this fashion. That would have been a bit better, no?
One thing that got everyone excited pre-release was the fatalities. After the watered-down efforts of MK Vs. DC, normal service is resumed here with each character having fatalities, babalities and the like. Unfortunately, as gory as they are, the majority seem to focus on pulling off arms, cutting off the head or pulling off the torso. There are exceptions, some of which are truly great (take a bow Quan Chi), but there’s way too much copy and pasting going on for my liking. The babalities however are brilliantly hilarious and well worth looking up the movements for (the game sticks with tradition and doesn’t help you in this regard at all).
Aside from the single player stuff, you also get the mandatory online component. Firstly, they’ve got one of the online pass things, so renters beware, but the main concern with any Mortal Kombat game online is that they are played almost exclusively by wankers. They still disconnect when they are losing, they still pick the cheapest characters and they still abuse you if you’re insane enough to talk to them. Of course, the developers still haven’t worked that out and have apportioned a large number of achievements to the online component of the game. You know, like idiots. To make matters worse it takes an age to connect to ranked matches although, when you are finally connected, the netcode does manage to keep up with the frantic action.
Achievement whores may want to avoid this game altogether with its mixture of hatefully difficult achievements (complete Ladder Mode on Maximum without continuing), harsh ranked achievements (with ten ranked matches in a row without shooting yourself in the face) and an achievement for ‘mastering’ all the characters (an achievement which takes literally a minimum of a month’s play to do, yes an actual month). As ever Mortal Kombat’s developers can literally go and fuck themselves with Shao Kahn’s hammer when it comes to achievements.Pros
- The return of 2D gameplay which is still a lot of fun once you get used to the fact that it's not just MK2 with a makeover.
- More gore than you can shake Fred West at.
- The classic Mortal Kombat humour, especially when it comes to the babalities.
- Lots of gameplay modes.
- A good roster of classic characters.
- Lengthy story mode.
- It still plays like the recent Mortal Kombat games.
- Enough difficulty spikes to create a pit fatality with.
- The controls are just wrong enough to cause a problem.
- Blaverage character models.
- Too much of the content is locked away and when you finally get to it, it's usually rubbish.
- Achievements? Bereavements more like.
In conclusion, cut me and I bleed Mortal Kombat all over your carpet, but this game disappoints me a little. It puffs out its chest with lots of gore, lots of content and achievements that are designed to keep you playing for longer than any sane person would want and pretends that it's an amazing effort but, in reality, it's really just an average fighting game albeit with a ton of fan service. Is that enough? For me, I can get by with dropping the difficulty down and just enjoying the story and the fatalities but fighting game veterans will want to stick with Street Fighter 4 for it’s variety or Virtua Fighter 5 for it’s brilliant online play. I’ll be doing the same but the Mortal Kombat fan in me is happy to keep hold of MK9 as a guilty pleasure. Screw you, only Goro can judge me.
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