Interpreting the portents, omens flashing across the sky like bolts from Raiden the Thunder God’s hands, Mortal Kombat’s imminent release could herald something of a misstep for the evergreen franchise.
Don’t get me wrong, NetherRealm Studios is definitely on the right track with the new Mortal Kombat. By recapturing the essence of the classic MK titles, the developers have made a bold statement and clearly want to be taken seriously. The problem is, their execution seems to be a bit flawed when compared to the competition. This is especially true seeing as they are targeting hardcore fighting fans.
Let’s use Street Fighter IV as an example: Capcom had the benefit of location tests and an arcade release to receive feedback from fans; Capcom held several fightclub events giving gamers hands on time with SFIV leading up to its console launch; Super Street Fighter IV received the same treatment and the developers even provided highly detailed change notes for every character in the game.
There is a well defined bond between the developers and fans and this usually results in a better game. After all, there’s only so much strict internal testing can do. Some people just know how to break games and play them in unpredictable ways.
Marvel vs. Capcom 3 might be an even better example. There is no arcade release for that game, and yet, fans are still given hands on time well before the game’s release. I’ve played MvC3 at a couple of events over the last year and both experiences were quite different. The game was clearly a development in progress at the time, yet Capcom seemed confident enough to give media, fans, and pro gamers a chance to play it. You can tell that feedback directly influenced the development of MvC3 and that was only possible thanks to Capcom’s transparency.
Seeking fan feedback isn’t just a Capcom design philosophy. Namco’s Tekken series is another franchise that fans helped shape for the better. Just look at the arcade release of Tekken 6 and compare it to Tekken 6 on the PS3 or 360. Despite sharing the same name, the console version is based on an updated arcade release that was a result of direct feedback and it shows. There’s no doubt that Namco’s upcoming fighting games will be no different. If anything, community insight might be more influential than ever before.
Mortal Kombat is easily the most important game for the franchise in recent memory, and yet there doesn’t seem to be much desire for direct fan feedback. I saw a live demo at E3 and I was easily impressed. However, I only saw what the developers wanted me to see. It was flashy eye candy with the devs using simplified controls to show all the crazy combos.
The first public demo for MK9 was at PAX last year, and though the response was generally positive, it lacked substance since there’s only so much time one could play. Seeing as Mortal Kombat releases in April, it’s alarming that we still know so little about the game. Not seeing in depth discussion from hardcore Mortal Kombat players could be a problem if you’re looking for significant information.
I’ve been listening to the MKast on YouTube for months now and it’s nice to see NetherRealm Studios giving insight on gameplay mechanics and answering questions. There’s even some new footage thrown in as an added treat. While this is undoubtedly good fan service, it still doesn’t address the larger concern regarding broken gameplay. Will Mortal Kombat be balanced? We have no idea. In fact, we can’t even form opinions based on previous footage since those tweaks weren’t implemented at the time.
Should we really trust the developers just because they make claims of balance and deep fighting mechanics? Of course not. At least, not with their current reputation based on recent MK titles. Seeing as Mortal Kombat is one of the five games featured at Evo 2011, the biggest fighting game tournament in North America, NetherRealm should be embracing the fighting game community while actively seeking its input.
Interestingly enough, it was revealed that NetherRealm Studios have the power to make gameplay tweaks without the need for a patch. In theory, this could eliminate infinite combos and change attack properties for the better. However, we can’t just be expected to believe in such an easy fix without seeing it in practice. If it works as intended, this could be a revolutionary feature for the genre.
Unfortunately, it looks like we’ll just have to wait and see, and that’s really such a shame considering the amount of hype Mortal Kombat has generated. Hopefully it will be worthwhile.