GET OVER HERE! and Test Your Might…

MORTAL KOMBAT!!!!!!!!!!!  It’s back, it’s really back!  The ninth installment of Mortal Kombat was released last month on the PS3 and XBOX360 and, for the first time in a long time, I was really excited to play it.

Let’s start out with a bit of history.  I was an arcade addict as a kid, and the first time I saw the digitized photo graphics (not to mention the stop motion character Goro) of Mortal Kombat I was hooked.  Then, when I started playing and discovered the fatalities I was pulled in even further.  And I continued to be a big fan through the first few sequels and loved the new characters introduced.

Mortal Kombat 3 is still today one of my absolute favorite fighting games, with the introduction of chain combos to the already fun system of the previous games.  I still remember when MK3 was released for the Sega Genesis, I couldn’t believe it was really being released.  My grandmother got it for me for my birthday and I was so excited but still couldn’t believe it was real.  I ran upstairs, put it in my  Genesis, turned it on……and all I got was a screen of code….  I felt like it was all a big prank pulled on me and that after all, the game wasn’t real.  Of course, it WAS real, I traded it for another copy at the store which worked perfectly, and I played the hell out of that game.  MK3 was the only fighting game that I have ever spent real time with learning combos and attempting to get good at the game.  I would practice at home and then head to the arcade to test my skills, always using Sub Zero.  I was so into the world of Mortal Kombat, that I even kinda dug the two sub-par movies.

After MK3 though, I never really got into any of the newer Mortal Kombat games.  At first, the weapons of Mortal Kombat 4 felt fun, but the more I played it, the less it felt like Mortal Kombat to me.  Further sequels added the ability to switch between multiple fighting styles and then finally a vs. game including DC comics characters was released.  I just didn’t like what the games had become and felt they were too over-complicated.  I never even played 6,7 and DC.

Flash forward 16 years to the new Mortal Kombat, and it starts all over again.  This game is REALLY fun and WAY nostalgic.  I can’t believe this is already the ninth Mortal Kombat  game.  Set after the events of the 7th game, Raiden manages to send a sort of message to the Raiden of Mortal Kombat 1 in order to allow him to alter events and prevent the destruction of the world.  Basically, what that means is, a new retelling of the first three Mortal Kombat games with a slight twist on things, which explains why they have dropped all numbers and subtitles from the game’s title. Being a huge fan of the first three games, this was perfect for me.

Overall, it felt like Mortal Kombat 3 with nice graphics and all of the characters from the first three games, which means it’s double good because actually playing Mortal Kombat 3 probably wouldn’t feel like my memories of Mortal Kombat 3.  Great special moves, linkable chain combos, brutal fatalities and even babalities (These are especially good this time around, as they are more than just babies in the corresponding clothing. They actually have corresponding props and clever animations as well.).  Also included is the standard ladder style arcade mode, ending in the Shang Tsung/Goro (or Kintaro)/Shao Khan battles and followed by a character specific ending (This time around animated stills with voiceover).

Now, that’s not to say nothing has changed.  There is quite a bit of different and new here, but it all fits perfectly into the game.  First, the controls are slightly different.  Gone are the high/low punch and kick buttons.  They are now replaced with limb specific buttons: left/right punch and kick.  This is only a slight change however, and it doesn’t really change the feel of combat.  Also new to this game, are a few special attack types.  At the bottom of your screen is a three-level power bar, much like you’d find in most fighting games (especially from Capcom).  Build it up to one level for more powerful special moves, two levels for combo breakers, and fill it completely for the new x-ray moves.  X-ray moves are a new type of attack, unique to each player, that zoom in like an x-ray to show your opponents bones being shattered.  These moves cause severe damage and can really change the course of a fight at the last minute.  Fortunately, these x-ray moves are easily blockable, so as to avoid cheap finishes.

