Review: Mortal Kombat (Sony Playstation Vita)
by Alex Lucard on May 1, 2012

Mortal Kombat
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Publisher: Warner Home Games
Genre: 2-D Fighting
Release Date: 05/01/2012

I grew up an SNK and Capcom fighting game fan. To me, Mortal Kombat was a neat franchise, but it just wasn’t as deep or interesting as games like The King of Fighters, Street Fighter II, Darkstalkers, Samurai Shodown and others. Out of the early games, I really only liked Mortal Kombat II. Over the past few years, though, Netherealm Studios has not only been putting out games that rivaled Capcom and SNK titles, but actually surpassed them. In 2008, Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe won our fighting game of the year award. I happily cast my vote for that after having been quite impressed with the game when I reviewed it. Then in 2011, Mortal Kombat 9 impressed even the most hardened skeptic (basically Mark and myself). We had nothing but praise for the game, and then when the end of the year rolled around, it was no surprise that it too won our fighting game of the year award, but that it was also nominated for the overall game of the year as well (Losing to a tie between Batman: Arkham City and Radiant Silvergun).

Now Netherealm Studios has ported the game over to the Vita, adding some new content and replacing other bits. I’ll admit I’ve never been a fan of fighting games for handhelds. They never seem to play as well due to hardware and controller differences. About the only time I’ve felt a portable fighting game could go toe to toe with a console or arcade cabinet were a few for the Neo*Geo Pocket Colour like SNK vs. Capcom: Match of the Millienium. Even the BlazBlue and Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom titles I have for the Vita don’t play as well as their console big brothers. Still, after how impressive the last two Mortal Kombat games were, I was not going to dismiss the chance that we were finally going to have an awesome handheld Mortal Kombat game. (I still remember Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance for the GBA…). So has Mortal Kombat hit it out of the park for a third straight time?

Let’s Review

1. Story/Modes

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″²s 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, except 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, 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 handled by far the best out of any fighting game series. The best way to think about MK9″²s story is that it’s basically a Director’s Cut of MK one through three – 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 we would consider “Arcade Mode” is simply called “Fight.” Fight has a whopping EIGHT (up from six in the console version) 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. The two new games are “Test Your Balance” which uses the gyroscope of the Vita to see how well you can balance your character and “Test Your Slice” is well, Fruit Ninja, but with heads instead of fruit. Unfortunately, as fun as this one is, it’s timed and there is no unlimited play. Boo.

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 PS Vita version of the game also adds a bonus Challenge tower with another 150 challenges. These new challenges highlight the Vita touchscreen controls, as well as the four new playable characters (Skarlet, Rain, Kenshi and Freddy Kreuger). Interestingly enough, some of the early challenges in the new tower let you play as Shao Kahn, complete with a move list and fatality guide, so perhaps he’ll be unlockable too?

The game also offers FOUR different training modes. There is a tutorial for the basics of the game, as well as 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, private matches and more. King of the Hill matches have been removed from the Vita version however. You have the Krypt where you can spend Koins on mystery items that range from new costumes and fatalities for characters down to artwork 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. I love the new Challenge Tower and I don’t miss King of the Hill at all. MK9 for the Vita is definitely geared more for the single player experience, and considering how hard it was to find anyone else playing this online (It’s not the games fault; just a few reviewers like myself have the game currently), this is probably for the best.

Story/Modes Rating: Unparalleled

2. Graphics

As soon as you start playing Mortal Kombat for the Vita, you notice the graphics are a definite step or two down from the console version. The cut scenes in story mode look as awesome as ever, but the actual in-game graphics just look… off. Character models have significantly less detail to them, and many of the faces look like those of middle aged men and women who spent way too much time in the sun. Uber wrinkly. Jax has the exact opposite problem, as his face appears to have no detail at all. Just dark skin and some eyes.

