Mortal Kombat (Xbox 360) Review

Summary [9.5 out of 10]

After years of shifting to a 3D format, the Mortal Kombat series has come back to its 2D roots and the results are bloody and glorious. Something of a reboot, Mortal Kombat has a lot to offer with a large roster of fighters, a new story, tons of modes, plenty of secrets, fatalities, tons of blood and an improved fighting system that feels fluid and exciting. Some of the graphics are gorgeous and some look choppy and last gen but even the few blemishes can’t stop this from being one of the best 2D fighters available.

What It’s Like

  • Mortal Kombat 1, 2, 3: Because of the nature of the storyline, this game riffs on the original three 2D games in the series. The characters, moves and costumes are all takes on these games so it is pretty impossible not to be reminded of them. The improvements to be had set this new installment apart but it pretty much lives in the original three games.
  • Street Fighter IV: Mortal Kombat brings this style of gameplay back to the forefront the same way Street Fighter IV did. In doing so it brings back beloved fighters and familiar moves but with an overhauled fight system that is familiar but superior to the original, just like Street Fighter IV.

The Great

  • Fighting System: I have always liked Mortal Kombat but the fighting system always felt a bit stiff and kind of repetitive. Since the characters had the same basic move sets and the lack of flexibility from digitized characters, the draw was the special moves and the gore with a fighting system that was more about dial a combos than anything else. With this new installment, you have the same control scheme but a more fluid system that allows for fast paced fights and more dynamic combo building. The combos here feel more organic and on the fly than just tapping the buttons in a certain order to produce unblockable combos that leave your opponent frustrated. The fighting here feels just right with a bit of the old school with a healthy helping of the new.
  • Backgrounds: The backgrounds are absolutely gorgeous regardless of whether it is a riff on an old background or a new one. They are rich and active and are just flat impressive. They give the feeling of depth and realistic occupation of space that will make you forget you are playing a 2D fighter.

  • Controls: Fighting game controls are often really bad on the XBox controller as the analog stick feels imprecise and the D-pad is flat out junk. No such problems exist here. I am not sure how this can be but Mortal Kombat plays beautifully with the control pad. The controls are very responsive and tight and I rarely had any problems doing what I wanted when I wanted to do it. It works great with arcade sticks as well but if you don’t want to spend the money on one of those you can do just fine with a control pad.

  • Modes: Whereas a lot of fighting games just give you arcade, training and multiplayer, Mortal Kombat gives you a unique story mode where you play a variety of characters in a set number of matches that tell the story with cinematics in between, a ladder mode that mimics the arcade experience that even comes with its own endings, tag team matches, training, test your might, test your sight and more. There is a ton of content here to keep you busy. Mortal Kombat gives you a suite of modes that you would have to buy separately from other series. In a genre that could result in quick finishes and not a lot of interest outside of multi-player, Mortal Kombat delivers a robust single player experience as well as terrific local and online multiplayer options. To say this is full featured is a massive understatement.

The Good

  • Online Multiplayer: The multiplayer offered here is pretty much without flaw. The robust selection of single player options are mostly available online and play is smooth and stable. Rather than confusing point systems to track progress, the mulitplayer here gives you simple win to loss numbers that is a way more straight forward way of matching and judging skill levels. Both simple and complex the online experience is exactly what you would hope for from a game like this.

  • Character Selection: The roster of characters here is impressive without feeling bloated. Pretty much all the characters from the first three titles are here and they all play better than ever even while they feel very familiar they are generally not boring. If you run through the story mode you end up having to play as a goodly portion of them which teaches you the nuances with them and gives the player a better appreciation for the wide range of offerings. I could have done with a couple of new fighters thrown in but what is here is very good.

  • X-Ray Moves: These are pretty awesome just because they are relatively easy to do and they are brutal as hell. Basically if you build up the super meter all the way you can execute this move that will take a good half a life bar away. The meter fills if you take damage or deal it but it is a good way to come back from being dominated if you can get the timing right. It would seem unfair if it were unblockable or unavoidable but you have to get the timing just right or it misses and wastes the whole meter. The damage it does isn’t just to the health bar but also does brutal damage to the character model and leaves your opponent bloody and broken.
  • Graphics: The in game graphics are pretty awesome. They look great and the animation is fluid which manages to increase the fluid feeling of the action. The gore, which is extreme, also looks very good and brings this back to series roots after a much tamer outing with Mortal Kombat Vs DC. The effects are sharp and impressive as well making for a very pretty package.

  • Story: The story mode is an interesting take on stories in fighting games. Playing the story mode is unlike any of the other modes and it manages to be very engaging and fun. The story follows Raiden getting a vision from a future version of himself that shows all of the good guys dead and evil triumphant. Raiden tries to make things right according to his visions and that puts the player in a story driven retelling of the first three games. It is like playing through the first Mortal Kombat movie with graphics that look like they were produced roughly around that same time. The cut scenes are ugly as hell but the voice work is good and the story is engaging enough to keep you interested throughout.
  • Extras: There are TONS of things to unlock here. Mortal Kombat brings the Kombat Krypt in from the 3D installments and there is a ton of stuff to unlike with points earned through the story mode, challenge modes and in the ladder mode. The extras will keep you going long after you have done more standard gameplay goals.

  • Persistent Damage: Once you get jacked in Mortal Kombat, the blood and damage stays on the character. This is very clearly badass. there isn’t much else to say.

The Bad

  • Cinema Graphics: As mentioned above the graphics on the cut scenes are pretty bad. They look very much like they were on previous gen tech as opposed to HD driven systems. Given how good the in game graphics look, the misstep here is twice as noticeable and ugly. I am not sure what happened here but it looks like ass and brings the experience down.

  • Some of the Character Models: Generally the character models and costumes are pretty cool but some of them look pretty stupid. Reptile, in particular, looks awful. If you pre-ordered from a particular retailer you got an old-school model of him but if you didn’t then you are stuck with a goofy looking green thing with what looks like a beak.  Hopefully some DLC can fix this.
  • No New Characters: I am not unhappy with the roster necessarily but it would be cool to have some new characters to play with. The story kind of hamstrings new characters but it would still have been nice. Sure, PS3 players get Kratos but I hope the next Mortal Kombat game will give us some fresh faces to play with.

  • Online Only Available for New Purchases or for a Fee: I know this is a growing trend with companies to avoid used game sales but it seems pretty shitty to punish consumers in a tough economy like this. I bought the game new and didn’t have to pay for online access but I think it is kind of BS that anyone would have to pay extra for a feature that should be included…particularly when you are playing on Live where you have to pay for THAT service to begin with.

Conclusion [9.5 out of 10]

Mortal Kombat is a great return to a series that has not always been reliable. This installment is one of the best possible examples of Mortal Kombat and has a ton of content to offer. Whether you have a fondness for the series or not, this is a game that should not be missed if you like fighting games.

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About J Patrick Ohlde, Reviews Editor

Patrick is the author of Scare-Izona: A Travel Guide to Arizona's Spookiest Spots, Tucson's Most Haunted, Finding Ghosts in Phoenix and another book releasing this year. He also does not care for the Oxford Comma. Patrick holds a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology from the University of Arizona which he uses professionally as a recovery coordinator on a crisis response team. In addition to writing books, Patrick is an avid gamer, artist, musician, actor, martial artist, screenwriter and film buff. He also enjoys writing long winded and self-congratulatory bios of himself. Seriously, look him up on Amazon. That one is even longer than this one.

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