Mortal Kombat: Kollector’s Edition
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Publisher: Warner Home Games
Genre: 2-D Fighter
Release Date: 04/19/2011
It’s hard to believe that it’s been two and a half years since Midway released Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe. I was pretty impressed with the game overall, and it boasted the best graphics and engine I’d seen attached to a console based Mortal Kombat. Sure the gore was toned down, but the engine was tight and it was fun to see Raiden hitting a “superman” on well…Superman. I gave the game a rating of “good,” and pointed out that although I was more a SNK and Capcom fighting fan, I really adored MK8 and was looking forward to the inevitable sequel.
Flash forward to the present day. Midway has gone the way of Acclaim and Warner Bros. now owns the rights to the MK series. NetherRealm Studios has gone back to the gore and violence that originally earned this series a M rating in the first place while promising the same level of substance we had in MK8 coupled with the style the diehard Mortal Kombat fans clamored for. I’ll personally admit to a love-hate relationship with Mortal Kombat. I was unimpressed by MK1 compared to other fighters when it first came out. I LOVED MK2 and it remains one of my favorite fighters of all time. I thought MK3 was a step backwards, but then I really liked the upgrade of Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 which I still play on my Sega Saturn from time to time. I felt that MK4 was the worst game in the series when it came out (and I still do), but that Deadly Alliance was a return towards quality for the series. I’m still pretty neutral on Deception, although it wasn’t as good as DA. I loved the sheer amount of content and characters in Armageddon but felt the game played like crap. So out of the eight Mortal Kombat games, I’ve liked four of the games and disliked the other four. Which means it’s up to MK9 to break the push. After the last few years where I’ve been less than impressed by all the versions of Street Fighter IV, disgusted by King of Fighters XII and bored by BlazBlue, I’ve been hoping that Mortal Kombat would provide me with two well made MK games in a row. Was Mortal Kombat 9 a flawless victory or was it merely toasty?
MK9 starts off with the official canonical ending of Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, which was that Shao Kahn won. Only Kahn and Raiden are left alive and Raiden isn’t looking too well. Before Raiden can be slain by Shao Kahn, he recites a prayer/casts a spell and sends a psychic warning through time to his past self…way back to the very first tournament we know as Mortal Kombat I. Yes, this is a reboot or an alternate reality, as there are many characters who were never in the original Outworld tournament. At first I thought it was going back to the beginning of just MK7’s tournament but since characters like Sonya and Johnny Cage have no idea what is going on and are completely in the dark about magic, monsters and Outworld, it was made pretty obvious from the beginning that the series is starting completely over. Mortal Kombat 9: Back to the Future, if you will.
Story Mode unfolds in much the same way that it did in MK Vs. DCU, expect without the two story paths. There is just the one here. With each chapter of the story, you play as a specific Mortal Kombat character and you’ll fight roughly four battles with each. Some people may dislike that you are forced to use specific characters at specific times, but it allows for a stronger story to be told along with deeper characterization. Besides, if you want to pick your own character, that’s what Arcade Mode is for. Honestly, I loved Story Mode in MK8 and thought it was one of the best things I’d ever seen in a fighting game and a nice alternative to arcade style play. MK9 is just as good and a pleasure to play through. I generally hate reboots of franchises like what they are doing with Castlevania, Devil May Cry and the like, but with Mortal Kombat it actually makes sense due to MK7 being Armageddon and all. Even better, the reboot is done in such a way that it still ties in perfectly with the continuity of the first seven games, which is by far the best out of any fighting game series. The best way to think about MK9’s story is that is basically a Director’s Cut of MK1 – showing you characters that we know were around like Jax, Reptile, Shao Kahn and others and really fleshing out the story in a way they weren’t able to back in the early 1990s. Also, it was great to see Johnny Cage flirting with Sonya ala the first MK movie. Very cute.
