In its heyday, Mortal Kombat won over fans with its brutality, combination of easy basic fighting moves with unique characters that each had their own special attacks, and its signature bloody fatalities for finishing off a defeated opponent in grand grotesque style. That summary applies equally well to the upcoming ninth game in the Mortal Kombat line. And though both the characters and backgrounds are detailed 3D models, the fighting also gets back to its original 2D toe-to-toe format.
Watching Sektor and Reptile duke it out brought into focus how long it's been since those original games. They looked new again but completely in keeping with their old selves, as did all the other characters I saw including Mileena, Kung Lao, Nightwolf, and Johnny Cage. The stage backgrounds also reflected that classic MK style with details like bodies strung up by nooses in sinister looking trees or corpses impaled on meat hooks in a charnel house.
Almost from the moment I picked up the control pad it felt hauntingly familiar. In a few moments I was slinging Kung Lao's hat with deadly results. But like the visual update, the fighting mechanics have been updated as well. A new super meter, a classic staple of 2D fighters, now runs across the bottom of the screen. As it fills up, three stages of powered-up attacks become available. At the one-third mark the bar can be used to launch an enhanced version of your character's special moves. At the two-thirds mark the power can be used to do a breaker that disrupts an opponent's combo. At full power, the super can be used for a new attack currently being called the X-Ray. Land this shot and time momentarily slows while the view goes into x-ray vision to show off the devastation and broken bones resulting from the strike.
As the most powerful individual attacks in the game these X-Ray moves currently deal around 40% damage. In practice this meant that even when I got one in fights went on long enough to trade a good number of blows. Getting a win required using all my character attacks well and improvising combos but the payoff was worth it. Fatalities are back and as gruesomely over the top as I remembered; and in this demo version were setup as a one-button combo. How they'll trigger in the final version is still under discussion but it sounds like they intend to make them within the reach of everyone who plays the game.
Adding to their list of things to be balanced into the game, another classic element makes its way into the new Mortal Kombat with the addition of tag team matches. These two-on-two fights will include special entry and exit strikes as well as the ability to call-in partners for support actions. With what I played in the demo already running well, the planned 2011 release date should allow ample time to get everything in order.
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