My first real exposure to Mortal Kombat was feeding a Mortal Kombat II machine that was on the ferry from Connecticut to Long Island. Long Island Sound was particularly rough that day, and even as the ferry pitched this way and that, I kept a death grip on the joystick and mashed the buttons furiously. This was an experience unlike what I had experienced on my friend's Super Nintendo, where the blood had been replaced by gouts of sweat and the infamous fatalities had been excised completely. The true arcade experience was fast and brutal, and when I finally got to Shao Kahn I was terrified. He was vicious, he was relentless, and in mere moments he had undone all of the progress my allowance had made.
I felt the exact same way on my couch when Baraka, whom I had used to creep my way up the ladder just like I had all those years ago, fell under the final blow of Shao Kahn's hammer. Mortal Kombat is more than just a reboot—it's a perfect distillation of the arcade experience that truly defined the franchise for years. Gone are the terrible Z-axis movements that plagued the series starting with MK4, brought back down to basic 2D simplicity. The number of fighters has also been reduced, from the bloated 63 that MK: Armageddon brought down to a varied but balanced 32 (33 on the Playstation 3). Best of all is the proud return of Fatalities, executed with a whole new level of staggering violence, as if making up ground lost to the T-Rated MK vs. DC Universe. The only true addition to the classic gameplay is in the form of Tag Mode, which introduces Marvel vs. Capcom style matchups where players can switch between two fighters on a whim, or even combine to two for devastating combos. Every misstep that the franchise has taken over the years has been forgiven and forgotten.
Instead, we have a revisionist retelling of MK 1-3, exclusively using those games' characters (the exception being the necromancer Quan Chi) sporting smart new designs. The story is told, naturally, in Story Mode, which sets you on a narrative path using predetermined matchups. This is certainly a workout, as you're forced outside of your comfort zone and behind the fists of different fighters. For more traditional MK players like myself, there's the tried-and-true Ladder, which pits your chosen Kombatant against an arcade-style progression of opponents, ending with the terrifyingly difficult Shao Kahn.
Whereas other fighting franchises would have stopped at these two modes, Nether Realm added in a slew of extras to stretch your time with the game. Players can engage in a series of minigames like Test Your Sight and Test Your Might, which replace the normal fighting game experience with a three-card Monte analogue (seriously) and button mashing gameplay. All of these modes make their appearance in the Challenge Tower, an epic 300-round series of challenges that will test the patience of even the steeliest player.
All of these games and challenges net the player Koins, which can be traded in at the Krypt (enough with the phonetics, already!) for a grab-bag of virtual goodies: concept art, storyboards, music, even alternate costumes and fatalities. There's a ridiculous amount of things to do and items to be collected that it extends the gameplay well past the core game.
Rounding out these options is a meaty selection of multiplayer options, ranging from local 2-player to King of the Hill, which replicates the "I got next," quarter queuing of the arcades.
Mortal Kombat is truly a game for fans, boldly returning to its roots in every way. Every bit of fat has been trimmed, leaving behind nothing but lean, pure fighting goodness. The gameplay is as fast as ever, the fighters are perfectly balanced, and the fatalities are as gruesome as ever. Hell, even Shang Tsung's main finisher marks the revised return of a certain clown prince that I consider one of my favorite fatalities, except with a final fountain of gore the original so sorely lacked…
Thanks guys…we needed that.