Blogger’s note: I got the chance to check out a bazillion in-development games in March and early April, but some real-life events have prevented me from writing up everything as quickly as I’d like. Two of those games, “Red Johnson’s Chronicles” (previewed Monday) and “Mortal Kombat” are due out this week, so I bumped them up to the top of my to-do list. The Internet is chock-a-block with reviews of “Mortal Kombat” today, but I didn’t want to let the day pass without posting my initial impressions of what I played and saw last month. Things are finally settling down, so I should be dishing out previews with regularity going forward.
After sitting down with the relaunch of “Mortal Kombat” (rated M, $60 for Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3), it’s hard not to be taken back to the mid-1990s, when the controversial fighting game had yet to be replaced by “Grand Theft Auto” as The Absolute Worst Game a Child Could Play. Parents groups and politicians were aghast at the game’s level of gore, primarily embodied by the series’ Fatalities, in which fighters would rip a still-beating heart out of a rib cage, or tear out an enemy’s skull with the spine still attached.
Naturally, crazy Fatalities are still at the heart of this reinterpretation of the old 2D “MK” games. But in an era in which many parents bought their youngish kids “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2,” which lets players take part in a massacre of civilians at an airport, “MK’s” once-shocking violence now seems whimsical and tame, like Wile E. Coyote trying to blow up the Roadrunner with a stick of TNT.
I got to play around a bit with some of “Mortal Kombat’s” 26 characters, check out the PS3-exclusive stereoscopic 3D and hear all about the game’s Challenge Tower and Fatality practice modes. I’m a bit of a fighting game novice, so I can’t say how well “MK” will stack up with Capcom’s well-received “Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds” or “Super Street Fighter IV,” but I did see enough to think that the reboot will likely make those kids who managed to get their hands on the first console versions of the original “Mortal Kombat” games feel like kids all over again.
The Challenge Ladder is at the heart of the single-player experience, with 300 different rungs to climb. Each of these rungs will give you a different goal. On the lower rung, your goals will be easily attainable, but as you climb higher, you’ll be trying to win fights without being hit.
Peppered throughout the ladder are modes called Test Your Might, Test Your Sight and Test Your Strike. These minigames let you take a break from fighting. Test Your Sight, for example, has you playing a version of the shell game in which the shells are replaced with skulls.
If you’re a fighting game novice, like me, chances are you’ll inevitably get stuck on some challenge or another. Mercifully, “Mortal Kombat” players earn credits they can use to bypass particularly difficult challenges.
While I played, I got the chance to try out the stereoscopic 3D, which is exclusive to the PS3. (PlayStation gamers also get “God of War’s” Kratos as an exclusive character.) The 3D is the kind of feature that’ll be a nice bonus for players who’ve invested in a 3D-capable set, but because “Mortal Kombat” is a 2D fighting game, the feature felt largely extraneous, like the 3D on Capcom’s “Super Street Fighter IV 3D” for Nintendo’s 3DS handheld.
The other cool toy I got to check out was PDP’s tournament edition fighting stick. Compared with the tournament edition “Super Street Fighter IV” stick I recently bought for the Xbox 360, the PDP stick for “MK” (currently only sold bundled with the game) is a beast. It its inside of a wooden casing that you can open up for easy access to its innards. (Fight stick owners love to customize their controllers and swap parts around.) And the whole thing comes lined with memory foam on the underside so that you can set it on your lap without it digging into your thighs. If you’re an “MK” fan who doesn’t mind spending a lot of money or having a huge, arcade-style fight stick in your abode, the tournament edition controller is worth investigating.