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The Conflict Minerals... Issue

Mortal Kombat

The new Mortal Kombat, which is technically the ninth of the franchise, is almost everything I want from an MK game.

Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment The new Mortal Kombat, which is technically the ninth of the franchise, is almost everything I want from an MK game. I’m a longtime fan of the series—hell, I even like the movies—and it’s not because of the explicit violence. In my younger days, I was obsessed with video-game story lines (now I merely enjoy them, when they’re present), and MK is the only fighting-game franchise with a story that’s worth a damn. Also, the characters were fun to draw when I was a kid. A while back I bagged on MK in my Street Fighter IV review, mostly because nowadays I’m enamored with good mechanics, which MK games never had, and because I’m still a bit embarrassed at my ability to effortlessly rattle off Sub-Zero’s biography. (I was always a bigger fan of Sub-Zero than Scorpion, and right there is your basic division of MK fandom.) Finally, here’s an MK game I can proudly support. Although I’ve read some essays suggesting that the new MK’s gameplay falls short of Street Fighter IV’s tournament-level standard, it’s much more balanced than previous iterations. Also, following the current fighting-game trend, characters are rendered in 3-D, but all of the action takes place on a 2-D plane like the first three MK games. The controls have been updated—the four attack buttons now execute a “forward” or “back” punch or kick, rather than the previous “high” or “low” varieties—but the special moves are mostly based off old standards. Also, fireballs work way better when characters can’t sidestep them. NetherRealm Studios, the game’s developer, also added a Super Meter, which powers up special moves, blocks combos, and unlocks X-ray attacks—moves that cause the camera to zoom through the victim’s skin as bones are broken and organs crushed. This is probably the most genre-appropriate addition to the series since, um, Fatalities, which is to say it’s the only befitting conceptual addition since the first damn game. Thankfully, filling the Super Meter doesn’t take long, so fun powered-up moves and X-ray attacks can be executed fairly often. Admittedly, this gets a bit ridiculous during long fights when a guy’s liver is pulverized twice in a row. Another throwback to the first few games is that the narrative is again front and center, featuring a story mode that, thank God, revolves around lengthy cinematics that play between plot-based fights (as opposed to the previous games’ story modes, which were all about running around a map completing tedious fetch quests). It begins with Shao Kahn on the verge of killing Raiden—the only two characters who are still alive. The Thunder God sends a telepathic vision to his past-self moments before Shao Kahn finishes him. What follows is a retelling of MKs 1 through 3 from the perspective of the past-Raiden, plagued by half-understood apocalyptic visions that cause him to attempt to rectify his future. It’s a cool idea, and a heaping helping of nostalgia for longtime fans. It also ensures that the game focuses on cool pre-MK4 characters from before the series got stupid. Hooray for ninjas! People who spent countless hours and quarters trying to pull off Shang Tsung’s Kintaro Fatality—especially those of us who were disappointed by everything that followed MK4’s switch to 3-D—should certainly check this one out, and for new fans it’s an ideal jumping-on point.