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Published on April 23rd, 2011 | by Cameron Woolsey

Mortal Kombat Ko-Op Review

Foreword:

Surely, at least a few of you have asked “Why co-op a review?” It’s not out of laziness (not just out of laziness) that Ken and I decided to share this review. The fact is, the Mortal Kombat reboot is a big game and is so full of content and gameplay modes that it only makes sense to split the load and offer the review provided in parts, by two seasoned Mortal Kombat fans. So sit back, pull up that blood-repelling tarp, and read on.

Kam:

Mortal Kombat is a legacy series in the games industry-It has been around nearly 20 years now. Like all game franchises that old, there have been ups and downs, successful and failed experiments. For some years, fans have voiced concern over a franchise that was only just skimming over the line of quality. When Midway declared bankruptcy in 2009, the future of the series looked bleak. Thankfully, the development team was saved by Warner Bros. Interactive and the team took on the name NetherRealm Studios. Since then, they had worked hard on what is arguably their greatest challenge yet: the reboot of the infamously famous, Mortal Kombat franchise.

I’m serious when I say that the aptly named, Mortal Kombat, is the best fighting game released in the last decade. It’s not the most technical nor the most fluid, but it is the most complete game as a whole. Rich with content, Mortal Kombat offers loving fan-service that provides fun, brutal combat, while keeping to its blood-soaked roots and overflowing with secrets and unlockable goodies that will occupy fighter fans and content hoarders for hours. One of the more notable features of Mortal Kombat is the surprising story mode.


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When I first popped my copy of Mortal Kombat in the disc drive, I expected what one should, and what most gamers, expect. I was ready to see the ladder mode, a practice arena and some online components. Sure you get all those, but NetherRealm goes beyond what people merely “expect” from a fighter and offers a fully-realized campaign that spans across the events of the first three games. In an impressive move, NetherRealm Studios created what is arguably the best story mode of any fighter ever made.

Choose Your Destiny

The story isn’t just an exact recreation of the first games, however, because it still follows canon. At the end of Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, nearly everyone is dead. Not just kind of dead, not just reborn or even zombified, but good-old-fashioned dead, deader than a Goth party, and the opening cutscene makes that point clear enough. In the final fight between Raiden and series antagonist, Shao Kahn, Raiden knows that he is mere seconds away from wearing Kahn’s war hammer for a head. Moments before his demise, in order to prevent Armageddon, he quickly sends a message to himself in the past, with warning of future events.

Raiden receives the message at the onset of the first tournament. Unfortunately, the visions present themselves as quick flashes that can only be triggered when Raiden reaches a crossroad where a decision could change the course of the story, resulting in a completely different outcome. As the story progresses through the events, Raiden continuously receives visions of the actual future, and he makes a decision that will change the course of the fates of the many kombatants. Of course all this screwing with the timeline could result in positive results or unintended consequences (ask Dr. Brown). Followers of the MK canon will be surprised by some of the many twists the story will take. The storyline is surprisingly well written, with plenty of great set pieces and nostalgic moments.

Sub-Zero hunts for his brother's killer during the MK II tournament.

The story mode is sectioned in chapters which are played out each featuring a different fighter, starting with Johnny Cage. This is a good way for players to experience many of the different fighters so they don’t have to just play as Scorpion (nothing wrong with that) the whole time. Who knows? You may find that you like playing as other characters. Each fight is set up as a typical one-on-one match. After each fight is a cutscene that progresses the story using in-game graphics and shockingly decent voice acting.

As a fan of the Mortal Kombat story, it was a thrill to play through the HD recreations of the events of the first three games. Taking part in the fatal fight between Scorpion and Sub-Zero and seeing Sektor and Cyrax in their pre-cyborg forms tickled my fanboy fancy. Each classic stage has been faithfully restored by the NetherRealm team, complete with stage fatalities for some. The story mode isn’t some quick three hour affair either-it took me roughly seven hours from start to finish.

