Totally Not a Review: Mortal Kombat 2011

Before I begin it is important to note that I’m one of the rare masochistic souls who sincerely enjoyed the early (read:2-dimensional) Mortal Kombat efforts, including--and I say this without a trace of irony-- Mortal Kombat 1.

I say that because that because of this: If you’re like me and you also enjoyed MK1/2/3/Ultimate/Gold/EverythingbeforeMK4ohgodwhatdidtheydo then you’re going to enjoy MK9. If you didn’t sincerely enjoy the original, non-polygonal MK games (there’s no real reason to enjoy the games after they went polygonal, but that’s a separate issue) then you’re not going to enjoy Mortal Kombat 2011, either.

Indeed, if you’re in one of those two camps you can stop reading here. If you can rattle off every stage fatality from MK1-3, if you lament the sudden and inexplicable disappearance of Mortal Kombat 3 from Xbox Live Arcade , if you have commissioned erotic Sonya Blade fanart, if you understand and can debate the totally non-homoerotic complexities of the Kung Lao/Liu Kang relationship, then go buy MK9. Meanwhile if you genuinely tried to enjoy Mortal Kombat in the arcades and just never “got it”, then stop reading here and go play Arcana Hearts; you’ll lead a happier life.

This means I’m speaking to the two remaining camps (well three, if you’re simply looking to validate your own opinion of Mortal Kombat 2011, go watch Two Best Friends Play Mortal Kombat instead. It’s way funnier. (http://youtu.be/SIf48-nOXgo ) The rest of you either have either never set eye to a Mortal Kombat cabinet in your life (in which case I feel REALLY FUCKING OLD) or you’re the sort who’s actually played Mortal Kombat , and maybe even enjoyed the experience, but hold the belief that there are either Mortal Kombat people in the world or Street Fighter people, and you can’t be both because Street Fighter is clearly the superior franchise.

Let me address the Street Fighter people first.

 

 

MORTAL KOMBAT 2011 FOR STREET FIGHTER FANS:

Online play in it’s current form is unusable. Simple as that. A patch is promised but right now if you try to search for an opponent then 80% of the time you’ll sit around for an interminable amount of time before the operation finally times out. You can usually find a match in King of the Hill mode, but it’s usually impossibly laggy and you have to sit and wait for upwards of six other people to finish their matches before you get a round. It’s a great idea but awful in execution; you’ll get way more enjoyment out of watching streams of tourney players qualifying for MK9 at Evo.( http://www.justin.tv/teamsp00ky ).

Also, you know how you can simply set Street Fighter 4/Marvel 3 to look for online opponents while you play through the single-player game? Mortal Kombat 2011 doesn’t do that. If you’re looking for online competition you simply can’t do anything else with this game.

My advice would be to wait and see if these issues are patched and/or an online community still exists a month from now. It’s entirely possible that Mortal Kombat 2011 is one of those flash-in-the-pan online games that simply cannot maintain a following. Also feel free to insert your own “hey maybe Playstation Network will be up by then” joke here.

That said:

MORTAL KOMBAT 2011 FOR EVERYONE ELSE:

This is beyond a doubt, bar none, whatever cliche you want to use, The. Best. Single. Player. Fighter. Ever. The Story Mode is a revelation and is something that all fighting games need to copy if they wish to stay relevant; the Challenge Tower provides an enormous amount of content (even if some of it feels contrived) and I found fighting through the traditional single-player ladder way more fun than the ladder mode Marvel vs Capcom 3 or Super Street Fighter 4. There’s just one tiny little hitch, and it’s this:

The end boss is complete horse shit.

 

You remember as a child playing cops and robbers you’d always have that one friend who absolutely refused to be caught via way of his self-described bullet/fire/laser/spear/acid/ice/electricity/wrist beam -proof vest?