This game offers a handful of new modes as well.  The first of these is my favorite, story mode, a REAL story mode.  I have never been real great at fighting games, and so aside from the odd time I have friends over to challenge (that aren’t ridiculously better than me), I generally play a fighting game on the easiest setting until I have seen all the moves and endings for every character.  Recently, as fighting games have been getting more and more technical, they have kind of done away with any coherent story.  Not this fighting game.  Mortal Kombat comes with a full 4-6 hour (maybe longer depending on difficulty), fully animated story mode.  What this means is there is a cutscene, then a fight, cutscene, then a fight, and so on.  But it’s much better than it sounds.  The loading times are really short and the cutscenes flow directly into the fights and vice versa, so it really feels like you are watching a movie that you occasionally have control over.  And it’s really well designed; and cheesy as it is, it’s pretty well written and really draws you in.  Every character, even the ones who had been hidden or extra characters in the past, has a real part in the story, and you fight as almost all of them (aside from a few of the bad guys, who you’d obviously not want to win).  It’s basically broken up into chapters, with each chapter assigning you a character that you play through several fights with, before then switching to the next character.  Really well designed, and lots of fun.  I wish more fighting games had this.

Another new mode is tag ladder, which allows you to choose two characters and switch readily back and forth between them in battle.  Much like the Marvel vs. Capcom games, although with a bit less substance.  Also, you’ve got the “Test your….” series of challenges.  “Test your Might” you’ll remember from the old Mortal Kombat games.  Pound the buttons to fill a gauge and then press a button to break a stack of something (wood, stone, diamond).  “Test your Strike” is much the same, but instead of just power, you need to fill the gauge enough, but not too much in order to break a specific section.  “Test your Sight” is like the old shell game, where a ball is placed under one of three or more cups/severed heads, and you need to watch carefully and remember which one it’s under.

Finally, there is “Test your Luck”.  This one is a lot of fun.  Basically a normal fight, but with modifiers applied.  Spin 2-7 slot machine dials to randomly choose your opponent and which modifiers will be applied.  Modifiers include, overpowered and armored (extra strength/defense), jumping/kombos/etc disabled, headless mode, random attacks like meteor and lock-on (heat seeking missiles), and more.  Lots of crazy, random fun.

The last new mode is the challenge tower.  This is a big tower of 300 different challenges.  These include normal fights, fights with restrictions (no blocking, no jumping), fights against several opponents, “Test your…” challenges, and more.  As I am not very good at these games, I didn’t bother with these, but these are apparently really challenging as you move up towards 300.  Every challenge you complete (also every fight you win in ladder mode or story mode) gives you points that you can spend to unlock artwork, music, alternate costumes, hidden fatalities and more.

In the end, this is a really great fighting game, good for both casual gamers and hardcore lovers of fighting games.  I’m really excited to see this return to form for Mortal Kombat, and I can’t wait for the next one (especially after the story ending and a few of the endings in the arcade (ladder) mode.  Oh yeah, one more thing, Kratos from God of War is an extra character in the PS3 version of the game…

Also, while I’m on the topic of Mortal Kombat, there’s one more thing.

A new web series, Mortal Kombat:Legacy.  Director Kevin Tancharoen originally created a self-financed short called Mortal Kombat: Rebirth that he pitched to Warner Brothers in the hopes of getting hired to make a full length movie.  While he didn’t get that, he did get the rights and funding to make a 10 episode web series.

This web series follows several of the characters from Mortal Kombat with a slight re-imagining of their story, although it mostly follows pretty closely.  These have great production value and are really well made.  They’ve even got some names in them as well; Jeri Ryan plays Sonya Blade and Michael Jai White plays Jax.  Also, later in the series there is some kick-ass animation.  Aside from their version of Baraka (which I don’t completely like) and Mileena’s teeth not being long enough (which is me being nitpicky), I am really enjoying these.  There are five episodes available so far, and new episodes are released every Tuesday.  Check out the first episode below, and if you want more, check out the “machinima” page on youtube.

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