This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Mortal Kombat, if he isn't dragged away by the Australian government first.
I am frankly flabbergasted that a game like Mortal Kombat could seriously be considered relevant in this day and age. In a time when fighting games are thought to have humiliated themselves if they don't show up with their roster filling at least two schoolbuses, Mortal Kombat should by rights have been kneecapped for showing up with only seven playable fighters, two of which being the same guy wearing different-colored jumpers. And while fully-rendered graphics might be a little overkill for a 2D fighter, using photo cutouts of people in costumes has got to be the most ghetto fucking solution, short of cutting out pencil doodles on the sides of milk cartons. And what I understand least of all is why everyone is saying this is a new release when Wikipedia quite clearly states that it came out in August 1992 - oh, do you know what I've done? I've got Mortal Kombat the 2011 release confused with Mortal Kombat the game from 20 years ago with the same exact name. Do you see how confusing this gets?
You know your series is having problems when inserting Batman doesn't seem to improve things at all, so after many years of rolling disinterestedly around on an unmopped kitchen floor, Mortal Kombat is finally getting the boot - the reboot, that is! - taking the plot right back to the start of all the least unpopular characters. The story mode pulls a bit of a Dallas by implying that the entire series up to now was a flashforward Raiden was having at the very start of the first game, a rather lengthy and tortured flashforward with fluctuating graphical quality and several dubious retcons.
Incidentally, Raiden's looking pretty fucking white for a Japanese god. The character design overall is incredibly bland, presumably as a consequence of the photo models for the characters in the original trilogy all being the same guy and his two gym friends. Everyone has the same body type: necks like KFC Bargain Buckets for the boys, jugs like two pigs in a safety harness for the ladies. At least Street Fighter has some whippy schoolgirls and a fat bastard or two. There's something dreadfully off about Lui Kang's shoulder muscles; he looks like two rolled-up carpets leaning on a petrol pump.
But I digress. The story mode is a condensed mode of the tissue-thin plots of the first three games - in so far as you could condense them any further without opening a singularity. Shao Kahn is the evil emperor of Outworld, and for some apparently self-evident reason he wants to take over the Earth, administrative costs be damned. The cosmic rules (that are apparently equally self-evident) state that he can do that if he beats Earth in a fighting tournament with incredibly poorly-defined rules. I mean, they let one guy fight with a fucking gun. What's stopping me from rockin' up in a fucking Harrier and carpet-bombing the place? Shao Kahn figures this out around the Mortal Kombat 3 section of the plot, when there doesn't seem to be a tournament going on at all. Someone just shows up and massacres three-quarters of the cast in the clumsiest attempt to raise the stakes I've ever seen. It'd been less abrupt to just drop a fucking double-decker bus on them all.
The story's just a way of stringing a few fights together, I suppose, but the fights are mortal enemies dueling to the death only half the time. At one point, Jax has a fight with erstwhile ally Johnny Cage just because he's being a bit of a twat. Two questions: If this is just a friendly squabble, why can the plot only continue if I win the fight? And why did I just break his pelvis in half?
The game is characteristically brutal. It's like everyone was raised by Klingons and shattering mandibles is the equivalent of shaking hands. If this video abruptly ends with a mixture of police sirens and barking attack dogs, it's because the game is still effectively banned in this country, in case any fifteen-year-olds get it into their heads to punch each other's heads off or shoot fire out of their hands. And much as video game censorship chives my spuds, I can sort of see where they're coming from on this one. Here's me living for the day the mainstream media understands that video games aren't just mindless violence for twelve-year-old future Unabombers, and Mortal Kombat isn't helping my case. It's like a sitcom moment wherein Character X defends the intelligence of Character Y while in the background Character Y is busy snorting Drano off the back of an enraged lioness.
The X-ray moves in particular give the impression that your character's stepfather was a skeleton and they still have some issues to work through. The way the camera zooms in and shows the victim's bones as they splinter like dry twigs is exactly the same way one would film a cum shot. It's not pleasant! Not that I can't handle a bit of gore, but it gives me the same feeling I get from watching midget-on-giraffe porn, a sense of "I'm certainly not getting off to this but I know someone in the world is and that's what makes me uncomfortable."
No, the biggest condemnation one could give the gore is that it's just boring. If you stuck with one character for a while, you'll get to see the same X-ray moves selfishly hog the screen for ten increasingly dull seconds of fatally unsurvivable amateur osteopathy over and over again. And all impact is lost - if there was any remaining - the first time your victim cheerfully hopped back onto his newly pulverized fibulas and went back to somersaulting unabated. Even the finishing moves you just get desensitized to after the game is done exploring every possible way an individual's body parts can be separated with varying levels of creativity.
And speaking of which, Mortal Kombat, I'm glad we agree that the Joker's fatality from Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe was the highlight of that game, but I'm guessing copy-pasting it for Shang Tsung's primary fatality was one of those last-minute deadline, entire animation team drunk on Jägerbombs decisions.
Not being huge on one-on-one fighters, I solicited the opinion of a fighting game-playing colleague, who said the actual mechanics hold up pretty well, with nicely skillful combos and reactive physics, but then he really likes the new Doctor Who.
Personally, my feeling is that some of the joke points made in the new world-famous first paragraph of this review still apply. Mortal Kombat struggles for relevance in this day and age. It seems like a limit has been reached on what could be done with 2D fighters, and they always seem to be struggling to pad out the content, hence the rather schizophrenic Challenge Tower mode. The inclusion of Kratos just seems desperate. Most big fighting games seem to be crossovers these days, perhaps because the fighter enthusiast money pales in comparison to the nostalgia dollar. Perhaps the logical step would be to just have one big fighting game featuring every character from every franchise ever, and then just update that every few months. If nothing else, it'd silence a lot of drunken arguments. Who would win in a fight between Marty McFly and the bloke from Quantum Leap? Why not debate this in the comments as a brief moment of respite from your extremely important life.
Yes, I know I was basically just describing MUGEN there: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
I like how people can have their spines destroyed in the X-ray attacks but depicting their penises was apparently crossing the line