This year’s Mortal Kombat gets right to the heart of what made the series popular in the first place – and then rips it clean out for us all to see. Like Street Fighter IV before it, this series reboot aims to recapture Kombot’s dusty mojo by concentrating on the qualities that made it a cultural icon in the 1990s – a simpler time when severed spines and teary-eyed parents walked hand in hand. Wazzing on youthful memories light be a popular marketing approach at the moment, but back to basics tac makes perfect sense for the Mat-’em-up genre, where flayers of pointless complexity had rendered the genre inaccessible all but the world’s top five chess-playing computers until SFIV took the power back in 2008.
And so Mortal Kombat feels more like 1995′s MK3 than it does any of the reincarnations; the action’s been flattened into an old-school 2D plane and the flow of the matches bear more than a passing resemblance to old-school MK – fast, furious and with a fetish for ridiculous airbound combos. Aside from the 2D perspective, the main thing to have been plucked from the 1990s by NetherRealm’s time-traveling claw crane is a bumper crop of X-rated fatalities. Forget the namby-pamby foreplay that passed as ‘fatalities’ in Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe; these match-winning moves are genuinely heart-stopping stuff – and they’ll likely give your pancreas pause for thought while they’re at it.
The show-stopping finales are as mindlessly vicious as they were back when they whipped up tabloid-fueled moral panics; MK original Johnny Cage parties like it’s 1992 by uppercutting his foe’s bead clean off, while robo-man Cyrax slices up his opponent’s torso a treat with his saw blades before shattering it into a pile of steaks on the floor with an almighty roundhouse kick. Our favorite fatality belongs to Reptile – he forces his foe’s mouth open and dribbles a steady steam of acid into their digestive tract.
There are 26 confirmed selectable characters, mostly comprised of old favorites from across the series. Underscoring the outrageous levels of violence is a new ‘X-Ray’ mechanic that activates when the player fills up their special meter. These rib-crunching maneuvers come with a cross-section view that allows you to see in full technicolor glory the havoc your blows are wrecking on your punching bag’s skeleton. That aside, it’s a resolutely retro experience, with the only other new feature of note being the tag mode, which allows players to swap teammates in and out of battle at will, either for tactical reasons, or to let stoved-in fighters recuperate, or to engage in a flurry of double-teaming (which opens up a wide world of custom combo possibilities, depending on which fighters you have lined up).
Mortal Kombat is unlikely to be genre-defining; even at the peak of its popularity, it was widely accepted that MK lagged behind Street Fighter in pure gameplay terms, so in 2011, a remake isn’t going to have the likes of BlazBlue reaching for the icebag. But although this is a strictly B-tier fighter, its heart is in the right place. Everything else has been disemboweled, but the heart is Still there.
Screenshot of Mortal Kombat 2011 :