Like any young boy of the late ‘80s or early ’90s, I grew up in the arcade, and as anyone who spent time in an arcade knows, that meant I played a lot of fighting games. There were a ton of them, but only two really mattered, at least in the 2D space: Capcom’s Street Fighter, and Midway’s Mortal Kombat. In those days, you were either a Mortal Kombat guy, or a Street Fighter guy. Don’t get me wrong, I dumped quarters into Street Fighter like there was no tomorrow, but I was a Mortal Kombat fan at heart. There was nothing else like it. People crowded around the machines, always waiting for that one guy who knew how to do all the Fatalities. Mortal Kombat, to put it bluntly, was hype.
At least, for the first three games. The series began to suffer after an ill-advised move into 3D and years of financial mismanagement at publisher Midway, both of which began in the late ‘90s. By the early 2000s, facing Midway’s bankruptcy and a changing landscape that threw the franchise’s relevance into question, it seemed that the once iconic series might be facing its own mortality. But fate had a different plan in store, and an unlikely savior came in the form of Warner Bros. Interactive, who purchased many of Midway’s assets, including developer Midway Studios Chicago and the Mortal Kombat IP.
What followed was nothing short of a rebirth. Midway Games Chicago became NetherRealm Studios, and set to work developing the next entry in the storied franchise, known simply as Mortal Kombat. The game rebooted the series convoluted storyline and overabundance of characters, opting to focus instead on the characters and story in the original Mortal Kombat trilogy, and return the series to its 2D roots. The game was an incredible success, combining a tournament level fighting engine and depth of gameplay with the series’ trademark characters and brutality. It was a return to form for a franchise that had lost its way, and easily one of the best fighters of the previous generation.
" Let’s not beat around the bush: Mortal Kombat X is one of the finest fighters I’ve ever played, and easily the best game NetherRealm has ever produced on a mechanical level.
And now, finally, nearly 4 years later, NetherRealm has returned to the series that made them famous with Mortal Kombat X (the letter, not the number, though this is the tenth game in the series). Let’s not beat around the bush: Mortal Kombat X is one of the finest fighters I’ve ever played, and easily the best game NetherRealm has ever produced on a mechanical level. It feels like the game NetherRealm has always wanted to make, and one that has learned the lessons from the previous Mortal Kombat.
The game’s story picks up 25 years after the events of 2011’s Mortal Kombat. As such, the cast is a mixture of several old klassics (yes, we’re going there) and a few new faces. Most of the old standbys return: Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Kung Lao, Liu Kang, Kitana, Sonya Blade, and Johnny Cage, to name a few, though there are a few notable absences. There are, for instance, no cyber-ninjas to choose from, and other longtime members of Mortal Kombat’s cast like Shang Tsung, Jade, and Nightwolf are missing in action.
A large part of this is due to the nature of what happened in Mortal Kombat’s story the last time around, and most of the omissions are understandable as a result. What’s baffling, however, is that some of the characters that haven’t retuned appear in MKX’s story mode, and you even fight against a few of them. They’re not as fleshed out as the playable characters, as they only have one fighting style (more on that in a minute), but it’s still frustrating for fans of those characters to see them so close to being playable.
"Each member of the game’s 25 character roster features three different variations, or fighting styles. While the core concepts of the character don’t change, each variation focuses on a different aspect of said character’s abilities, tweaking and adding special moves, normal attacks, and kombos.
NetherRealm makes up for this in two ways. The first is that the variations are often fairly subtle, but have a huge impact on how the characters play. One of Scorpion’s variations, for instance, allows him to wield two swords, offering new kombos, while another allows access to a number of fire-based special moves, and a third lets Scorpion to summon a demon that can aid him while attacking.
Some variations change the characters entirely. Kitana’s Mournful variation gives her access to all of Jade’s special moves from Mortal Kombat’s 2011 reboot, essentially making her Jade. Meanwhile, Quan Chi’s Sorcerer variation takes a lot of its move set from Shang Tsung. Many of the characters don’t have variants with such extreme changes in style, and it seems that NetherRealm ran out of ideas for three meaningful variations in some cases, but the sheer number of options on display is impressive and adds substantial depth and replay value to the game. In addition, it gives NetherRealm the option to preserve the move sets of some of the older characters, even if the character in question does not appear as a playable character in the game.
