Game Review: 'Mortal Kombat' (PS Vita)

Last year's Mortal Kombat was a welcome reboot to the long running franchise, trimming away years of fat that had developed around the original game's midsection, which had overcomplicated its formula with unnecessary additions like fighting stances and 3D movement, leaving behind only a taut and toned fighter.  The lush 3D graphics rendered a remarkably simple formula that hearkened back to the series' heyday that peaked at Mortal Kombat 3, yet still the game felt fresh and invigorated.  Even more impressive was the retooling of the mythology, which allowed for dozens of fighters to engage each other, even weird but wonderful additions like God of War's Kratos and Freddy Krueger.  I still play it , relentlessly over a year after its release, and it's aged like a fine scotch: smooth and mature.

Now the PS Vita, Sony's powerful handheld (I really can't call it portable because the thing is huge) has taken a stab at the tournament with its own version of Mortal Kombat.  It's easy to be cynical of a handheld MK title as they have been less than stellar in the past (anyone remember the Game Boy ports?), but Netherrealm has managed to cram all of the gory goodness—and then some—into this portable port.

The only major complaint that one could level against Mortal Kombat on the Vita is the graphics.  While it boasts some serious horsepower, some sacrifices had to be made in terms of visual fidelity.  The beautiful lighting and gorgeous character models had to be stripped down, leaving behind low-poly marionettes with murky textures.  For the most part, they still look impressive, but the occasional graphical goof still mars the experience.  Sindel's prehensile hair has been reduced to a sentient twirl of buttercream frosting, and Johnny Cage's mouth will forever haunt my nightmares.  This loss in graphical fidelity, however, allowed the developers to keep the game running at a buttery-smooth 60 frames per second, which is all but necessary in a fighting game.  It's really a sight to behold to see something so crisp running on a handheld device, especially when the slowdown-free gameplay allows it to play just as strongly as its console brothers.

The other addition to the PS Vita version of the game is a new Challenge Tower, which tasks players to complete 150 new minigames and matches in bite-sized bouts.  These new challenges take full advantage of the Vita's extra hardware features like the touch screen and the gyroscopic sensor, making you tilt the Vita to right an angled arena or swipe the screen in a gruesome parody of Fruit Ninja called "Test Your Slice."  Mercifully, these novel, if slightly goofy, new features are left to the Challenge Tower, keeping the core game (and the original Challenge Tower) as simple and novelty-free as we know and love it.

Mortal Kombat on the PS Vita is, strangely enough, the most complete version of the game to date.  Every DLC character is included (including the aforementioned Kratos and Freddy Krueger), every extra in the Krypt is present, and the additional Challenge Tower just adds more entertainment to an already overflowing cup.  Best of all, it's everything that made last year's version of Mortal Kombat a classic: it's balanced, brutal, and bloody.