Story Mode is pretty long and in-depth, but it’s only one of many modes in the game. What most of us would consider “Arcade Mode” is simply called “Fight.” Fight has a whopping six choices in it. Ladder, which is the classic “single character fights their way through Mortal Kombat to get an ending.” mode. Tag Ladder, which is the brand new tag team mode. Well, new for Mortal Kombat. This has been around in SNK, Tekken and Capcom games for a long time. Still, it’s great to see MK finally offer this option. There are then four “Test Your XXX” modes. Test Your Luck uses slots to determine your opponent and any special modifications to a battle like “headless kombat,” turbo speed and more. Test Your Might is the classic button mashing minigame that has been around since the first Mortal Kombat. Test Your Sight is a gruesome version of the shell game or three card monte and Test Your Strike is a more precise and accuracy driven version of Might.
That’s not all though. There’s also the Challenge Tower, where you’ll have to use specific characters to complete different challenges. Each character has six trials in a row and you’ll have to play them in order to slowly ascend the tower. There IS the option to skip over challenges, but it will cost you koins, the MK currency you use to unlock things in the Krypt. More on that later. There are THREE HUNDRED tower challenges.
The game also offers FOUR different training modes. There is a tutorial for the basics of the game, a fatality practice arena, where you can perfect doing one of the four fatalities for each playable character in the game. There’s also the standard practice mode and tag practice mode where you can test out combos and the like.
There’s still more! You have online play where you can play regular matches, ranked matches, king of the hill matches and more. You have the Krypt where you can spend Koins on mystery items that range from new costumes and fatalities for characters down to art works and unlockable music. You can view characters, their bios, and your stats with each of them in the Nekropolis. The game also has several trailers and gameplay movies that were used to promote the game prior to its release.
As you can tell, there is an incredible amount of stuff here and you’ll spend a lot more time trying to unlock everything that you would with any other fighter for a current generation console. Sure the game doesn’t have the kart racer or “Puzzle Kombat” like some previous MK games, but I’m fine with that. MK9 is pure fighting and it’s all high quality. I don’t think there’s ever been a fighting game with this much quantity that has ever been able to back it up with all the modes actually being high quality as well.
Story/Modes Rating: Unparalleled
Mortal Kombat is simply beautiful. Well, if you accept the caveat that beautiful is in regards to the quality of the graphics and not that I think Reptile filling Jade’s mouth with acid venom is pretty. Everything about MK9 is simply well done. The characters have an amazing amount of detail, and you’ll see them take battle damage and blood splatter in each round of combat. There is the occasional issue, such as Scorpion’s eye socket is noticeably pixilated to the point where it looks horrible, but small issues like these are by and far in the minority. Seeing Mortal Kombat in all its gory glory in high definition is well worth it. Everything is animated wonderfully, there isn’t a hint of slowdown to be seen and the game’s bright colours make for a wonderful contrast with the gore and dark overtones of the title. Sometimes things do look and feel a bit wooden, but that’s about the worst that I can say about it.
The backgrounds are even better than the character models. There’s so much detail to each of these stages that you can’t help but be impressed. The artbook also shows screenshots of the original versions of these levels in prior Mortal Kombat games and it’s really neat to look at those and see how far we’ve come graphically while the game still holds true to the each of the original versions. Like I said earlier, MK treats continuity better than most other franchises.
Is MK9 one of the best looking games I’ve seen on my PS3? No, but it is a great looking one.
Graphics Rating: Great
One odd thing about the game – why is the music so much louder than the voice acting in this game. Until I changed the defaults, I had to constantly turn the volume up to hear any dialogue and then turn it back down before the music began blasting my eardrums out. Just a head’s up to let you know you need to adjust the default settings here. Turning on the subtitles is a good idea too as some of the voice actors mumble. From that aside, you can probably tell that I think the voice acting is a mixed bag, which is true. Some of the voice acting is very well done, while some is stiff and out of place with the rest of the troupe. Sub-Zero is an example of some very monotone delivery while Johnny Cage is simply awesome. Across the board, the voice acting is enjoyable, but it can be hit or miss at time. Honestly my favorite part was with the MK1 version of Scorpion (obtained via Gamestop preordering) so that I could hear “TOASTY!”
