Mar 11, 2011

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Demo Impressions: Mortal Kombat

Demo Impressions: Mortal Kombat

PSN + users were treated with an exclusive early demo of upcoming, most recent reboot of Mortal Kombat. I have been a fan of the series since the arcade days in the early 90’s, and pretty much played every installment. While each new release has had its share of improvements and regressions, for the most part the game has never reached the “fun factor” that the original had. However, after playing the demo at length, I have high hopes for this bloodthirsty fighter.

Right off the bat, I noticed that the game has several modes that will be available in the full release, ranging from Story mode, Challenge tower, and various bonus game style modes such as “Test your might,” which from the looks of the demo clip, is reminiscent of the old Street Fighter 2 mini-games in-between matches. However, this being a demo, you can only select the “Ladder” option, which gives you to the classic MK formula of climbing the tower opponent by opponent, and allows you to go up against the four characters available in the demo: Scorpion, Johnny Cage, Mileena, and my all-time favorite, Sub-Zero.

I selected my fighter, Sub-Zero of course, and started the Ladder mode. The graphics were very crisp, and the animation and color seemed to bring a brand new definition to the iconic characters; it’s by far the best looking Mortal Kombat to date. Aside from the stunning visuals, the next thing I noticed was the new power meter on the bottom left of the screen, which is split into three sections. Similar to that of  Marvel vs. Capcom, as well as many other fighters, it looks like Mortal Kombat has decided to implement a built-up “X-ray” power that can be unleashed when the bar fills up. After filling your bar by landing attacks or blocking your opponents attacks, you have the chance to land a super attack by pressing R2 and L2 (RT and LT). If landed, this attack not only does massive damage to your opponent, but does so in a brief cut scene which zooms in on the bones being broken by the attack. Sub Zero’s super attack, for example, is a dash-style attack that, when landed, shows Sub-Zero punching through the opponents stomach, grabbing an organ (possibly the liver or stomach), freezing it, and then crushing it in his hand. This semi-fatality takes about a third of your opponent’s the entire health bar, and can easily change the momentum of a match. Each character has their own specific move, and they’re all pretty entertaining. The addition of the power bar and X-ray moves only augments the experience, but doesn’t change what everyone has grown to love about Mortal Kombat.

Aside from the flashy “X-ray” kill, I was pleased with the improved mechanics. Mortal Kombat feels a lot like the original title while still maintaining very fluid combat, similar to that of the Marvel vs Capcom series. One of the big reasons for the imprvoed combat is the change from three-dimensions to two, making it a classic 2D fighter. Doing so was definitely the right decision, since I never really cared for the three-dimensional versions of MK. Another nice little touch was the weapon attacks. Each player has a weapon, introduced one or two renditions ago, and the animations for them look great. A lot of them involve stabbing; Sub-Zero’s attack sends a ice-blade right into the chest of the opponent, while you see blood drip down the bright blue blade. The level of violence and gore has definitely been stepped up, which makes it feel more like the classic Mortal Kombat title. When playing the demo, you’ll notice that players will bruise and show battle wounds, so you’ll see the damage you’ve taken or done on the character throughout the entire match.

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Of course what’s a Mortal Kombat game without fatalities, right? Fatalities have been the backbone of the franchise, and if NetherRealm wants to have a successful game, they need to nail these. At least in the demo, it seems like they have. Even though there are only two Fatalities available per player (at least in the demo) the execution and graphics of the death blow feels right. Not too extreme or excessively bloody, and definitely pleasing to the eye. The stage fatalities, which use the stage environment, have been a part of Moral Kombat from the beginning, so it was nice that they spent some time polishing it. I only managed to pull off one in the demo, and it involved grabbing Melina and throwing her straight into a tree monster’s mouth, which chewed her up, chopping her in to pieces. Pretty cool. From the video released, the game will have plenty more environmental Fatalities, one of which includes holdings someone’s face against a moving subway train.

After playing the demo through a couple of times, I was left with something that is rare in new Mortal Kombat game: I was impressed. I left impressed by the graphics, the new X-Ray attacks, and most importantly, the fluid combat. From the looks of it, NetherRealm Studios took this franchise, stripped it to the bare fundamental aspects that made the original great, and built a new, incredibly pretty version of it, with one or two additions that in my mind should stay as part of the franchise for the future. Playing the demo has made me very optimistic for the franchise’s return to glory.

Mortal Kombat releases April 19th on XBox 360 and PlayStation 3. The demo will be available to everyone on XBox Live and PSN starting March 15th.