My one real complaint with the story mode actually happens to be the primary complaint gamers have always had with the Mortal Kombat franchise. Throughout the three games, Shao Kahn remained the king of a mountain of corpses in which the player must topple. He was always a cheap fighter, shrugging off all your wimpy combos as he shoulder-rams you to a writhing, smoking pile of entrails and teeth. Well, it’s the same here too. In the two times you fight him, he will barely stagger even against your strongest moves. If you get caught in his combo, prepare to see most of your life bar drain away before you even realize what the hell just happened. It got so frustrating at times that a lot of the enjoyment I was having at playing the story mode began to fade away, replaced with bitter resentment.

I’m all for NetherRealm Studios embracing tradition. In fact, embracing tradition is what makes this reboot so good to begin with. But resurrecting the cheap boss AI from past games is just an unnecessary move on their part. They could have at least attempted to make the bosses hard without instilling artificial difficulty which only leads to spending over an hour trying to figure out how to win before the neighbor finds a controller in their front yard, smelling vaguely of anger, tears and shame.

Klassic Kombat

Hardcore fighting fans will most likely pass up story mode and jump straight into the classic arcade, or ladder, mode. The ladder is the typical component of all fighting games. Your chosen fighter gets pitted against others in all-out battles, finally reaching the three boss figures: Shang Tsung, Goro or Kintaro, and finally, Shao Kahn.

Reptile takes his Three Stooges impressions seriously.

Players will be taught how to utilize combos and special moves in story mode, but it is in arcade where they will learn how to master fighters. The game takes place on a 2D plane much like the classic games prior to Mortal Kombat 4. Each character has access to an array of combos that require pinpoint timing to pull off. Every fighter also has character-specific special moves, most of them reminiscent of moves from the original games plus a few new ones.

The main addition to the combat is the super meter which can be compared to the power bar in Capcom’s Street Fighter IV. As the fight progresses, taking and receiving damage will fill the bar. At level one, players can unleash a super-powered version of a special move which will be faster and take more damage out of their opponent. At the second level, players can interrupt their opponent’s combo, sending their fighter across the screen, potentially saving you from more damage. At the third and final level, you have the ability to unleash the devastating X-ray attack. The X-ray move, when successfully landed, displays your character unleashing powerful attacks in slow motion on the opposing fighter, removing the skin to show the move shatter bones and rupture organs. When seen for the first time, I couldn’t help but to wince (and laugh) as I watched the brutal display.

Which brings me to one of the most important features of the reboot: the return of the gore.

Excellent!

Leaving Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe‘s pathetic “Teen” rating in the dust, the Mortal Kombat reboot fully embraces it’s blood and gore-soaked roots, with the most amount of violence ever seen in the franchise to date. The famous Fatalities also make a comeback as a commemoration to the incredible brutality that made Mortal Kombat a household name and launched political campaigns against video game violence which gave rise to the ESRB. Each fighter comes with one known and one secret Fatality, plus a stage Fatality (for certain stages) and a Babality (for … babies). The Fatalities can be practiced in the Fatality Training mode which provides unlimited time and shows the proper distance to use the bloody finishers.

Most gamers will be too busy trying to prevent their opponent from turning their face into a fancy hat to notice the game’s graphics. While I can’t encourage sight-seeing during matches, I do suggest, however, that you watch a match between other players just to take in graphics. The game is a spectacle to behold, each character beautifully modeled and every background rich in environmental effects and macabre atmosphere. Sharp-eyed MK fans can also catch glimpses of fighters that haven’t made it into the game such as Kenshi, Frost or Rain.

Sub-Zero gives Cage cold feet. Yeah, I had nothing.

The Krypt, first introduced in Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, makes a comeback, offering loads of secrets and unlockables to purchase using MK currency, Koins. You can earn a lot of Koins playing through the story mode, but you won’t earn enough to unlock everything in the Krypt. Koins are also earned by winning fights and by completing challenges in the Challenge Tower. The Krypt offers all kinds of great items such as secret secondary fatalities for every character, secondary costumes, character renders, concept art and more. My only issue with the Krypt is that it can be hard to navigate especially when you start running out of things to buy.

