Back when I was in high school, more years ago than I care to remember, I had an English teacher who liked students to write short papers. He would tell us this on a fairly regular basis and would always remind us why – 10 pounds of bullshit smells worse than one; keep it short, keep it sweet, and don't deliver more bullshit than required. In honor of that English teacher, those of you who don't care to read the next 1,00 words or so of this article can just read one more sentence and glean from it everything you possibly have to know about this new Mortal Kombat. Are you ready? Okay, here it is, the one sentence review – Yeah, it's pretty much Mortal Kombat.
That's it, essentially that's all you really need to know about this rebirth or reimagination or return to the franchise's roots or whatever people are saying of the new Mortal Kombat – it's Mortal Kombat. There is blood and guts and fatalities and Scorpion and Sub-Zero. The game is a 2D fighter with great in-game graphics, utterly brutal action, and an incredibly quick pace.
The heart of the game is the traditional arcade mode where you can compete in a regular one-player ladder tournament, tag team tournament, or several different skill matches. But, before you do any of that you may want to visit the tutorial section… although you're instinct to do that may be mistaken.
Fighting games live and die by the actual specifics of combat (or kombat as it were here) – are you stringing together tons of different button presses to create combos (kombos) or do you just need to mash away at buttons in order to kill (that one stays kill) your opponent? You should be able to learn exactly what a game requires of you in the tutorial and how to execute the various combos you need, but in Mortal Kombat it just doesn't work that well. The game asks you to progress in the tutorial by completing certain moves, only we sat there for an extended period of time pushing the exact buttons we were asked to push in the exact order we were asked to push them without the appropriate combo ever happening. When we moved along to the game itself we had a far easier time of making the various combos happen, but we simply couldn't execute them in the tutorial (even when we returned there later).
There is also a tutorial specifically on fatalities, and that one functions far better. There you get a helpful little box that tells you where to stand to execute the fatality and you can either have it timed (as it is in a game) or untimed so that you have as long as you need to push the right sequence of buttons. Go through the fatality tutorial with your favorite characters and you'll be slicing and dicing opponents in no time.
Actual fights, be they one-on-one, two-on-one, etc., unfold beautifully – the game is fast and you'll need to be fast too if you want to play it well. Yet, for all it's being fast and moves getting thrown left and right and tons of damage being issued, our first run through of the single player ladder had a match which was only decided when time ran out.
Outside of fatalities, Mortal Kombat's personal tweak to the fighting genre (every game has their alleged hook) is a little meter at the bottom of the screen which has three distinct portions that can be filled. Fill the first and you can execute an enhanced (slightly more damaging) special move. Fill the second and you break out of a combo. Fill the third and you can execute one of the highly touted X-ray moves which deals an immense amount of damage and shows you just which of your enemy's internal organs you crushed. The system works really well, it allows you to play slightly more defensively, slightly more offensively, or try to go all out and execute an X-ray move (which, just because you push the buttons won't necessarily happen as your opponent can block or evade them).
The new Kombat also sports a Challenge Tower which asks you complete 300 different challenges from simply executing combos to beating opponents and everything in between. That, combined with the regular old arcade stuff and a pretty good-sized story mode means that there is a whole lot to do in the title.
As for what's involved in that story mode, that's a little more iffy. The mode features some distinctly mediocre cinematics which tell a story about Raiden sending memories back in time to help save Earthrealm from being destroyed by Shao Kahn. You then play through various portions of the story from old Mortal Kombat games as various characters and watch as present-day Raiden tries to work out the memories he got from future-day Raiden so he can save Earthrealm. While a bunch of the battle are good and it's a great way to earn money to unlock bonuses, you're not able to skip past the story and just enter the battles. That really is unfortunate because the story is just as ridiculous as every fighting game story and consequently you're probably going to want to skip it as much as possible. It would be manageable in bite-sized chunks, but folks talk way too much between battles.
There is also an extensive online section which is well worth your time and features several different types of battles. You're going to need to buy the game new to play online or purchase a code, because the one included in the box can only be used once.
Mortal Kombat is a distinct brand of fighter, it is more brutal than most and while it relies on combos it doesn't do so as heavily as other games in the genre. No, what Mortal Kombat asks is that you spill blood, lots of it. As you go further into each battle, fighters take damage which doesn't magically heal and blood hits the ground and remains there. It is a vicious, gore-filled title which revels in its M rating.
Or, to bring you back to what I said about 1,000 words ago – it's pretty much Mortal Kombat. If you like your fighting games bloody and with tons to do, you're going to like this one.
Mortal Kombat is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, and Strong Language. This game can also be found on Xbox 360.
Article first published as PlayStation 3 Review: Mortal Kombat on Blogcritics.