Mortal Kombat Challenge Tower Preview: GDC 2011By Stephen Johnson - Posted Mar 07, 2011
Upon firing up Mortal Kombat or the first time at GDC 2011, it only took moments for mental waves of pure nostalgia to wash over me. My reflexes and neurons flashed back in time, instantly, to long-forgotten, marathon sessions of Mortal Kombat II for the Super Nintendo. The reboot of the franchise hits the Mortal Kombat sweet spot, combining lightning fast, 2D fighting with cartoonish characters, oceans of blood, deep black humor and, of course, the hyper-violent Fatalities fans of the genre have come to expect. It's not all old news, though -- there are new fighting mechanics in place, better graphics and a brand new game mode, Challenge Tower, which I'll detail below. New or old, Mortal Kombat delivers: The minutes I spent playing this pre-release version of the game captured the Mortal Kombat vibe perfectly.
Challenge Tower is the just-announced single-player mode for Mortal Kombat 2011 that places you at the center of 300 fast-paced challenges, essentially mini-games for MK. You travel up the pyramid, passing tougher and tougher tests until you eventually obtain total Kombat victory -- Winning! The GDC build of the game featured the first 20 challenges, which include relatively easy tasks like defeating an opponent with only kicks (because your arms have been torn off), but hint at the more dangerous challenges further up the deadly triangle, like defending yourself against a horde of murderous zombies.
As you complete tests, the game rewards you with currency that you can use to skip odious stages that you can't (or don't care to) complete--a welcome feature to eliminate frustration, given the epic number of levels in the challenge pyramid.
MK 2011 brings back "test your sight" and "test your might" mini-games (quick little reflex hits) from games past, but adds the new challenge of a "Test your Luck" randomizer that puts various MK elements in a virtual blender and spits out crazy fight types. Test your Luck and you might find yourself fighting upside down, with no head while flames shoot out of the floor/ceiling. The dark humor that has always been a staple of the series is on display here in spades -- some of the Test your Luck combination fights are hysterical...and deadly.
At its core, the Challenge Tower is more than just a meaningless, bells-and-whistles mode in a game that doesn't need one. The lower levels (those on display at GDC) of the Tower will function as a trainer for newbies to the series. If you need a refresher on finishing moves, special moves, and even basic character control, the Challenge Tower should be your first stop. The single-player, quick reflex style is a much more fun way to learn to play than an extended training sequence.
As you get higher up the tower, its usefulness changes, and it goes from a training tool to an extension of Mortal Kombat’s fun for more “serious” fighters. The challenges as you approach the top are said to be quite deadly and difficult, culminating in "End Game," the top of the pyramid, which will no doubt test the skills of even the hardest of the hardcore.
The Tower, really, embodies the vibe of the game as a whole. It's easy to pick up and play, and will offer fun and learning for even the most unrepentant button-masher, but it is equally geared at serious fighting game fans, a unique breed who require exacting tests of strategy and reflexes.
The other bit of "new" Mortal Kombat revelations at the GDC demo was the confirmation of series favorite characters Sonya Blade and Jax. While you had to expect that these iconic MKers would be playable in the new game, given its focus on classic characters, it's nice to get a chance to play them within the gorgeous, 2D graphics of the new version of Mortal Kombat.