That said, it can be rather annoying to see certain characters carved up piecemeal, especially when they worked so well in the last game. In the 2011 Mortal Kombat, Scorpion had access to both his fire abilities and swords at the same time, and it made for a great character. The same thing could be said for Sub-Zero and his ice weapons and ability to create frost doubles. Having to pick makes some of these characters feel incomplete, though I would ultimately say that the overall benefits outweigh the costs, if just barely.
"Mortal Kombat X’s story mode is easily one of the best you’ll find in fighting games. You’ll go from story sequences to battles seamlessly and switch between a number of characters over the twelve chapter arc, which is brilliantly paced and has removed the filler elements and difficulty spikes that plagued its predecessor.
The second way NetherRealm makes up for the loss is with the introduction of completely new characters. Many of these come in the form of the offspring of returning characters, like Cassie Cage, the daughter of Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade, and Takashi Takeda, Kenshi’s son, who offer new twists on old move sets. The best additions, however, come from new characters like Erron Black, an outlaw gunslinger, D’vorah, an insect-like creature, and Kotal Khan, the new ruler of Outworld, who bring completely new fighting styles to the table, greatly expanding the number of unique move sets to play with.
Like 2011’s reboot, one of the best parts of Mortal Kombat X is its story mode, and like the 2011 game, Mortal Kombat X’s story mode is easily one of the best you’ll find in fighting games. You’ll go from story sequences to battles seamlessly and switch between a number of characters over the twelve chapter arc, which is brilliantly paced and has removed the filler elements and difficulty spikes that plagued its predecessor. NetherRealm’s storytelling prowess is backed by great voice acting and a surprisingly compelling plot that contains more than a few surprises for series fans, but the real standout is the improvements to the game’s presentation.
Characters and environments are incredibly detailed and beautifully rendered, and animations are smoother than they’ve ever been. Mortal Kombat has always gotten some flak for being stiff, but that stiffness is gone in Mortal Kombat X, as kombos are more fluid the game is exceptionally well animated. Simply put, Mortal Kombat is one of the smoothest, best looking fighting games on the market.
"By far the craziest mode is Test Your Luck, which puts you into matches with randomly selected modifiers that can do anything from spawn portals throughout the stage to change the game physics or even fade the screen to black and back throughout the match. The more modifiers you enable, the crazier things get.
Many of the old gameplay elements from the last game return, including the special bar that allows you to break kombos, perform brutal x-ray moves, and enhance special abilities, but NetherRealm has also brought over stage interactions, which function much like they did in Injustice, allowing you to make quick escapes and use pieces of the environment against your foe. The other new addition is the stamina meter, which prevents you from constantly dashing in an attempt to control the stage. In addition, the interactive elements of each area are only available to you if you have enough stamina, meaning you’ll have to keep an eye on it if you really want to use the stage to your advantage. Stamina recharges on its own, and does so pretty quickly, but it takes long enough to make it a consideration during most matches.
As you’d expect from a NetherRealm fighter, Mortal Kombat X is packed with content that complements its gameplay, even if you’re not a fan of the game’s story mode. Towers make a triumphant return, offering an arcade-like challenge as well as a number of themed battles that will test you in a variety of ways. The Klassic Tower offers a traditional ladder to climb, while the Test Your Might features the titular mini-game from the original Mortal Kombat, which gets harder as you advance up the tower.
By far the craziest mode is Test Your Luck, which puts you into matches with randomly selected modifiers that can do anything from spawn portals throughout the stage to change the game physics or even fade the screen to black and back throughout the match. The more modifiers you enable, the crazier things get. These modifiers are also key to the new Living Towers, which offer both modifiers and fixed challenges, and change every hour, every day, or every week depending on the tower.
"No matter what mode you play, you’ll unlock “koins,” Mortal Kombat X’s form of in-game currency, which can be used to unlock Fatalities, Brutalities, costumes, concept art, and more in the game’s Krypt, which is basically a first-person adventure game.
