Mortal Kombat Xbox 360, PS3 Review

Don’t get too excited, but Mortal Kombat is back. It’s easy to forget that a long time ago it used to be a good series of games. But like some other long running franchises it lost its way and became a bit of a joke. When it gets to that point there’s only one thing that can save the franchise, take it back to its roots. And Mortal Kombat is going back to its roots, in more ways than one.

Outworld buzzards pick at the dead flesh of the dismembered bodies of the Mortal Kombat roster. Shao Kahn stands triumphant over the defeated Raiden, about to deliver the final blow. The broken thunder god uses the last of his magic power in a final desperate act, and the world of Mortal Kombat is changed forever. His final act, sending visions of the future and the message ‘he must win’ to his past self at the beginning of the very first game. And so, armed with some disjointed images and this vague message, Raiden makes some different decisions, and  everything changes course. Not enormously, but there’s enough twists and turns in there to surprise most die hard Mortal Kombat fans.

Gameplay follows suit, with a return to fighting on a 2D plane, but with some beautiful 3D visuals. It’s really quite similar to the original Mortal Kombat trilogy, you get your basic four face buttons performing two different punches and kicks, but they’ve made them more individual to each character. Then there’s  plenty of combos and special moves for each character, with loads of variety between Kombatants’ moves. They’ve managed to strike a nice balance between depth and accessibility, making this a fighter that anybody can play.

Of course there’s new stuff too, tag matches are now possible with up to four players in one match. No doubt taking some inspiration from the Marvel vs Capcom series there, as does the super meter at the bottom of the screen. Filling the meter isn’t as easy as in some games, pulling off special moves fills a nice chunk, but repetition of moves gets you nothing. Luckily you don’t have to fill it up all the way to use some of the moves it allows you. A very nice combo breaker can be achieved with just two thirds of the bar full. Fill it up though, and you get to use the games super brutal new X-Ray moves.

These are pretty spectacular, and as the name implies shows your opponent’s insides as you break their bones and rupture their organs. They’re not infallible though, and can be blocked or avoided, but if you connect with the first blow or hold, then you’re going to do some serious damage. Really they’re not much different from super moves seen in other fighters, but the X-Ray effect really drives home the point of how much damage you are doing. That and it fits in nicely with Mortal Kombat’s legacy of violence that made the original so popular in the first place.

Mortal Kombat has a fantastic online multiplayer, but they haven’t skimped on the single player side of things either. The main game mode, simply called ‘Story’ retakes you through the original trilogy. With the story unfolding through lavish cut scenes interspersed between the eighty plus fights you’ll need to win to save Earthrealm it’s quite an epic experience. Strangely the cut scenes are unskippable and unpausable, but I suppose that forces you to watch the story, which is no bad thing considering how entertaining they are.

Sadly story mode is let down by the cheapness of some of the fights. I’m sure the boss characters like Goro and Kintaro don’t take nearly as much damage as they do in straight arcade mode. Some of the characters pull far more super moves than they should be able to and the AI can be pretty merciless when they get you in a corner too. Opponents will double, and even triple, team you. It is incredibly unfair at times. On the other hand a lot of the fights seemed far too easy, more of a formality to progress the story than any sort of challenge. It’s unbalanced as hell really, but it is fun for the most part.

On top of story there’s stacks more content to occupy lone players. Arcade and tag ladder are genre staples, there’s the challenge tower with a whopping three hundred challenges, and a handful of minigames too. Test your might, strike and sight return from previous instalments, along with a new one, test your luck. Not purely a game of chance as the title might suggest, but a proper fight with your opponent and fight conditions selected at random; slot machine style. There’s loads to keep you going here, and shed loads of unlockables in the krypt to spend your hard earned koins on.

Games like this give me hope that dying franchises can be rescued. Not only that, but that they can come back better than ever, as this is most definitely the best Mortal Kombat to date. Not only that, but I consider it one of the best beat ’em ups of this generation, possibly as good as this year’s contender for fighter of the year; Marvel vs Capcom 3. It’s fun, it’s fast and  it’s fantastic, unless the sight of (virtual) blood makes you faint there’s no good excuse not to pick it up.

9 out of 10