Fighting games aren't known for their co-op modes. Games like Mortal Kombat, in which a match can end with an "IN-YO-FACE" Fatality move, are based on destroying your opponents. The ninth and latest iteration of the series, simply titled Mortal Kombat, has been billed as a reboot. There are no Deceptions, Armageddons, or DC Comics characters to nullify Fatalities. It's been three years since we've seen the Kombatants, five years since they've been in a proper MK game. NetherRealm Studios has reinvented this brutal fighting franchise for a new generation -and they've added in a ko-op mode, as well. (I promise this is the last time I use 'k' for 'c.' Unless, of course, the game spells it with a 'k.' Then I have to. It's in the rules.)
I was *cough*-teen when the first Mortal Kombat came out, way back in 1992. I even remember when it came out on the SNES and they changed the red blood to gray sweat. Yep, that sucked. Then I fell in love with MK 2, as well as MK 3. If you have fond memories of those early games, as I do, Mortal Kombat was made for you. The Story Mode of Mortal Kombat is a retelling of the events from the first three games, beginning with Shang Tsung's tournament and culminating in Shao Kahn's invasion of Earth Realm.
Mortal Kombat is pure fan service. The sense of nostalgia is palpable. There are no new characters, with the exception of the PS3 version's Kratos. Almost all of the Kombatants are from the first three games. Yes, the cyber ninjas are present. Goro and Kintaro are there, and as of now, unplayable. The stages are all familiar and sport a new current-gen re-imaging. Each of the characters has retained their basic appearance, superhuman though it may be. The women have Barbie proportions, and some of the male cast seem to have been juicing. I don't remember Liu Kang looking so meaty. It looks like Rob Liefeld designed some of the physiques.
Johnny Cage: Sunglasses Hut's Most Valuable Customer, Peck Entusiast.
The gameplay is defiantly old-school. You can jump-kick, sweep, and uppercut your way to victory easily enough on the Arcade Ladder. Button mashing can take you far in this game. The difficulty can be set from "Beginner" to "Expert" (or as I like to call it, "Cheater"). Special moves are easy enough to pull off, even with the 360's deplorable D-pad. If you want to see what you're made of, you can take the fight online for one vs one and two vs two matches. Yes, there's now a tag team mode, and I'll get to that later. You can even play a King of the Hill Mode where the winner stays and takes on all comers. A robust tutorial will help you get back into fighting shape. There's even a fatality tutorial, which will allow you to learn one fatality with each Kombatant.
Fatalities. That's what separates Mortal Kombat from other fighters. Sure, Street Fighter may have the icons, Tekken and Virtua Fighter may have the techniques, DOA may have the T and A, but Mortal Kombat has the blood and gore (and a healthy dose of its own T and A). There's actually a statistic that tracks how much blood you've spilt. Fatalities range from "seen it" to "THAT JUST EFF'N HAPPENED!?" Sektor's "Scarecrow" fatality got the game banished until after-hours in my house. (Protip: At full-screen distance press Down Down Forward Back 'X' or 'square,' depending on your console of choice. Extra Special Protip: Don't do it in front of your mom. Seriously. It's like it the fatality was designed by Jigsaw.)
The new X-Ray moves are cringe-worthy.
Each character has at least two personal fatalities and one stage fatality. There are at least a half dozen stages with their own fatalities, and they're all appropriately gruesome. Some of the stages themselves have pretty disturbing visuals, but they're so over-the-top they begin to become campy, but not in a bad way. Equally gruesome are the X-Ray attacks. As you battle you are constantly building a meter that can be used either for combo breakers, enhanced special moves, or X-Rays. Mini-fatalities themselves, X-Ray attacks can quickly change the tide of battle. And they're brutal. If all of this sounds horrible to you, never fear. There are less deadly finishing move, but I'll let you figure those out for yourselves.
The game is flush with content. The Krypt has returned with over six hundred unlockables. You purchase these items with Koins. You earn Koins in every mode in Mortal Kombat except for player VS. (No boosting, cheaters!) Items you unlock can be found in the Nekropolis, which is basically a gallery where you can view character bios and renders. In addition to the Story Mode, there are skill challenges such as Test Your Might, Test Your Sight, and Test Your Strike. These boil down to button mashing and three-card-monte, but they're a fun distraction. The daunting Challenge Tower has 300 missions that range from simple matches to ridiculous feats of gore. One test in partiular forced me to throw my own limbs at and opponent. It was awesome.
Guess what happens when you buy this Krypt item. Hint: Horrible, horrible death.
So where's the co-op? Don't fret, it's in there. As I mentioned earlier, two players can team up in Tag Ladder matches. On a local console you can both play on the same tag team and face off against AI opponents. The other player can be tagged in by simply pressing a shoulder button. In addition to simple tags there are advanced moves that use your X-Ray meter. Each player has their own life bar. Additionally, each character earns Koins toward their own Krypt and Nekropolis. Fatalities pay out more Koins, so there may be a little arguming as to who finishes the fight.
When a Tag Ladder is completed, only the main character's ending is shown. But, if the second player visits their own Krypt, they will have unlocked the ending for whichever character they controlled. The main player is also is rewarded with their character's alternate costume, if they haven't already unlocked it. The second player, oddly enough, does not get a costume reward. I should note here that if one of the signed-in players has an alternate costume or secret character unlocked, any other player on that console can use it. Switching between player Extras, like the Krypt or Nekropolis, is easy enough. If Player One chooses "Krypt" and presses start, he's in his Krypt. The same goes for Player Two. One of you will just have to be patient while the other shops, of Tests their Might, or whatever. These distractions can be handled quickly, allowing for easy back and forth progression. It's not the most ideal co-operative play, but it is available.
...and here's a shot of Scorpion Vs Boobs Mc Gee.
The back of the Mortal Kombat box has the online co-op feature checked, but alas, we could not find a way to co-op a Tag Ladder online. We could play Tag Versus, but you won't be meeting up with a pal for some comp-stomping. If you find a way to do it, comment the heck out of it and I'll adjust my review accordingly.
Mortal Kombat is a throwback to the old fighting games of the early 90's, and it is terrific. It looks great, it plays well, and it's tone is perfect. The story is like bacon-wrapped nostalgia (that's the best nostalgia). The stages are so vibrant and alive, one can't help but wonder if a sequel to the incredible Shaolin Monks is in the works. We can dream, right?