Mortal Kombat has an interesting legacy to live up to. The original wasn’t exactly the greatest fighting game, even at the time of its release, but it holds a certain nostalgic appeal to a lot of gamers. It’s sequel was a superior title, but it’s gameplay was massively overshadowed by Street Fighter II. As years passed, Mortal Kombat tried 3d, attempted a scrolling brawler, shoehorned in a cart racer and never relinquished its gore. Sadly, none of the games ever lived up to MK2, and many were less than stellar.
The ninth iteration of the series is on the horizon and I must admit to mixed feelings. I was a Mortal Kombat fan in the early nineties, not because of the gore and controversy, but because it was fun. Any offense caused by the game was absurd to me, even then, because it was cartoon violence. Itchy and Scratchy on The Simpsons showed more gore than Mortal Kombat’s pixellated people did and the furore it caused was ridiculous. Graphics have come a long way though, so I approached the new game with some trepidation, assuming it would be extremely graphic.
This... is supposed to offend me?
Well, it is and it isn’t. The game is brutal in some ways, heads are chopped off, limbs are severed, the usual, but it’s still cartoon violence. It’s not just too over the top to be taken seriously, it’s nicely judged in terms of how graphic the violence actually is. Scorpion’s fatality is basically him chopping an opponent in half at the waist, then lopping off his head at the neck. He then boots the torso, causing the head to fly skywards, which he then cuts down the middle. The blood is minimal throughout, there’s no sound of slicing through bone or any real hideousness and it just doesn’t seem all that violent. It’s still a cartoon really, and layers of graphical polish haven’t changed that.
The only genuinely graphic element is the X-Ray move. These moves show the screen in black and white, except for the part of the victims skeleton which is affected by the move. Again though, there’s something altogether silly about the whole thing, as jaws shatter unrealistically into pieces and limbs snap, only for the victim to return to the fight with a slight graze. I’m sure some will say that it’s a bad message, but the game is 18 rated, and any child whose parents are irresponsible/permissive enough to let them play it will just scoff at any parental disgust, as we did in the 90’s.
Will reptile still be a nightmare to unlock?
The game itself is a fun fighter. It’s not Street Fighter IV, but it’s a great return for the series. Fights have their own style, reminiscent of Tekken on a 2D plane. It’s full of nostalgic appeal, classic characters like Sub-Zero and Johnny Cage, and trees with evil faces. Fans of the originals should enjoy it a lot. It does start to feel a little lacking in depth, but I don’t claim to be an expert on fighters, so I could be wrong on that. 2-Player is the best part really, it’s a battle to see who can perform the most ridiculous moves and get to do their fatality. The fatality commands have mercifully been simplified, so even novices can pull them off.
It’s not genre defining, but a solid effort nonetheless. It’s an improvement over Armageddon certainly. The problem is, the reboot concept, and the marketing to go along with it are overselling the game to a huge degree. It’s probably best left to gamers who remember MK in its heyday, who’ll revel in shoving their opponent into a nearby tree’s gaping maw. Gamers who never enjoyed it won’t, on the demo at least, be won over, and younger players would be better off with Soul Calibur or Street Fighter. If they really want graphic violence, I’d even suggest that this probably isn’t enough. It really is just as silly, over the top and unrealistic as the originals, nowhere near as violent as the press, the Australian censor and the publishers would have you believe.
If you liked MK and have some friends and a few beers/energy drinks/methamphetamines, then I’d say this will be worth buying. If not, unless you really love the demo, or the full release is a massively improved game, it’s probably not really worth paying full price for. Could be a real bargain bin classic though.