Mortal Kombat – PS Vita Review
by Mark R
There are those games which, to all intents and purposes, are not only tailor-made for the handheld market but also satisfy the traditional gamer in ways that most other current-gen mobile titles can’t. While they may be portable and subject to momentary flits in and out depending on available time, games such as Sudoku, Brain Training or the myriad of similar titles are the equivalent of taking an airport news-stand puzzle book and creating an electronic clone. Fine if you’re a regular Joe who just wants to while away the hours on a Virgin express for four hours, but what about when you still want that quick-dip-in factor coupled with real gaming?
On the face of it, Mortal Kombat looks like a faithful re-interpretation of the arcade classic with a bit of spit and polish, and in a handy pocket-sized container, and there’s not really that much that could go wrong with it, but there was always that possibility. As one who has always tried to shy away from handheld gaming as much as possible, much preferring to pull up a chair and boot up a beefy gaming rig to soak in the beauty of having all the sliders ramped up full, I was confident that the Vita itself could handle the job, but wasn’t sure whether NetherRealm would be able to make it work on a dedicated mobile platform beyond simply porting it.
They sure as hell have.
For those of us who remember when the original Mortal Kombat first hit the arcades back in 1992, it truly was something to behold and I distinctly remember standing in my local Big Apple Amusements throwing a flood of 10p coins into Nemesis when the swelling crowd around one particular cabinet grew to the point where I could no longer play. It was the first Mortal Kombat and, even back then, the graphic whore in me was transfixed at seeing the digitised images performing their moves like it was a pixelated Bruce Lee movie.
The Vita version is, quite frankly, nothing more than a modernised and polished version of that first game… and that’s what makes it so enjoyable. Like all games produced with a strong sense of self-belief, it doesn’t try to be anything that it’s not – it’s Mortal Kombat and it’s celebrating this fact. The characters are beautifully depicted and the rendered cutscenes are about as cinematic as you’re going to get on a handheld, and evoke the feeling that you’re playing a full console rather than a heavily-diluted port for a handheld.
The traditional “Fight” mode is what you’d expect to find on any console and the only thing I would say is any different is that the texture resolution and character model detail have been reduced enough to maintain a high frame rate without any lag. It’s an acceptable compromise for two reasons – the first is that gameplay should obviously override aesthetics, especially in something as fast-paced as a fighter, and the second reason should be obvious to anyone really – the Vita doesn’t have a screen size or res which would warrant a higher polygon count and so it would likely end up being an unnecessary drain on the resources. What you’re left with is lightning-fast response times and graphics which are still more than respectable when you consider that the speed of the action means you’re hardly likely to get any chance to look around.
In terms of actual gameplay, this particular mode is your typical MK affair – two opponents facing off against each other in a 2D environment with some killer moves, character-specific special moves and the all-important finishing moves for the much-loved fatalities. The bottom left section of the HUD is a build-up bar which fills as you give and take more damage, providing you with three separate destruction options. Use it early and you may briefly get the upper-hand on your opponent and earn yourself some breathing space, but wait until the bar is full and you unleash the full force of your fury… and only take out what always appears to be around 30% of their full life-force. It’s quite disappointing, especially when you consider that it can take a while to fill up, but moreso because there’s just this inherent expectancy that it’s going to be one hell of an awesome move and, while some characters do have visually-stunning moves, they just fall a little flat on what’s expected.
The Vita’s proprietary functions come into play more in the Challenge Tower and, most notably, the Bonus Challenge Tower, where you can be expected to wipe blood off the screen if, like me, you’re just utter crap and keep getting beaten senseless. Others include swiping the screen to slice oncoming objects (a la Fruit Ninja), performing specific fatalities on various opponents and even using the Vita’s built-in gyroscope and accelerometer to keep your character balanced on a ledge without falling off. Whereas other handhelds, and devs, have shoe-horned such gimmicks into their games to the point where they neither fit nor bring anything new or exciting to the gameplay, NetherRealm have done it in such a way as to perfectly fit with the Mortal Kombat theme and nothing seems out of place. Think Mr Miyagi trying to get you to wax his car, but with a more sinister edge and a lot more blood and you’re probably 10% of the way there!
There was one particular bonus game, against Sektor, where the hand-eye co-ordination required was too great for my tired old body at 2am and I just couldn’t quite get the hang of it. As well as having to attack Sektor as much as possible to bring down his health bar, you’re expected to deflect his blows and eliminate his randomly-fired chest-based homing missiles by tapping the screen to destroy them before they hit you. Even attempts made to simply avoid Sektor entirely by jumping out of his way and focusing all attention to merely destroying these homing missiles made no difference. As infuriating as it was, there was also a degree of that defiant addictiveness where every failure was immediately followed by accepting the option to retry.
Personally speaking, one of the best things any game can do is to couple sheer hatred with the determination to continue, whether that involves using all 500 attempts to complete a Trials Evolution track or doing nothing more than avoiding missiles whilst attempting to stay alive. As long as there’s that clear notion of eventual success, whether that comes in minutes or hours, then the developers have managed to get the balance just right where it’s almost unattainable, but the enjoyment factor keeps you coming back for more until you finally succeed and progress to the next level.