Ken:

As Kam mentioned, this revitalization of Mortal Kombat is so packed with content, it would be a massive undertaking to have just one person review it. With that understanding, I sat down with the intent of completing the new “Challenge Tower” and put in a good chunk of time to the online versus portion of the game.

What I realized right away, however, was that “Challenge Tower” was going to take quite a bit longer than I had originally imagined,

300 Challenges?!?!

The Challenge Tower is a mixture of quirky mini-game-like challenges, as well as pure skill-based training. Unlike Marvel vs. Capcom 3‘s training mode, this one won’t task you with completing ridiculous “perfect-timing” combos to progress. Instead, you’ll be met with challenges that range anywhere from “Throw a bomb in a bucket” to “Defeat three boss level enemies with one life-bar.”

The first 15 or so challenges were clearly designed to “demo” the tower itself. They are quite simple, asking you to perform a series of special moves, or asking you to press one button over and over again to stop an onslaught of zombies. Anyone who labels the tower “boring” at this point, and gives up, however, will be missing out on one of the best aspects of the new game. Very soon, the difficulty ramps up, and has you completing some of the most insane, difficult, and wacky challenges you can imagine.

Can you defeat a character without your arms? How about without a head? Sound easy? Can you defeat a character while specifically targeting different body parts? What if they throw two characters at you? This is the kind of variety you’ll find in this mode of the game.

While some of the more “wacky” challenges will have you fighting upside down, or with your controls mirrored, the real stars of the tower are the challenges that will tax your reflexes, and ingenuity.

Hey, you're kinda pret-TOOF!

Fighting off two characters at once may seem easy. That is, until you realize that those two characters regain health while they are off the screen. Even that type of challenge, though, is cake compared to the challenges that have you fight three characters consecutively with only one life bar.

If that sounds tough, it’s because it is. But unlike some challenges in other games, these don’t seem frustrating. There were a few challenges that took me 30-40 tries to pass, but I think I only got mad a couple times. When you complete one of these challenges you feel a huge sense of accomplishment. Especially when you get to the second half of the tower, which almost entirely does away with the wacky challenges, and just throws everything but the kitchen sink at you. There’s really no greater feeling than downing three Goros while using a character you’ve never used before.

Test Your Might, Sight, Strike, Luck.

I would be remiss if I didn’t at least give these guys a small mention. Test Your Might you probably remember from the earlier Mortal Kombat games. Your character must break through different elements, such as wooden planks, iron, gold, and diamond. On the left side of the screen is a bar, that increases when you jam on any of the face buttons. When the bar passes a line, you press the right trigger to strike. If you have enough power in the bar, your character will break through their obstacle, and the challenge will be completed. If not, the game rewards you with a comical death sequence for your character. Win-win.

Test Your Sight will drop an item under one of a number of skulls or cups, and will begin to shuffle them around. After a few seconds it will ask you to choose the cup or skull that the item is under. Choose right, and you move on to the next challenge. Choose wrong, and the same comical death sequences from above occur. These challenges progress from three easy to follow skulls up to seven harder to follow cups.

Test your Strike is similar to Test Your Might, in that it asks you to raise the power bar exactly like you did in TYM. The difference is that, instead of just jamming, it asks you to have control as well. Strike will ask you to keep the power bar within a certain window, to show your prowess in accuracy. As you progress through these challenges, your window becomes smaller and smaller.

This can't end well.

