Mortal Kombat Review

By Brian Leahy - Posted Apr 19, 2011

The Mortal Kombat franchise has arguably been on the ropes since Mortal Kombat 4 in 1997, but now Ed Boon and a new studio attempt to reboot the series with a new game that returns to the original 2D-fighting style.

The Pros
  • Genre-leading story mode structure
  • Great list of characters
  • A massive amount of content
The Cons
  • Fighting engine has a few quirks
  • Boss fights can make you want to throw controller

Mortal Kombat Review:

When I was growing up, Mortal Kombat was a mainstay in my gaming rotation. The original MK was shocking and had my friends and I out to the arcades constantly. I bought magazine after magazine during the lead-up to Mortal Kombat II’s release and put hundreds of hours into the SNES home version. I rocked Mortal Kombat III and its Ultimate follow-up and all things looked good in the world of MK. I even played Mortal Kombat Trilogy on my PlayStation for the pure fan-service, but then Mortal Kombat 4 happened and I immediately left for greener pastures. I haven’t enjoyed an MK game since.

My friends, I come bearing good news: Mortal Kombat is back. The engine, despite having some quirks I’ll discuss in a bit, is extremely solid and offers a decent sandbox for impressive combos and juggles. The story is a re-telling of the first three MK games and is actually engrossing, impressive, and unique. Oh, and for clarity, I’ll be referring to the new game as MK9 throughout the rest of the review.

The story isn’t exactly Shakespeare…

Now, you may not care for the story of Mortal Kombat and it can definitely take itself a bit too seriously at certain points. It’s a great, nostalgic story to enjoy with your brain set to low, but it is the format and flow of the actual campaign mode that is such an accomplishment for the genre. As I mentioned before, MK9 is a re-telling of the first three games with some new plot details and story hooks thrown in to tie them all together since you won’t be waiting years between each game.

A lot of the details are left unsaid or rely on you already being familiar with the universe, but you’ll pick-up on enough of the who’s and why’s as you go if you’ve never played an MK game. The campaign is broken up into chapters in which you’ll play a single character as the story and tournaments progress around you. From there, you’ll move from cutscene to fight to cutscene to fight in an amazing flow that really keeps you engaged. Each scene forwards the plot and sets up the next fight and there are no load screens to slow this down before each fight.

Some of the fights are a bit goofy as allies decide to fight each other at certain points -- Johnny Cage is especially good at antagonizing his friends -- but others feel well-placed and meaningful. It’s not going to match story-first games in other genres for plot quality, but the mode really accomplishes what I’ve always wanted from a fighting game’s story: each fight feels like it has weight within the world and doesn’t just pit the player up against 8 random enemies before moving on to the bosses.

My only gripe with this mode is that the bosses can get extremely difficult due to their strength and limited invulnerability during some of their attacks. Those matches aren’t unwinnable, but they definitely represent some major difficulty spikes. Oh, and you won’t perform a single fatality in this mode since it would basically kill off characters that are supposed to return.

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There’s just so much Kontent!

Besides the story mode, you’ll get the old-school ladder which puts you up against that series of random enemies before throwing the bosses at you. There’s also tag mode, which let’s each player pick two characters and freely switch between characters and use them as assists. It’s an interesting mode, but it’s definitely not the strength of the game as the tag combos and assists are quite awkward to pull-off.

There’s also the Challenge Tower which has a ridiculous amount of themed challenges for characters and tag-teams along with some mini-games thrown in for good measure. Almost every action in the game will grant you coins, which can be used to unlock things like additional fatalities, alternate costumes, concept art, and more. This is all done through the Krypt, which is a “location” that you travel through to purchase unlocks from gravestones and other grim features. It has personality, but could have been better served with a simple menu-system given the sheer amount of content to be purchased.

The character list is quite large and even though there are a lot of characters that originated as palette swaps – male ninjas, female ninjas, and cyber ninjas, oh my! – they are diversified well here. They may still look very similar, but they play differently enough to full like fully realized characters.

The fatalities return in all their glory and most of them are creative and enjoyable. Some, however, are underwhelming and X-Ray moves become much more common. Still, it’s a great exclamation point on the end of a nice victory.

Scorpion’s Spear is still Back-Back-Punch

The actual fighting engine is probably the best to date in an MK game, but it does have some quirks. There are no diagonal inputs in any of the special moves, which means that playing with an analog stick or arcade stick might result in a fair amount of accidental special moves since the input window on special moves is really long. It seems like the slower you play, the cleaner your execution will be.

The game’s combo system relies heavily on juggles, though you’ll also find success with some quick button-sequence combos. Mixing in special moves is a bit more difficult than I would like, but I attribute a lot of this to the above input issue and the lack of publicly available combo lists.

The super meter, which is used for the new X-Ray moves, powered-up specials, and combo breakers, adds some more depth to the game, especially since it persists between rounds. With one section full, you can do a powered up special which usually adds extra hits or helps with combos. With two, you can do two specials or perform a combo breaker to stop an opponent’s series of attacks. When it is full, you can unleash an X-Ray move which will do a ton of damage if it hits and leave you questioning how your opponent can continue to fight with stabbed eyes or broken legs. It’s best not to question it, but the moves do offer a bit of a comeback mechanic for players.

I do wish they were a bit harder to pull-off since their damage output is extremely high for a simple two-button press. In other fighting games, moves that do upwards of 30% damage have complex inputs for balance purposes. When your foe has a full X-Ray meter, do yourself a favor and block.

At the time of my review, all of the multiplayer features were not online yet, so check back after release for an update on the online features.


This is definitely the return of Mortal Kombat and it’s easily the best all-around game in the franchise. It’s got more depth than its predecessors, a ton of things to do and unlock, and a surprising genre-leading story mode. There are definitely a few minor gripes, but it’s nothing to stop you from going out and snagging MK9 if you’re a longtime fan or if you’ve just been looking for an alternative to the other fighting games out today.