There is, of course, an easy way to continue this progression and that’s to spend Koins on an automatic pass to the next level. As you complete each area, you will earn Koins based on your performance and each level has a specific value assigned whereby shelling out 100 Koins, for example, will allow you to skip any troublesome challenges and move on to the next. It will likely be used as a last resort by most, but is a great way to get over that feeling of utter devastation and means you’re less inclined to throw your Vita through the TV screen. That privilege should be reserved for the Wiimote, after all.
One Vita-specific feature which I think is greatly under-used is the Augmented Reality option. Granted, it’s only available during the practice mode and is undoubtedly thrown in as nothing more than a gimmick but, and I suppose there are arguments on both sides, if it’s there then it should be done properly or just not included at all. Instead of the typical ARM you’d expect where the character actually face off against each other as they stand atop your birthday cake or span the gap between cooker and cheeseboard, the MK version simply removes the 2D backdrop and replaces it with an alpha-channel so anything you point it at becomes the backdrop. Given that the Vita’s camera isn’t exactly the greatest, and that you will undoubtedly be swinging the Vita all over the place as you avoid attacks, it makes for some unpleasant viewing. It’s a gimmick though, and I understand that.
Other than the ARM failure, the practice mode is a welcome option in the menu, especially for those of us who aren’t well-versed in the fighting genre and have as much trouble recalling combo moves as most people would reciting Pi to anything more than perhaps three decimal places. Every button press is logged on the screen, however, so if you pull off something spectacular you’re able to quickly refer back and see what it was that you actually did, with each of the symbols rotating out of the screen so that it never becomes over-congested. Discovering the uppercut was certainly beneficial but, for the most part, any of the other button combos I uncovered were quickly replaced with the usual button-mashing approach that saw me through other MK titles. Tried and tested my friends, tried and tested.
I’ll admit that Story Mode was barely touched upon as one thing led to another, challenges were re-challenged until satisfaction was achieved, and time became such that it was necessary to actually deal with the review rather than spend another day going through the back-story. What I will say, however, is that the first twenty or thirty minutes have been captivating – even to someone who usually detests cutscenes and will invariably reach for the skip option. Cage’s arrogance and self-centred nature is a faithful vehicle for carrying the Mortal Kombat mythology and it was interesting to have the story unfold in between impromptu fights although I do feel that, early on certainly, the opponents weren’t putting up much of a fight but that could be because you’re not actually supposed to lose. Either way, it was engaging, and I plan on playing through the entire story mode on an upcoming flight, as long as the Vita’s battery life can handle it.
As briefly touched upon before, the graphics are, for the most part, a stunning and vibrant affair and the backgrounds are breathtaking at times, although it’s a shame that the in-game shots don’t translate well to the PC screen. Fully animated, you can expect to see planes flying overhead, smoke billowing out of chimneys, but it’s hard to be distracted enough from the actual gameplay to pay them the attention that they truly deserve, which is a shame for the person responsible for the animations as they are great but there’s usually the more pressing problem of staying alive to deal with. Audio is atmospheric, with a soundtrack which perfectly complements the overall theme of the game. Attack and damage sounds would make any foley editor wet their pants, and there was never a moment where anything could be considered over the top.
Online multiplayer was hit and miss, in terms of matchmaking. On several occasions, I was unable to connect to PSN at all even though I’d previously been flicking through their catalogue and so it must have been working fine, and then some attempts would take upwards of three to four minutes to find a suitable match. Once you’re in there though, it’s quite the buzz to go head to head with people you’ve never met before, especially when they can’t trash talk or troll you for being crap. One thing I did notice, which was to be expected, was that whenever I had the upper hand in a few matches, the online opponent would either disappear offline before the option to continue to the next came up or they would disconnect mid-game, presumably by switching the Vita off. Rage quits are common though, and so I wasn’t entirely surprised. I’d like to play the AdHoc though, if I could find anyone with a Vita to join me!Pros
- It's Mortal Kombat... in your pocket
- A seemingly-endless number of gameplay variations
- Makes great use of the Vita's proprietary tech without being gimmicky
- Graphics are bright and vivid, and come across well
- Too much at once at times, coupling regular gameplay, screen swiping and holding the unit
- The opponents in the early story mode seem a little pedestrian
- Mr T isn't in it. I admit, I was having trouble finding cons
Mortal Kombat on the PS Vita is, unquestionably, the most gamer-dedicated portable game I've played thus far. It has the graphics, gameplay and addictive qualities that you'd hope for and yet it still maintains the ability to stop whenever the train pulls into the station or someone calls you for dinner. The perfect blend of portability and true gaming experience. Challenges are difficult enough to make you fight for success, but never to the point where you're ready to turn your Vita into a frisbee, and the standard Versus mode has that hook where you will continally want to take the same opponents on time and time again, playing as yet another character each time. When all is said and done, Mortal Kombat on the Vita is a tough one to put down and NetherRealm have done a stellar job of giving us pocket-sized mayhem in the true MK style.
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