Mortal Kombat X also introduces Faction War. When you first boot up the game, you’re asked to choose one of five factions (the correct choice, by the way, is Lin Kuei). From that point on, every match you play will earn points for your faction and increase your Faction Rank. At the end of each week, the faction with the most points rewards its members with a Faction Kill (think simpler versions of Fatalities) or special item. Every now and then, special events known as invasions will occur, challenging you to fight against a character with extreme rules, known as an Invasion Boss, or test your might against an Invasion Tower. The more you play, the more you benefit your faction. Neither Faction War nor Invasions, in and of themselves, are compelling enough to keep you playing, but they do provide fun bonuses to chase while you check out the other modes.
Naturally, the best way to play Mortal Kombat is on a couch with friends, but nearly every mode in the game supports online play from King of the Hill to Team Battle and Online Practice, and all of it is supported by the best netcode NetherRealm has put together yet. It’s not perfect; you will still get bad matches from time to time, but as long as you’re playing against someone within a couple hundred miles, you’ll probably be okay.
No matter what mode you play, you’ll unlock “koins,” Mortal Kombat X’s form of in-game currency, which can be used to unlock Fatalities, Brutalities, costumes, concept art, and more in the game’s Krypt, which is basically a first-person adventure game. The areas in the Krypt are filled with tombstones, sarcophagi, and other creepy containers that can be unlocked with koins to acquire all kinds of goodies.
"It’s that attention to detail, which permeates the whole game, that makes Mortal Kombat X special. Everything from the little touches, like the way two characters face off on the character select screen before heading into battle, to the little intricacies of the improved combat system, make Mortal Kombat X great.
The catch is that you never know what you’re buying until you’ve purchased it. Unless, of course, you’re using a guide or something, which is doable, as NetherRealm was kind enough to put a coordinates system into the Krypt that shows you where you are at any given point. It’s an incredible environment to explore, and one you’ll want to, as you’ll need to find items in the environment to unlock new areas in the Krypt. NetherRealm clearly put a lot of time into the area, and it shows, as traversing it is one of the most enjoyable parts of Mortal Kombat X.
It’s that attention to detail, which permeates the whole game, that makes Mortal Kombat X special. Everything from the little touches, like the way two characters face off on the character select screen before heading into battle, to the little intricacies of the improved combat system, make Mortal Kombat X great. There are little niggles – the in-game microtransactions on everything from Krypt items to easier Fatalities, the lack of certain characters – but these are exceptionally minor complaints against a game that does nearly everything well.
Mortal Kombat X is not for everyone. The extreme violence on display will no doubt turn some people off, but it never gets in the way of the actual fighting, which is the best the series has ever seen. It’s simply the result of how you play: either your punishment for failure, or a reward you can choose to indulge in for mastering the art of Mortal Kombat. MKX isn’t a flawless victory, not quite, but its damn close, and even after these years, it still has the power to bring a group of my friends together to watch Fatalities and swap controllers, waiting for just one more round. Now then, who’s next?
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
One of the best story modes in fighting games. Towers provide a lot of variety. Test Your Luck is crazy in the best kind of way. Test Your Might is still awesome. The best gameplay of any game in the series. Lots of character variations to choose from. Just as gruesome and gory as you’d want Mortal Kombat to be. Exploring and unlocking the Krypt is a lot of fun. New characters add a lot of unique fighting styles to the series. Faction War provides cool challenges to complete. Online multiplayer works fairly well.
Lack of certain fan favorite playable characters, even though some of them appear in story mode. Microtransactions. Lots of Microtransactions. Having three variations doesn’t really work for every character. Intense violence will turn some people off.
A fantastic fighting system, excellent production values, great story mode, exciting new characters, solid online play, and lots of single-player content make Mortal Kombat X one of the best fighters on the market. It isn’t a flawless victory, not quite, but its damn close, and even after these years, it still has the power to bring a group of my friends together to watch Fatalities and swap controllers, waiting for just one more round. Now then, who’s next?
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