With the recent resurgence of the fighting game genre, there was no doubt that Mortal Kombat would make a return. The last entry in the long running series, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, wasn’t exactly a favorite amongst fans. The developers at NetherRealm Studios heard the cries of the community and introduced MK9 as a return to form. Having seen the game in person at last year’s E3, I was impressed but kept my distance from the hype. And now, after playing the demo, there’s one thing I can say for certain – Mortal Kombat is back.
The demo, which is currently available to PlayStation Plus subscribers, features Scorpion, Johnny Cage, Mileena, and Sub-Zero as playable characters. As you can imagine, there aren’t many modes available to play. You can either battle your way through a four person ladder or fight against a second player. What’s neat is that you can tweak all of the match settings, such as round count and round time, in the options menu. It’s a nice addition to have in a demo.
It takes some time getting adjusted to the default control scheme. Square and triangle are assigned to front and back punches and X and circle assigned to front and back kicks. R1 throws, L1 tags (not used in the demo), R2 blocks, and L2 flips stances. While this may seem like an eight button fighter at first glance, it only requires five. The shoulder buttons, with the exception of block, are merely macros of commands that require two button presses. To throw, all you need to do is press front punch and front kick. Switching stances can be done by pressing front kick and back kick. If you have an arcade stick with only six buttons you’ll be just fine.
NetherRealm went above and beyond to provide users with a variety of convenient options. For instance, customizing your controls is as simple as possible. All you need to do is push the button you want to use to assign it to a function. It’s the same tournament friendly approach that Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix used. Mortal Kombat also allows you to save up to five different configurations. There doesn’t seem to be a way to change buttons during gameplay, though, which is rather odd. There is no rematch option in the pause menu, either. Hopefully this will be changed for the final version.
The gameplay mechanics are interesting for the most part. When a match starts, both players will automatically have one full meter (out of a possible three). Whoever scores the first attack will instantly gain a second bar. The way the meter is handled is perplexing. It won’t move an inch if you’re hitting the opponent with normal strikes (unless blocked). Only special moves seem to add to your bar, and there’s an additional increase if the opponent blocks the attack (but not if it hits). Players on the receiving end of pain, on the other hand, will gain meter after taking each hit (but not while blocking). You’ll notice that playing defensively is punished heavily in Mortal Kombat.
Putting your super meter to good use is quite a challenge. In exchange for one bar, you can do an enhanced version of a special move. The properties of these attacks vary. For instance, Sub-Zero’s iceball is normally a projectile. The enhanced version acts more as a beam. While Scorpion’s teleport attack normally does one hit, the enhanced version does two. Alternatively, you can perform a combo breaker in exchange for two bars of meter.
If you wait until all three bars are fully charged, you can perform the beautifully brutal X-ray attack. All you need to do is press R2 and L2 (or front kick, back kick, and block simultaneously) to unleash the move on an unsuspecting opponent. In addition to looking absolutely amazing, these moves are very powerful. The properties of each attack varies by character. Scorpion’s X-ray starts off with a teleport cross up attack, Sub-Zero’s can be delayed to trick the opponent, Johnny Cage can only use his as a counter attack, and Mileena’s is a quick frontal strike. With the exception of Cage’s counter attack, all of these moves are blockable and it seems like they can be comboed into.
Based on the demo, it looks like NetherRealm at the very least attempted to balance the gameplay in smart ways. You can’t just spam Sub-Zero’s freezing projectile, Scorpion’s spear can’t be used more than twice in a combo, and if a player does find a combo that is particularly lengthy or damaging, you can use the combo breaker to save yourself. X-ray attacks, while powerful and easy to perform, are just as easy to avoid unless the other player has a unique setup. This may very well be a game that the community can take seriously.
There’s a lot of freedom given to the player so that you can create your own unique combos. Despite being unfamiliar with the gameplay, I was still able to make some interesting setups after a few hours. It’s not easy since there’s a lot to think about. When to dash, when to jump, which strike works, and whether or not to use an enhanced special move are just some of the things constantly on your mind. It will be interesting to see how the game evolves after it’s released.
Having played the Mortal Kombat demo for the last two days now, it’s safe to say that many of my worries can be put to rest. I actually purchased a PlayStation Plus subscription just for the demo and I don’t regret it one bit. The game plays phenomenally, the pacing is near flawless, and the presentation is the best it’s ever been. You wanted classic Mortal Kombat and that’s exactly what you’ll get, and more.
Be sure to check out the gameplay videos from the demo below. The first one is a full playthrough showing each battle against all four characters. The other videos provide a breakdown of each move listed in the game.