While playing, you’ll also sometimes notice characters change colour, either instantly, or the colors will bleed off them. I was fighting Cyber Sub-Zero at one point and he changed to the dull grey generic android you’ll encounter in a challenge tower mission. There’s some screen tearing, some rendering issues and occasionally a big blob on a character, like someone spilled paint on your screen. It’s all very odd and, to be honest, really disappointing, as the aforementioned fighting games that are also available for the system lack both the visual bugs that sometimes pop up in this game, and the sheer overall reduction in graphical quality.

Now, with all that said, this does not mean the game looks bad. Far from it. It’s still a lot of fun to play, and the models all look pretty decent. You can obviously tell all the ninjas from each other and the like. It’s just not AS GOOD as the console version or the other fighting games available for the Vita. If you can live with a plethora of very minor visual issues (and I could), you’ll still have a lot of fun revisiting Mortal Kombat on your Vita. It’s not as good looking as the console versions, but what’s here is still nice and there’s plenty of gore and blood to go around, so fans of the series should be happy.

Graphics Rating: Enjoyable

3. Sound

One complaint both Mark and I had about both versions of the console Mortal Kombat was that the music was noticeably louder than the voice acting and that one would have to change things in the options to really hear what was going on. Obviously we weren’t the only ones with this minor complaint, as NetherRealm Studios has rebalanced the audio to prevent this from happening again.

The voice acting in Mortal Kombat is a mixed bag. Some characters have great actors behind them (like Johnny Cage) while others have some monotone or poorly done voice work (Sub-Zero). The end result is an inconsistent ensemble that is mostly enjoyable with a few rough patches due to casting.

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

Like the graphics, the gameplay of Mortal Kombat for the Playstation Vita is noticeably weaker than the console version. I was able to double flawless victory Shao Kahn on Expert on the PS3 version, but on the Vita I have noticeable problems pulling off some moves or combos. Sometimes the game just doesn’t take the input, while other times it gives me completely different moves from what I inputted. Nothing like going for a low force ball with Johnny Cage, only to have him go for a nut punch instead. As well, some of the inputs for the Fatalities (stage or move) don’t seem to be taken by the game. I’m not sure if this just means the movements for the Fatalities are changed or if it’s more control recognition problems. Either way, inputting commands into the Vita version is far less precise and far more frustrating than the console version. This was my big fear going into Mortal Kombat for the Vita and unfortunately, said fear came to pass.

Now this doesn’t mean the game isn’t playable. Far from it. It’s still a decent enough experience. You just have to figure out that the exact way you played on a console won’t work here due to the hardware and input differences. I still enjoyed my time with the game, even if I found things to be spotty and not as good as the console version.

One area where the gameplay does seem to completely suck is online. The few times I found someone to play with online, I had an extremely hard time getting moves off other than basic kicks and punches. Now, I have FIOS, and I had a full connection each time, but it does feel like online play makes the control recognition problems I had with the Vita version all the more apparent. So those are the specific control issues with the Vita version. Now for those of you who missed out on the console version (Shame on you), let’s have a recap of the basics.

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 button layout, you’ll note that the front attacks are toward 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, no? To help you out, think of it as right and left punches and kicks, which is really what NetherRealm Studios should have called them. Once you have that out of the way, you’ll find performing basic combos, special moves and character attacks can be easy enough to perform, as long as the game recognizes the inputs. Fatalities and X-Ray attacks might be a little harder, since your each character has a different location they have to perform them from. 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. This is straight forward 2-D fighting. By getting rid of the gimmicks, which honestly tended to do more harm than good, NetherRealm has concentrated on making the engine as tight as possible, and they’ve done an excellent job with the console version that simply didn’t transfer as well to the Vita.