Then there’s Test Your Luck-perhaps my favorite mini-game in the entire game. Test Your Luck will start with a series of slot machines. At the earlier levels, there will be four slot machines, working your way up to eight total slot machines. The first wheel of the slots chooses your character, at random. But after that, things get really interesting. Each wheel provides a different random modifier i.e. infinite super meters, blocking disabled, Dark Kombat (which gives a slow strobe effect to the match) and many, many more. These effects can be randomly applied to one character, both characters, or to the match itself. In my experience, no two matches were ever identical. Obviously, because of the randomness, the competitive nature is removed quite a bit. It’s hard to have a fair match when your character can’t block, falls asleep randomly, has no arms, and has no super meter. But in terms of pure, silly fun? It doesn’t get any better.

All four of the “Test Your” challenges are interspersed throughout the challenge ladder, getting more difficult as your progress. They also can all be accessed from the main menu at any time, as well as all being playable for multiplayer, though it appears to be same-console only.

All in all, the Challenge Tower will take you countless hours to finish. It should be noted that you can purchase your way through any challenges you may get stuck on, and you can always come back to complete challenges you purchased your way through later. I never found the challenges overly difficult to the point of throwing a controller in anger, and I also never purchased my way through any of them. The sense of accomplishment kept me going, long after my sanity gave up. Don’t underestimate it though. Completing all 300 without passing any is a huge undertaking. A few challenges come to mind that will force you to use everything you’ve ever learned to survive. Challenges such as 251, 269 and 300–these three are the three worst. If you did complete all of them, let us know in the comments section below.

Multiplayer

With Story Mode and the Ladders being tackled by Kam, and the Challenge Tower covered above, that leaves one final mode, the meat of any modern fighting game: The multiplayer component.

As with any fighting game, you have same-console versus, and the offerings here are exactly what you’d expect, with the exception of the awesome Test Your Luck mentioned above.

Mortal Kombat also includes online multiplayer (a relative given in this era), but the online component offers a few things that the offline doesn’t. Leaderboards are standard fare, of course, but the new King of the Hill mode is an amazing addition to fighting games. We’ll get to that a little later though.

Where do you think you're going?

Online versus offers two basic forms of combat. Your average, one versus one gameplay is probably the staple of multiplayer. The game also offers tag team gameplay, similar to that of Marvel vs. Capcom 3. In Tag, you will choose two characters, and swap between them throughout the match. There are some pretty sick tag combos you can pull off as well. Unlike Marvel vs Capcom 3 however, your characters do not regain health while off-screen. Your off screen character is also able to offer “assist” moves similar to MvC 3 as well.

One-versus-one is what most people are playing, so far as I can tell. Something Mortal Kombat has never really offered was deep, balanced gameplay, with a solid fighting engine. Mortal Kombat has always relied on its blood and gore, and fatalities to sell its product. While the blood, gore and fatalities are definitely back (and even more gruesome than ever), the game now has a fighting engine that can support balanced, competitive gameplay as well.

Each character has its share of special moves, as well as the basic attack buttons which can be strung together for combos. Unlike most other combo-oriented fighters though, the special moves are your key to linking together huge combos.

The newest addition to Mortal Kombat multiplayer, however, is the super meter. Forgive me for re-iterating what Kam already explained, but let me explain how the super meter forever changes the multiplayer landscape of the game. There are three levels to the meter, and each level offers a different ability. Using one bar of the meter you can unleash an enhanced version of one of your special moves. These Enhanced Moves either do more damage, last longer, or hit more times. Using two bars allows you a combo breaker. This will, as the name implies, break out of any combo that you are currently a victim of, with the exception of X-ray combos. What is an “X-ray Combo?” you ask? X-rays are the absolutely devastating equivalent of Hyper combos in many of Capcom’s fighters. Using all three bars of your super meter, your character can unleash their X-ray move. Unique to each fighter, the X-ray moves can change the tide of battle when used at the right time. Your character will go into their unique animation, the game will slow down, and each blow delivered will be zoomed in on to show the internal damage being delivered.

While it may sound like the smartest idea to save up all three bars of your super meter to unleash your X-ray, that is not always the case. Matches are best out of three. It isn’t unheard of for a player to be able to use two X-rays in any given match. While they are hugely damaging, they are also avoidable or blockable in many cases. A combination of using X-rays, enhanced specials, and combo breakers is absolutely necessary for high-level play.