Shao Khan is that kid. Here’s an incomplete list of the abilities Shao Khan has at any given time:

*Random invulnerability to hit stun. Sometimes Shao Khan will miss a move or be blocked and you can answer with an uppercut or a flying punch to start a combo. Sometimes you can’t. Sometimes he’ll simply disregard your futile efforts to inflict damage upon him and start his own combo, or simply hit you upside the head with a stone mallet. This sounds frustrating enough, but every time I used the word “Sometimes” in this paragraph and replace it with “80% of the time”.

*Shao Khan has a hammer projectile that results in a stun even on block, and cannot be ducked. Furthermore, he can chain these hammers indefinitely if the AI should so choose. Also the hammer is fast enough that he can hit opponents jumping in on him.

*This same hammer can instead be used as a Dragon Punch, swung around in an arc that extends in front, above and behind Shao Khan, resulting in what amounts to a full coverage shield of despair and frustration.

*In the unlikely event that Shao Khan should receive a hit, he only takes half damage

*His X-Ray move (a special move roughly equivalent to an Ultra in Super Street Fighter 4, only the meter fills faster) removes over 50% of the opponent’s life bar

*Can chain-stun shoulder charges without end

*Throws are instantly shrugged off

*Has somehow made a sex slave of Sonya Blade, even when you’re fighting as Sonya Blade.

When you eventually defeat Shao Khan it doesn’t feel so much like a victory as much as it feels like the game has taken pity on your pathetic efforts and has allowed you to win. In fact there’s so many ways for Shao Khan to chain stun at any given time that once he’s started hitting you it makes absolutely no sense for the AI to ever let you up-- and usually it won’t. The AI has to go so far as to include a taunt animation for Shao Khan to allow the player any sort of opening, and this just feels cheap and kludgy.

As near as I can tell there are exactly three scenarios where Shao Khan can be defeated:

SCENARIO 1: FOR CHARACTERS WITH A TELEPORT PUNCH:

Step 1: Teleport punch
Step 2: Teleport punch some more

SCENARIO 2: FOR CHARACTERS WITH QUICK PROJECTILES

Step 1: Create distance between yourself and Shao Khan. Usually the best way to do this is to let him shoulder block you across the stage

Step 2: Throw a fireball

Step 3: Hope the AI doesn’t ever throw a hammer

SCENARIO 3: FOR EVERYONE WHO ISN’T SCORPION OR LIU KANG

Step 1: Jump into Shao Khan and attempt to initiate a combo

Step 2: Continue until such point that the AI resets and you’re actually allowed to make physical contact. It is best to have something on-hand to pass time in the meanwhile, such as catching up on A Game of Thrones, or learn how to code in C+ and make your own videogame without psychotic, game-shelving endboss AI.

NO REALLY, YOU SHOULD BUY THIS GAME ANYWAY

Now I don’t want anyone reading this to think I’m writing off Mortal Kombat 2011 simply because of it’s final boss. After all, he’s only a small part of the game, even if he is the ultimate goal of the single-player experience, and if you’re intent on playing Mortal Kombat 2011 online or between friends, you can disregard his existence entirely.

But for a game that has so revolutionized the single-player portion of the fighting game genre to the point where the story mode needs to be a selling point of every fighting game sold in it’s wake, it’s hard to imagine that Ed Boon and the rest of the NetherRealm Studios crew thought that an intensely punishing, near-broken end boss was a good idea. Maybe this discrepancy is simply due to the quality assurance department being too good at Mortal Kombat 2011 and no one really knowing what they had created. But it’s a glaring issue, it’s regressive, and it’s all the worst moments of old-school fighting games wrapped up in a single encounter and I sincerely hope NetherReam Studios understands this before they start producing Shaolin Monks 2 or Mortal Kombat X, whichever winds up coming out first.

 

That one encounter aside, Mortal Kombat 2011 is a revelation. Mortal Kombat fans will derive years of entertainment from this purchase (or at least until Mortal Kombat 2011 Ultimate comes out) and it proves that if you take a once-reviled franchise at treat it with respect and care you can make it beloved and relevant again.

I will leave it to you to insert the relevant Sega joke.