The soundtrack to MK9 is fast-paced, frantic, infectious and fun. Sure, none of the tracks from the score are going to stick in your head so that you find yourself humming one while in the shower, but they are lot of fun as background noise while you’re playing the game. The music, once you’ve fixed the default volume, is kind of lost as you’re sitting there throwing ice balls, spears and glowing green energy arrows, but it’s a fine soundtrack and certainly compliments the game well.
Sound Rating: Enjoyable
4. Control and Gameplay
This is a bit hard as Mortal Kombat plays very differently from other fighters. Capcom and SNK use quarter circle, “Z” movements and the like for moves. Tekken uses extremely long button mashing combos that you have to memorize. Mortal Kombat stands out in that you generally only need two directional taps on a D pad and a button to do most moves. Diagonals aren’t needed and the game is at a much slower pace than a lot of fighters. Because it plays so differently it’s easy to understand why people used to faster-paced fighters can feel that MK’s controls are laggy by comparison. Now I’ll admit that I find the Mortal Kombat series as a whole to be less precise and more unresponsive that Capcom fighters and that it’s hard for me to adjust to having R2 as my block button instead of pressing back on my d-pad or analog stick after playing MvC3 for a month straight, but it is what it is. Yes MK9 suffers from some input detection issues the same way MK8 did, but this seems to be most often if you try a special move right at the second a round begins or if you juggle several special moves in a row.
The controls are pretty simple to follow, but the layout is a bit weird. Square and X are your front attacks while triangle and circle are your back attacks. Now if you look at your Dual Shock 3 (or Sixaxxis), you’ll note that the front attacks are to the back of your controller and the back attacks are towards the front. This will no doubt be a bit confusing to a lot of gamers at first. Such an odd button placement? To help you out, think of it as right and left punches and kicks, which is really what NetherRealms should have called it. Once you have that out of the way, you’ll find performing basic combos, special moves and character attacks can be pretty easy to perform. Fatalities and X-Ray attacks might be a little harder since your each character has a different location they have to perform them at. For example, Scorpion should be touching a fallen opponent to do his fatalities, while Sektor or Jade should be far away for their primary fatality.
The gimmick combat bits from previous MK games are all gone. There’s no rage meter, there’s no switching between combat styles, Klose Kombat is thankfully a thing of the past and you won’t be running characters through walls or knocking them up or down to new levels of play. It’s straight forward 2-D fighting. By getting rid of the gimmicks, which honestly tended to do more harm than good, NetherRealms has concentrated on making the engine as tight as possible and they’ve done an excellent job. As I’ve said there are still no move detection issues and fatalities where you have to press up will have most gamers just making their character leap in the air, but overall, gameplay is enjoyable even if it could have been cleaned up a bit more.
There are a few new dimensions adding to fighting in MK9, but instead of being gimmicks, these are actually things that add to the gameplay. First is the special meter. The special meter has three levels to it. At each level you can super charge a character’s special move, much in the same way you can in a lot of Capcom fighters. The next new thing is the ability to do X-Ray attacks. This requires all three bars of the special meter to be filled. To use it you hit both R2 and L2 and if it connects, you are not only treated to your character doing a super powerful combo, but also “x-rays” of your opponent taking bone crunching, tendon snapping and internal organ exploding damage. X-Ray attacks are basically Mortal Kombat‘s answer to hyper combos, albeit it in a far more gruesome fashion.
Basically Mortal Kombat fans will have a lot of fun with this game. Each character plays noticeably different from the last and the game is a lot of fun. People who are used to Japanese and/or faster fighting games will notice the input detection most of all and will no doubt be cranky about it until they adjust their style of play from quick movements to slower and more precise ones, but as I have said, they overall gameplay is enjoyable and that’s what counts.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Enjoyable
The one area where Mortal Kombat has always beaten Street Fighter, Fatal Fury, DoA and other fighters is in the replay category. These games always have a lot more modes then the competition, as well as more unlockables and playable characters. MK9 is no exception. You’re going to spend probably ten times the amount of time with MK9 than you did with MvC3 if you’re trying to unlock everything as get all the trophies. It took me ten hours of playtime to do everything there was to possibly accomplish in MvC3 (aside from perfecting Galactus, which is something so insane only I seem to be trying to do it). That’s a drop in the bucket to finishing Story Mode, beating the single character version of arcade mode with all the characters so you can see all the endings, finishing the many different “Test Your” mini games, completing the insanely long Challenge Tower and unlocking all the items in the Krypt. This, my friends, is easily the most time consuming fighter for any of the current consoles. Hell, even with the $100 price tag of the Kollector’s Edition, I am easily getting my money’s worth out of MK9.
