Mortal Kombat Fights Its Way Back to the Top

My choosing Mortal Kombat as a favorite game this year is really no surprise. The original game was released when I was 12 years old and was one of the first ‘adult’ titles I played. With very few exceptions I had never seen such wanton disregard for another man’s bodily fluids. I remember nearly crapping myself when I was finally able to pull off Scorpions breath of fire fatality and spammed the hell out of my friends with his harpoon/uppercut maneuver. My wanting Mortal Kombat 2 was one of the first times my parents came to blows over something I wanted to buy (too violent they said). In college the 3D on the original X-Box helped get me through many bouts of study burn. Violence and brutality aside I’ve also been drawn to the story of a small band of humans fighting against the otherworldly invaders of Earth Realm. As you probably know much of the world’s art, themes, and settings (stages) are derived from various parts of Asian mythology (specifically Japanese and Chinese) as well as the contemporary myths of super soldiers and lone star cops. When the past and present mythologies are blended seamlessly as this I almost Immediately find myself immersed (Hellboy is another franchise I follow for similar reasons).

This is especially true in the character of Curt Stryker from Mortal Kombat 3. Stryker is an LAPD SWAT officer who possesses no paranormal ability but is instead armed with nothing but a Glock, baton and a handful of grenades. He fights his way through an army of four armed thugs, giant centaurs and Asian martial arts warriors, Native American shamans and a thunder god. As they released future titles I hoped to follow his story but found him missing in MK3s followup. This is a problem I’ve always had with fighting games, but more on that later.

The new MK game has taken what was awesome about the original Mortal Kombat Trilogy and improves upon it by giving us tighter gameplay by taking the series back to its 2-D fighting roots while retaining the 3-D graphics of the previous games. A similar method was used in last year’s Street Fighter 4 and Marvel Vs. Capcom 3. If you’re unfamiliar with how a 2-D fighter works the characters fight against each other on stages where they only move laterally as well as jump, where in the previous games the characters could sidestep attacks. The controls are tight and responsive, you tell a character to jump and he jumps. Further-more, if you tell a character to Taser a guy to the point that his skeleton shows just before you shoot their head off like a zit than you will see that too (Stryker for the win).

One of the things that have always bugged me about regarding fighting games is how they drew the storylines through the different games. The majority of the time it’s you pick your fighter and head through a series of fights until you hit the end boss and you’re done. You’re rewarded with an ending appropriate to the character or villain you’ve chosen. In the original Mortal Kombat in 1993 you may have played the game as Sonya and finished off Shang Tsung, but when Mortal Kombat 2 arrives a few years later you’re given the storyline of Liu Kang finishing the original tournament. In short, there was a cannon story line but only on the most base level, making any attempt to follow the story in a logical fashion nearly impossible. Mortal Kombat 2011 fixes this by have an actual story line separate from the individual ‘tournament ladder’ that was the fixture of the old games. As the story unfolds you control a different fighter depending on the scene unfolds.

Continuity wise the game picks up towards the end of Mortal Kombat: Armageddon with series master villain Shao Khan getting ready to off the leader of the good side Raiden, the earth god of thunder. In the moment of impact the defeated Raiden sends a message through time and space back 15 years to the beginning of the original tournament. The younger Raiden gets images of the events leading to Earth realm’s destruction through flashbacks (or flash forewords as is his case) of the events of the entire series. From that point foreword the player is taken through an alternate retelling of the first three Kombat games as Raiden attempts to prevent the devastating future he was foretold. As you can guess his choices are sometimes misguided as long treasured character arcs are changed irrevocably. The story also pays homage to many of the team ups and interivalries that have grown to become legends within the Mortal Kombat fandom. Most of these are expected (Sonya vs. Kano) while others are unexpected but fit within the new continuity.

The title boasts what is probably the greatest collection of Mortal Kombat characters since PS1’s Mortal Kombat trilogy, 26 to be exact (with four more as DLC). Stryker, Scorpion, Kabal, Nightwolf, Kenshi (via download), have been my main fighters for years and their moves are as instinctual as ABACABB (although the absence of my favorite female fighter, the vampire Nitara, left me a bit bummed).

When I heard Ed Boon discussing the return of Mortal Kombat to its violent bloody roots I was psyched to play it. My enthusiasm only heightened when I began seeing the trailers featuring Subzero pulling apart the body of Shang Tsung in a new and graphic fatality. But I didn’t buy it when first released. At the time I had just purchased Portal 2 and was waiting on Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 while playing my 7th play-through of Mass Effect 2. So I waited for the game to go down in price some before finally putting my hard earned cash down on the title. Some months later I finally own the title and have gotten so much sheer enjoyment from it that I almost wish I had forgone MVC3 in favor of this. Almost.

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