Game Review: Mortal Kombat (PS Vita)

Not heard of MK? Released initially in 1992 in the arcades and 1993 on home formats, Mortal Kombat grew into a series of games, this reboot technically being the ninth Mortal Kombat main game. If you are unaware of MK, I shall warn you now; it takes violence, gore and combat so far past gruesome that it actually enters the realm of ridicule and hilarity. It will however disturb many and the 18 BBFC rating is well awarded, and considering things like Dragons Dogma that got a PEGI 18 was awarded a 12 by the BBFC, it underlines quite how mature the content is in this game… and how bloody useless the PEGI ratings system is.

Initially released on the PS3 and Xbox 360 in 2011, this Mortal Kombat was actually the completion of a project that in the meantime brought us Mortal Kombat Vs DC Universe. Using the third iteration of the Unreal Engine (with significant and wide reaching modifications for the later game) the games feature a 3D environment. I originally bought the Kollector’s Edition of the PS3 version on launch day as my branch of Gamestation in Stourbridge did a special pre-order and launch event for the game (it helped that myself as Manager and my Assistant Manager, Jim, were fans – Scorpion being my fave character, and his being  Sub-Zero adding the the atmosphere!) I subsequently purchased the Vita version on it’s launch day a year later, and ended up being the last game I bought from my Gamestation store before it was closed due to the increasing rent costs. However being as  I wasn’t using my Vita on the 3 hour round trip on the bus each day I decided to trade the game in whilst the value was reasonably high, to buy it again later when I was commuting once more. Then SCEE went and made it a freebie for PlayStation Plus owners in December… I admittedly was waiting with baited fingers for the free download to be available.

The good news is that with this reboot they had the sense to mix up the game mechanics. The rather Tekken-esque one button per limb system from MK Vs DC came to MK (9) along with the original MK’s play-field type – i.e. 2D, making the game actually playable, since most 3D beat ’em ups, apart from Battle Arena Toshinden, stuff up the 3D gameplay so much they became a chore to play – including the guilty parties of MK’s past lives. The developers learned lessons from the past, which they could do as Netherealm studios that developed the game is made up of the old Midway studios (Midway having being the original MK producer and later home version publisher before their collapse in 2009) and WB Chicago Studio – itself basically consisting of the Mortal Kombat development team that did MK Vs DC, which included Ed Boon from the original MK development team along with many of his team mates from the intervening years. They KNOW Mortal Kombat.

Fortunately this game harks back to the early glory days of MK with the developers having the sense to go back and retell the story from not only the original game but MK II and MK3 too. The result is an actual decent storyline and plot, which breaks away from the established timeline somewhat, from the moment Raiden has a vision sent back in time by his future self, following the events of Mortal Kombat (7): Armageddon and his imminent death at the hands of Shao Kahn. This is just before the start of the story in the original game (as also depicted in the rather decent 1995 film).

Thus the player, in story mode at least, gets to play through a subtly altered series of events fed from the first three games. You start story mode as Johnny Cage (shouldn’t that have been Johnny Kage from the start?). However, you then switch to others as the story goes on with each character having their own chapter. The storyline is not short by current video game standards and is actually surprisingly rich with it, with the interplay between characters such as the mortal enemies, Scorpion (who has returned from hell to deal with the murderer of his wife and child) and Sub Zero (who Scorpion is coming for). Special ops agent Sonia Blade is after the Austrailian hit man, Kano after he double crossed her personally and professionally. Mix in Raiden, the ancient god of thunder and lightning, Liu Kang from the Shaolin Monks, and Johnny Cage – a vain and chauvenistic film star (VERY loosely based on Jean-Claude Van Damme) along with an assortment of throughly bad sorts trying to take over “Earthrealm” and though they may be utterly outlandish (sorry!), they are no more so than some of the ancient legends of Greece.

Of course there are other modes such as your usual Kombat Ladder (work your way up through characters beating them as you go) plus a Tag Ladder. Old school Test Your Might tower (repeated button press to power up and then unleash to break a pile of planks, bricks etc.)  has been joined by Test Your Luck (a slot/fruit machine determines modifiers for a Kombat bout), Sight (ball and cup game… but with upper heads, minus the jaw for cups and eyeballs), and Strike (Test Your Might with accuracy – you activate the attack within a particular range of “might”).

Two test towers are exclusive to the Vita. Test Your Balance where you have to balance the Vita as you control your character on a pole with the motion sensors, lest they fall into a pit of spikes. Test Your Slice involves you slicing body parts on the screen using the touch screen and swiping where you want to slice, apeing Kinect’s Fruit Ninja, just with severed heads and entrails instead of melons (as in large watery fruit, not the ones you are thinking of…) However bombs are thrown in too, which you mustn’t slice… Shaking the system detonates them instead!

As with some previous games there is a Challenge Tower (300 events long in this case) plus an extra Vita-exclusive Bonus Challenge Tower of 150 events, with various tasks and fights, many utilising the special controls and features of the Vita, starting with you playing as Shao Kahn to take down Raiden!

