Mortal Kombat Preview

By Xav de Matos, Mar 16, 2011 2:30pm PDT

It has been a few years since I've punched the head clean off the shoulders of one of my rivals. Far too long, if you ask me. Though I've been known to throw a punch or two in my day, what I'm of course referring to is the new Mortal Kombat, from the newly-formed NetherRealm Studios at Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.

As I gleefully noted in my last preview of the game, the upcoming Mortal Kombat reboot is an ultra-violent affair, worthy of succeeding the franchise's previous generation titles. Gone is the tame combat found in the crossover Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, replaced with the blood-soaked throes of passion found in the the franchise's past. On a violence level, this is the Mortal Kombat we've been waiting for.

My recent time with the game focused on some of the bells and whistles included in the package. Beyond the game's standard arcade and online components--which I delved into during my previous write-up--there are a number of other additions to flesh out the game.

Included in Mortal Kombat is a Training Mode, which gives players a chance to learn specific special moves and combos for their favorite combatants as well as a Practice Mode, allowing players the opportunity to freely test out their acquired knowledge against an A.I. rival. Like in other recent fighters, these modes serve as an entry point for new players looking to learn how Mortal Kombat controls, while also giving experts an opportunity to test out winning strategies.

The modes start to get a little more intricate from there. Mortal Kombat includes a Fatality Mode, which delivers exactly what you'd expect. The mode indicates where players must stand in order to successfully perform the final death blow for any of the game's 20+ characters, turning green for correct position and red for out of bounds. Players can select their favorite character, which fatality they wish to rehearse, and their favorite punching bag in the mode.

When the Fatality Mode loads, the correct button sequence appears at the top of the screen giving players an opportunity to practice the move. Timing for Mortal Kombat's deadly strikes is key; however, the mode allows players to remove the clock from the equation to sear the combo into their minds at their own pace. The game is friendly in its execution. The only penalty for failing to land a Fatality is a brief reload, but that's only necessary if you were to accidentally strike an opponent; plugging in the wrong button combinations won't require a restart. Friendlier still are entire character move lists, including special moves, in the game's pause menu during matches.

What really captured my attention was Mortal Kombat's Challenge Tower, a 300-level high series of tests and events that help unlock a surprise the MK dev team during my preview said would be "well worth a player's time." They also noted that, while they wouldn't reveal what that surprise was, the information will likely be revealed on the Internet within hours of the game's release. Vague rewards aside, the Challenge Tower offers a cornucopia of different tasks for the player to accomplish. The first few levels act as a tutorial for the game, showcasing basic moves like blocking. As players climb the tower, the challenges get more complex and rules for each level get more detailed.

The Challenge Tower also brings classic Mortal Kombat modes into the fray: Test Your Sight, giving players the chance to follow an eyeball as it's shuffled under multiple hollowed out skulls; Test Your Might, testing players rapid button pressing and timing to destroy increasingly more difficult objects; Test Your Strike, where players must destroy a specific block in a stack; and (the brand new) Test Your Luck, which adds random modifiers to battles. In Test Your Luck, players might face off against headless opponents, battle in an upside-down arena, or combat without the use of their arms. This mode basically adds a pinch of crazy to the boiling pot of blood and guts, once again proving that filling a game with violence doesn't inherently make it mature.

The Challenge Tower is a mixture of tutorials, interesting challenges, throw away filler missions, and completely odd concepts. If any level of the Tower becomes too complex (or asinine) players can use their collected "Koins" to bypass the level and move on to the next challenge.

The Tower also brings with it a classic passion from the Mortal Kombat series of old: a desire to unlock the game's secrets. Though it's not as intricate as the "Krypt" found in Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, it's 300 missions that set to test a player's supreme Mortal Kombat prowess with promises of something extra special in the end. I just hope it's worth the effort, because fighting three manic Baraka's isn't my idea of a good time if the end reward is a pat on the back and a few stills of concept art.

While the Challenge Tower and Fatality Mode focuses on the single-player experience (Read: the least important aspect of this genre), the modes do serve a multiplayer focus. They are essentially entry points for players to get comfortable with the game's style. Mortal Kombat is not a lightning fast fighter in the vein of a Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds, so it's nice to see NetherRealm shine a light on the offline to get gamers comfortable with its very different and distinct style.

Mortal Kombat is a game crafted from the nostalgic essence of our youth. Though it's insanely violent and over the top, it never dips into the world of the chaotic--even during the game's Tag Team arcade mode. The game is as plodding and manageable as you remember, with a striking modern visual flair and a weight behind every attack. So far, the new Mortal Kombat looks to be a love letter to the franchise filled with reminisince nods to its former glory... and signed in blood.

Mortal Kombat launches on April 19 for the Xbox 360 and PS3.

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