There are a few new dimensions added to the 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 triggers, 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“Ëœs 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. Long time veterans of the series are used to MK games having the occasional input recognition issue, so the fact the Vita version shares this problem won’t stop them from having a good time with this. 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. Those who felt the PS3 and 360 versions had detection issues in the first place, well… you’re just going to get even more bent out of shape here.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Mediocre

5. Replayability

The one area where Mortal Kombat has always beaten Street Fighter, Fatal Fury, Dead or Alive 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 and get all the trophies. It took me fifteen hours of playtime to do everything there was to possibly accomplish in MvC3 (including perfecting Galactus). That’s a drop in the bucket when compared 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, the new Vita enhanced extra Challenge Towers and unlocking all the items in the Krypt. This, my friends, is easily the most time consuming fighter ever. If you’re going for a platinum trophy here, you will have to put in EIGHT HUNDRED HOURS to do so. This is not an exaggeration. You have to put twenty-four hours into each fighter. With thirty-two fighters, that’s 768 hours. Add another thirty-two to do everything else in the game and bam! Good luck ever playing another video game again if you want to platinum this.

Replayability Rating: Unparalleled

6. Balance

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 – even on Shao Kahn. Oddly enough, Goro and Kintaro should give you a harder time than the end boss, regardless of the difficulty setting. As the difficulty level increases, 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 Smoke 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, especially since the console version has been out for over a year and people seem to take who is strongest rather than what particular character they like best. Tag play is a different story, as people still seem to mix things up there, but there’s still a limited amount of characters that you’ll see there too.

Finally, there are the Challenge Towers. Some of the challenges are pretty easy, while others are downright insane. You can skip some by using Koins, but I recommend you save up for #300 and the 50K you’ll need to get past that as it is… well, it’s insane. It’s SNK End Boss insane. The New Challenge Tower is more balanced, but both are far tougher than the main story mode or even the arcade ladder.

Overall, MK suffers from the same balance issues that come up regarding any fighting game. Challenge Tower and PvP are where you’ll really experience how unbalanced things can be first hand, especially with the control detection issues. Mortal Kombat will either challenge you or exasperate you. You’ll just have to find out which first hand.

Balance Rating: Enjoyable

7. Originality

Considering this is almost a carbon copy of the PS3/360 version of the game, Mortal Kombat won’t be scoring too highly here. Sure, the game gives you the four DLC characters for free this time around but still, done that, been there. The new Challenge Tower and the touch screen controls are kind of neat, but that’s just a very small piece of a game that nearly all Mortal Kombat fans have already played through before. Is it worth forty bucks for portability and some new content? I’m on the fence there. I enjoyed the new stuff, and even replaying Story Mode and some arcade ladder stuff. I also really enjoyed the new Challenge Tower and Test Your XXX games, but for the most part it felt like I had played this all before… because I had.

Originality Rating: Bad

8. Addictiveness

I played the original Mortal Kombat on my PS3 for months – even more than I played Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 or UMVC3. There was so much more to do here – especially if you weren’t in the mood for playing against another person. This time around, I merely fiddled with the game to see what had changed… or so I thought. I ended up beating Arcade with Scorpion, Smoke and Skarlet, finishing the first leg of MK1, twenty-five missions in each tower and fiddled with the Krypt before I took a break. I was surprised how much time I logged with the game even though I had already spent dozens of hours with the console version. There’s just something about the game where it’s easy to lose yourself in it. Just one more challenge. Just one more chapter of the Story. So on and so forth.

After a while, the fact I had done nearly everything before became apparent. The control detection issues didn’t help the game any either. I found myself playing both the PS3 and the Vita game simultaneously to make sure there was a difference in how the game responded, and more and more, I found myself wanting to play the PS3 version instead – even with the few hours of new content in the Vita version. Basically, your time with the Vita version will have you pumped to be playing MK9 again, seeing what’s changed and what’s stayed the same. You’ll check to see if everything is still where it should be in the Krypt (it’s not) and the like, but you’ll definitely be playing less of this than the original, if only because you’ll have done it all before. Mortal Kombat for the Vita is still a fun game, and at times is very hard to put down, but if you’ve already played through most of the console version, the Vita version with be a curiosity more than an obsession.