Replayability Rating: Unparalleled
Mortal Kombat offers six different difficulty settings, each of which is noticeably harder than the last. On “beginner,” you should be able to cruise through the game with numerous Flawless Victories. I even got one on Shao Kahn. As the difficulty level increase, you’ll notice that the computer will recognize when you go to the well once too often, or if you rely too much on jump kicks or sweeps. Expert can be pretty intense, especially if you primarily play eastern style fighters and haven’t adapted to the MK controls yet. Regardless, the game can give you just the right amount of challenge for your skill level and you can even adjust things in Story Mode as well.
With all that said, there are a few balancing issues. Some characters are far more powerful than others. Nightwolf, for example, sucks pretty hardcore while characters like Scorpion are top tier and then some. Now this is true about nearly every fighting game, so you can’t hold it against MK9, but regardless as the days and weeks go on, you’ll probably end up seeing the same half dozen or so characters dominate online play. Tag play is a different story as it’s an entirely new way to play Mortal Kombat (well, new to MK anyway…) and finding the perfect team will take a little bit longer.
Overall, MK suffers from the same balance issues that come up regarding any fighting game. However, the overall experience is a good one and the AI settings are well done.
Balance Rating: Good
This is the ninth Mortal Kombat and as you might expect, the game really isn’t all that big in the originality area. Most of the new things in the game, like Tag Mode and X-Ray attacks, are merely versions of things that we’ve known for years in other fighting games. Story Mode was done in Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe and it was not only excellent, but it helped to separate MK from other fighters on a level other than the stereotypical gore it is tagged with. The only really things that stand out as new to fighting games in general are a few of the “Test Your…” bits, and even then, these are things that have been done before.
The Krypt, the Challenge Tower, Arcade Mode, and the other bits of the game have all been done before by other MK games. That doesn’t mean the game is a bad one. Indeed all of these modes and more have are very well done. It’s just there isn’t much to MK9 that one can actually call original per say.
Originality Rating: Bad
I think the fact I played the game for five hours straight without a single break should be a pretty good clue as to how hard Mortal Kombat is to put down. Because of the difference in gameplay between this and Japanese fighters, I didn’t have to worry about my thumb rubbing raw either. That was a nice change of pace.
I loved Story Mode, I was totally addicting to unlocking things in the Krypt, I kept wondering who I should try and beat either version of Ladder with next. I enjoyed unlocking new Fatalities and seeing them in action (even if I think they are a bit weaker than ones from yesteryear). The only reason I’m not going to be playing this game nonstop for the next few weeks is because I have like five adventure games to review and no one else really touches that genre. Curse you, overactive sense of responsibility!
Mortal Kombat is easily the best game in the series since MKII was released back in 1993 (Jesus, I’m old.) and it’s going to be very hard for me to get through all the other reviews I have to do because I’ll keep looking at my PS3 and get the old Techno Syndrome 7″ Mix in my head. Doot doot doot de doot. FIGHT!