The Sony Entertainment/PlayStation Network is utilised via Wifi in Versus Mode for either 1 Vs 1 Kombat or for tag team matches, and just to really take the mick you can also battle wirelessly in an Ad-Hoc mode against someone closeby, bypassing the use of the internet. Fortunately to give you a chance there is also a training mode, which features a tutorial, fatality tutoral, practice sessions and tag team practice sessions.

Now it’s pretty comprehensive already gameplay wise and makes an awful lot of other beat ’em up games look spartan to say the least. Then you discover why you are being awarded MK Koins…

The Krypt is where you use the Koins to break open headstones in a graveyard (and, err… “break open” other things that I am not mentioning here in case there are any under 18’s reading) and thus be awarded extra content. This can take the form of artwork and music tracks you view in the gallery within the Nekropolis, as in game unlocks such as secondary fatalities moves for each character.

Actually in the game, you start off thinking… yep normal beat ’em up. The usual set up of beat ’em ups, a little more developed from the days of Way Of The Exploding Fist and IK+, using button combinations for special moves and move combinations to trigger further special moves and effects is in full force in the brutal style that Mortal Kombat is famous for (and originally forced the USA to actually have a rating system on their games). In fact I think the only beat ’em up in history could be regarded as being more adult, the game in question being Captial Punishment that came out right at the end of the natural life of the classic Amiga machines, down to it having brutality, MK style, mixed with sexual content, but I digress.

I shall not go into too much detail but along with fireballs, energy blasts, staff weapons there are plenty of weapons with blades and points resulting in plenty of claret all over the shop, all with the added zest of the exclaimation “Get Over Here!” as more gore hits the floor (along with the bodies). Oh, but the filling super bar at the bottom… what is that for, you ponder..? Once full, the term X-ray goads you into hitting your two shoulder buttons and an automatic combination of moves is implemented by your character. If you time it right, the distance is right and the opponent either is too dazed to notice or otherwise doesn’t block or dodge just at the right time, one of the combo points being landed just so initiates one of the move combos that the character is known for. Only this time, and unlike all the other games before it, you see the effect of the attack on the skeleton and internal organs of your poor victim, ahem, I mean, opponent due to an x-ray type view. Which is rather funny when you are sitting next to someone who is studying human physiology and they glance over at the right moment. Plus trust me, Johnny Cage dropping into his trademark splits to deliver a blow to his opponents gentleman’s area and implying the impacting of his crown jewels is the least eye watering of the vistas.

The crux of the matter however is the fact that the in-bout gameplay is fluid, it’s fun and it certainly has that addictive just-one-more-go quality. The music and soundscape is far beyond suitable for purpose be it the sound of a splintering bone or the rather eerie thematic music of a dark fighting arena, with only the odd music track seeming out of place. Graphically it isn’t quite as good as the PS3 version, but considering it is on a handheld, and is giving you a graphical experience that no mobile phone, or other handheld, 3DS most definitely included, cannot approach, let alone beat. In fact I swear the graphics have improved since the original Vita card (regardless that the game information says V1.00) as I recall thinking that the graphical quality drop from the cut scenes to the actual gameplay was drastic, but this appears to no longer be the case with the transition being far more smooth.

The game is not perfect, and the inability to skip past the cut scenes between bouts in the story mode is infernally annoying, especially as they tend to be longer than the fights themselves, if you have the hang of things! It’s also a shame that support for Near isn’t included as being able to unlock extras in the Nekropolis over Near would be a nice addition. It certainly isn’t to everyones taste, and the various modes offer variety though if this was the first game in the series (from 1992/3) the rosta of 9 characters would restrict it somewhat.

Luckily this isn’t actually based on the 2011 Mortal Kombat (9) release for the PS3, which had far more than 9 characaters. It’s more like the 2012 Komplete Edition as the DLC characters are included – those being Skarlet, Kenshi, Rain and Freddy Kruger (yes as in Nightmare on Elm Street Freddy). With the PlayStation exclusive Kratos playable character (as in God of War Kratos), the character rosta is a rather impressive, if not a little ridiculous, 32. Oh and they pretty much all have extra costumes, as you may expect.

Suffice to say at £35-40 it was the best beat ’em up on a hand held. As a download for less it’s a steal. If you have PlayStation Plus and you’re over 18, you frankly have no excuse not to have it on your memory card, assuming it’s still available when you read this as a freebie in the instant game collection. Well unless you hate beat ’em ups… or gore. Very highly recommended.

Sven Harvey

At A Glance

  • Title: Mortal Kombat
  • Publisher: Warner Bros Games
  • System: PS Vita
  • Format: PS Vita Card / PSN Download
  • Cross Buy: No
  • Cross Play: No
  • Online Multiplayer: Yes
  • Local Ad-Hoc Multiplayer: Yes
  • Memory Card Space Needed: 3,066Mb (for PSN Download version)

Vita Player Rating - 08

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