Addictiveness Rating: Enjoyable

9. Appeal Factor

So who exactly is going to get the Vita version? I honestly don’t know. If a new Challenge Tower worth an extra forty bucks? Maybe re-earning a lot of the same trophies? I guess it can be for a small niche group of gamers, but I think the majority will stick with their console version – especially if they shelled out for the Kollector’s Edition of the Tournament Stick back in April of 2011. DOUBLE that if they paid for all the DLC. Hell, some of those gamers will probably be pissed that Warner and NetherRealm are charging forty bucks for portability, lip service to the touch screen and an extra challenge tower. If they are, I don’t blame them. They have a right to be.

At the same time, I picked up the Kollector’s Edition and I purchased all four DLC characters, I didn’t bother with the skins pack as I already had Scorpion, Ermac and Jade, and I still had a lot of fun with the Vita version. Not as much as I did with the console, but hey, Mortal Kombat is still a well made game and I’m more than happy to have this, Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 and Disgaea 3 as my three main Vita games. They’re all ports, two of which are enhanced from the console version, but they’re all still awesome regardless of what system you play them on. If you like fighting games and have a Vita, you’ll want to get this. You’ll have fun with it and get your money’s worth out of the purchase. If you’re not a zealous MK or fighting game fan and you already own the console version, you will probably want to wait for the price to lower, if you get it at all. It’s not as good, and if you have all the DLC already, you’re basically paying forty bucks for a Challenge Tower and portability. That’s not going to be a good deal for the average gamer.

Appeal Factor Rating: Decent

10. Miscellaneous

So basically it comes down to this: NetherRealm and Warner put out a pretty good port of Mortal Kombat 9. It’s not as good as the console version due to some graphics issues and some control detection flaws, but it’s still a fine port that both can be proud of. Now, that said, the quality of the port isn’t AS good as the other fighting games that have been shunted to the Vita. UMVc3 and BlazBlue, while scaled down, don’t have the same amount of minor niggling issues that Mortal Kombat has. At the same time, there is far more replay value in MK9 and NetherRealm actually went the distance to put in new content and controls – something the other games didn’t. So it’s a push really. Capcom and Aksys just have us the same old game we’ve played before while NetherRealm and Warner gave us even more than we already had – which was arguably the most time consuming fighter EVER. With all things considered, I do feel MK9 on the PS3 is noticeably superior to the Vita version, but I also know I’ll be reaching for the Vita version of the game far more than I will the other fighters available for the system – if only to beat the new Challenge Tower.

Miscellaneous Rating: Good

The Scores:
Story/Modes: Unparalleled
Graphics: Enjoyable
Sound: Enjoyable
Control and Gameplay: Mediocre
Replayability: Unparalleled
Balance: Enjoyable
Originality: Bad
Addictiveness: Enjoyable
Appeal Factor: Decent
Miscellaneous: Good
FINAL SCORE: Enjoyable Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
Mortal Kombat for the Playstation Vita is definitely a step or two down in quality from the console version of the game released last year. Of course, the console version was so good (GOTY nominee after all) that calling this a step or two down is akin to calling gold a step or two down from platinum. There are a few graphical and control detection issues that come up, but for the most part, MK9 is still the same crazy mix of fighting game goodness with a healthy dose of gore thrown in. The Vita version also adds some lip service to the Vita’s touch screen features and an entire new Challenge Tower. It also packs in the four DLC fighters and a few other extras into one nice little package. If you already have the console version and all the DLC, you have no real need to get this at full price unless you REALLY want portable Mortal Kombat and/or the new Challenge Tower. All in all, the Vita version of Mortal Kombat might not be a flawless victory for NetherRealm Studios, but it IS the best handheld version Mortal Kombat game ever and a highly enjoyable title regardless of how you look at it.



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