Last week, I had the opportunity to sit down with Hector Sanchez, producer of the upcoming Mortal Kombat 2011 title at the Le Parker Meriden Hotel in New York City and try out the new game. After arriving with my cousin in tow, we were given a demonstration of the tutorial mode, which is far more fleshed out than the training in most fighters. The tutorial forces you to master all the fundamentals of the game against an AI opponent while giving you instructions on how to perform moves on screen, and then pits you against the AI opponent to apply these.
As for the new fundamentals introduced into the series, the most notable of these is the super meter. The meter fills up to three bars, and like in most fighting games, allows characters to perform unique feats. After filling up the first meter, a character is able to perform an enhanced movement of any special move. Two meters allows the player to perform a Breaker, a feature introduced in Mortal Kombat Deception. Breakers interrupt your opponent’s combo and are performed by holding down the block button while moving the control stick forward. When three meters are filled, you are able to perform an X-Ray, a high damage hit akin to a special in Street Fighter or King of Fighters. Like its name implies, an X-Ray consists of a short sequence of attacks that zoom in on the target with X-ray vision and precision. The players are given an awesomely disturbing view of their character crushing, snapping, and smashing the bones of the other player.
After watching the tutorial demonstration, we got the chance to play the game. I was glad to see that the game was very much a back-to-basics Mortal Kombat 1-3 style, and purged the series of all the excess that has been plaguing it for far too long. A short list of features that got the developers axe include weapons, 3D fighting (the game is now rendered in gorgeous 2.5D), superheroes, the ever-extending roster of ridiculous characters such as Subzero’s apprentice Frost and all the other horrific crap that took all the joy and simplicity out of the Mortal Kombat franchise. The game definitely offers something different than the likes of Street Fighter, Tekken, or Marvel vs. Capcom, as you look absolutely ridiculous if you don’t know moves. And that’s exactly what happened. We just looked straight up silly while trying to pull off a handful of moves in a desperate and manic button mashing spree. I picked up Cyrax and Ermac, while my cousin stuck with Noob Saibot.
My strategy consisted of jumping forward like a moron and kicking with Cyrax, while my cousin figured out a move with Noob Saibot that allowed him to teleport behind me and deliver some extreme punishment. I was mashing my quarter circles, but to no avail, as that’s not how Mortal Kombat players are supposed to roll. I had a little more success with Ermac, but was still unable to win a match. I’m used to acting like a Gorilla with a controller in its mouth while playing Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom or Street Fighter IV, so playing Mortal Kombat is a big transition, as it’s actually a fighting game with a surprising amount of depth and is a direct homage to the classic 2D fighters that launched the franchise into gaming history.
For the hardcore gamer, the development team also released a unique fight stick to coincide with the release of the Tournament Edition. While playing, we alternated between the fight stick and the controller. I actually found it somewhat difficult to play with the fight stick, as it is made specifically to resemble an American arcade layout with staggered buttons and a very clunk stick. This is really great for the nostalgia factor, a major selling point of the title, but is a little unconventional for professional and hardcore use.
As far as the storyline goes, the plot is a reboot of the events of the initial trilogy. In order to get back to these roots, the future Raiden from the Mortal Kombat Armageddon timeline sends the Raiden of the Mortal Kombat 3 universe a message, warning him that Shao Kahn will eventually become supreme leader of all the realms. The past Raiden then works to rectify this scenario and alter the events of Mortal Kombat history. In other words, the development team used a fairly flimsy plot device to let us know that the events of modern Mortal Kombat titles are too convoluted for new players to access, and as a result pretty much rebooted the timeline. Works for me.
Gameplay has never been the strong suit of the Mortal Kombat franchise, but for NetherRealm Studios to be showing off the game in this capacity over a month before its official release date of April 19th, as well as releasing a demo, really gives me high hopes for this reboot. Hopefully, Mortal Kombat will be able to take its crown back as one of the most respected fighting franchises alongside Street Fighter, Tekken and King of Fighters.