King of the Hill

Mortal Kombat harkens back to the ’90s arcade scene. It tries to recapture the feeling of playing the old Mortal Kombat games, while embracing more up-to-date mechanics. While King of the Hill isn’t the most obvious name for its game mode, it does exactly what NetherRealm Studios was trying to accomplish.


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King of the Hill is an eight player lobby system. While the matches themselves are one versus one, six other people can be in the lobby watching the match. The system uses a “winner stays, loser pays” mentality, so when one player is defeated, they move to the back of the “line” while the front steps up to play. The gameplay itself is no different here. What’s different is the amazing lobby system. All 6 players “waiting in line” are able to watch the match. Furthermore, they can “interact” with the match. While there are default commands for things such as cheer, disgust, approve, and “boo,” there are also hidden emotes that can be accessed in true Mortal Kombat fashion. Simple directional inputs coupled with the default commands can have your avatar hold up cheese, or throw tomatoes at the screen, or even hold up lighters and ask for fatalities. On the PS3 version, users will only have access to miniaturized versions of the Mortal Kombat characters. On the Xbox 360, your XBL Avatars will take their place.

While King of the Hill mode is an absolutely genius way to bring back the arcade feeling of the early ’90s, the online multiplayer does suffer from pretty awful lag at this point in time. Lag is usually pretty prevalent in any new fighting game online, so there’s a chance that it will be all cleared up in a few days or weeks. The servers themselves are actually offline at the moment, so maybe that’s a sign that it’s being fixed. That being said, I can only tell you what I experienced as a reviewer. Right now, the game ranges from lag free to completely unplayable when trying to play ranked or King of the Hill matches online. I found that it generally took around five minutes to find ranked matches. While joining King of the Hill matches was quite a bit faster, it also seemed to suffer a little more from the latency. Likely because of the extra number of people found in the King of the Hill rooms.

That being said, when you take into account the immense single player campaign, inclusion of the Challenge Tower and the King of the Hill mode in online multiplayer, I’d be hard pressed not to suggest this game to any fighting fan, or Mortal Kombat die-hard. With an up-to-date fighting engine, awesome extras throughout the game, a series of challenges that are actually challenging, and of course the return of some of the most disgustingly brutal fatalities, I find this game to be a must-have.

The Xbox 360/PS3 Difference

Both console versions of the game look practically the same. The major difference between the two is the inclusion of Kratos from the God of War series in the PlayStation 3 version. He is a powerful fighter, slower, but capable of pulling off more damaging combos than some of the other kombatants. He is based off of his form in God of War III and has all the weapons and abilities he had in the game.

Finish Him!

Listening to the cries of fans and the apathetic criticisms of reviewers, NetherRealm finally stripped the full 3D movement, multiple fighting styles and tame violence of recent outings. This is the real deal. The accept-no-substitutes Mortal Kombat set on a 2D scale and rife with viciously savage gameplay, quirky humor and exceptionally violent and grin-inducing fatalities. While it isn’t a flawless victory, this is truly the best Mortal Kombat since MK II hit the arcades 18 years ago. With a rich story mode, brutally fun combat, a fun and challenging Tower mode, an endless array of unlockables and secrets and great online options, it would be nearly criminal for any fighting fan or Mortal Kombat fan to pass this up.

[xrr label=”Rating: 9/10″ rating=9/10]

+ Lots of wonderful gore.
+ Quirky sense of humor.
+ Incredible 3D graphics on a 2D plane.
+ The best story mode of any fighter. Ever.
+ Challenge Tower is awesome
Online play is still very laggy
AI sometimes requires “cheap” tactics to win.

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About the Author

Video game journalist since 2006, and gaming since he was old enough to use an Atari joystick. Follow me: @Cam_is_16bit



One Response to Mortal Kombat Ko-Op Review

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