Addictiveness Rating: Great
9. Appeal Factor
Mortal Kombat has been a house hold name for nearly two decades now. The games are memorable, the characters stick out in your mind, and the games tend to be fun, even is some weren’t necessarily well made. Add in the fact that the series has one of the better video game based movies ever made (The first one, not the second. GOD NOT THE SECOND), a catchy song I still hear being played in clubs to this day and many other spin-offs and it’s easy to see why Mortal Kombat is an American pop culture icon. Sure we can debate all day what fighting series is the best, but that doesn’t really matter. Back in the mid 1990s when we had Street Fighter II Vs. Mortal Kombat II debates, it wasn’t a rancorous affair filled with anger and profanity. Most people on one side of the debate loved the other game as well; they just like one a bit more than the other. Inevitably the debate would end with the bashing of Pit Fighter or Time Killers or someone else saying, “Have you played that Fatal Fury/Eternal Champions/insert other fighting franchise here?” What I’m trying to say is that each fighting game series plays differently from the other and it’s silly to hate something like Arcana Heart only because it doesn’t play exactly like Darkstalkers or Bloody Roar because it is nothing like Mark of the Wolves.
Mortal Kombat is one of the easier fighting game franchises to figure out. It’s more welcoming to newcomers than SNK games, it’s slower paced than a lot of Capcom titles, it doesn’t suck like Battle Monsters, and the fatalities always get a chuckle out of people. MK Vs. DCU moved over two million units (not counting the collector’s edition of that game either…) and there’s no doubt in my mind MK9 will do just as well. The game is far friendlier to the average gamer than MvC3 and anyone who picks this up should have fun with it, even if they’ve never played a fighter before. Now here’s hoping the MvC3 vs. MK9 debates are passionate and civil. As for me, if put on the spot, I honestly couldn’t choose between the two. Both are very different beasts. Give me a few weeks with MK9 and let me choose then.
Appeal Factor: Great
So, I’m going to use this section to talk about the $100 Kollector’s Package. Since the game itself is sixty dollars, the question is whether or not all the extras in the Kollector’s Package are worth the extra $40. I’m happy to say the answer is a resounding yes. The bookends are incredibly detailed and very functional. However the plastic they are made out of are light and flimsy compared to say, the Cain and Abel bookends from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, but those go for between one and three hundred dollars, so I can cut the Scorpion and Sub-Zero ones a bit of slack. Plus they look awesome.
You also get a hardcover artbook. It’s roughly the same size and width of the old Achewood comic collections you could order back in the day, but the MK artbook is hardcover and with full glossy pages. The artbook goes into a lot of detail about the game, the characters and the backgrounds and each page is beautiful to look at. The artbook is nowhere near the coffee table sized book you get with Nippon Ichi’s games, but I do think this is a better quality overall.
Finally, you get two themes for your PS3, three avatars and a classic Ermac costume…which is currently going for $25-$35 on Ebay right now. Not only is that insane, but the idiots paying that much for just a costume might as well pay five to fifteen bucks more and get the Kollector’s Edition.
The only downside to the collection is the same downside that all versions of MK9 suffer from – the online pass. The fact you have to pay $10 buck to use online play if you were to buy the game used drives me nuts. My personal feeling is that is you have a trophy or achievement for it built into the game sans DLC, then you should have access to it. Now this doesn’t affect me since I purchased the game new, but I’m troubled by all these new ways to nickel and dime gamers out there.
Overall, the Kollector’s Edition is a great purchase. Unlike a lot of collector’s editions, the stuff that comes with the Kollector version of MK9 is all useful in some way, shape or form rather than just taking up space. I’m really happy with it and I rarely take notice of these swag filled extra things.
Miscellaneous Rating: Great
Story and Modes: Unparalleled
Control and Gameplay: Enjoyable
Appeal Factor: Great
FINAL SCORE: VERY GOOD GAME!
Short Attention Span Summary
Mortal Kombat 9 is the best version of Mortal Kombat since MKII back in 1993. The game looks great, plays well enough that both casual gamers and diehard fighting game fans can enjoy it on different levels, and the story mode really blows any and every other fighting game out of the water in terms of plot, characterization and storytelling…which wasn’t that hard of a task to begin with actually. With NetherRealm Studios going away from second rate cart racers and “chess kombat” and instead focusing on a tight well made fighting game engine, Mortal Kombat is all the better for it. Throw in the Challenge Tower, a new tag team mode and more content than we’ve seen out of any other fighting game in this current console generation, and you have yourselves a winner. Between this and Marvel Vs. Capcom 3, 2011 is a great time to be a fighting game fan.