Mortal Kombat Review
Mortal Kombat Box Art
System: PS Vita
Dev: NetherRealm Studios
Pub: Warner Bros.
Release: May 1, 2012
Players: 1-4
Screen Resolution: 544p Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Strong Violence
Fatalities On The Fly
by Sean Engemann

The Mortal Kombat series has an extensive history of praise for solid fighting mechanics and intriguing backstory, but also controversy due to the extreme violence, which mostly stems from the many opponent-dismembering fatalities you can perform. The 2011 version delivered exactly what fans were yearning for, while shunning the conservative outcry, testing the boundaries of the ESRB with its graphic content.

The PS Vita version is technically a port of last year's title, but is crammed with so much more stuff that it's worth checking out, even if you already own the console copy.

Although quick versus battles are the standard fare of any fighting game, I wouldn't exactly call it the meat of Mortal Kombat. The story mode will take you awhile to chew as well, and each bite packs flavor. It's the standard plot of old, with a group of Earthrealm warriors pitted against the combatants of the Netherrealm in mortal kombat. Some have enlisted of their own volition, some coerced, and others by happenstance. Relationships are formed and broken, there are internal conflicts on both sides, side stories permeate the plot, and it's all blended perfectly into the context of the tournament. In fact, the progression of the story transitions seamlessly into the gameplay itself, and again back out when the battle is finished. Depending on your skill level and the difficulty you've chosen, you could eat up quite a few hours just seeing the story through to its epic conclusion.

Mortal Kombat Screenshot

If you need some extra training, the game comes equipped with combat and fatality tutorials, as well as a practice arena. With each character sporting their own exclusive basic and special attacks, combos, and a handful of fatalities and babalities, it's always worthwhile to hone your skills before hitting the PvP or testing the harder difficulty ladders. Added to the mix are tag team battles, where you can swap between characters mid-battle and unleash more attacks and combos. You can even record your practice round, creating custom chains that you can refer back to whenever you need a refresher. Each character's move list can be accessed via the pause menu in any battle against the A.I., allowing you to jump into combat from the get-go and build your combo training as you see fit.

If you're looking to dive right into the nonstop action, the first choice on the title screen—aptly named "Fight"—is where you'll want to head. The classic arcade Ladder awaits you, where you work your way through several opponents and eventually embark on a final match against Shao Kahn. For an extra kick (literally), there's a Tag Ladder where you pick two characters to take on your opponents. You have access to all thirty-two warriors right off the bat, including Skarlet, Kenshi, Rain, and Freddy Krueger (the post-launch characters from the console title). Also, since this is a Sony-exclusive version, Kratos comes packed as a bonus. It's a robust list to choose from, and if you're eager to master each one (which is a requirement for you Trophy completionists out there), that alone will rack up the hours needed to justify the value of your purchase.

Mortal Kombat Screenshot

But the action doesn't stop there. For some quick spurts, you can test your Might, Sight, Strike, Luck, Slice, or Balance. Might and Strike have you breaking boards, bricks and other objects using strength or precision. Sight is a variation of the shell game, except the shells are replaced by decapitated heads. Luck throws a slot machine into the mix, adding several handicaps in the match for an added challenge. Slice and Balance are two exclusive diversions for the Vita. Slice has different body parts flung onto the screen which you must swipe with your finger to split in half, while Balance has you teetering over a pit where you must keep steady by angling the Vita back and forth, with failure plunging you to a gory death. It's a couple of fun ways to pass a few minutes with the new control functions, but it's nothing groundbreaking.

In combat, the bone-crunching X-Ray attacks can be implemented with a quick tap on the screen, which in the heat of a battle is a nice, simple method using the system's touchscreen. However, not all is executed well. Fatalities can be performed by swiping your finger in the pattern of the move specifications, and, while responsive, this certainly is not as quick as inputting the sequence via the control pad and thus feels completely tacked on. Thankfully, this is optional, as is the use of the analog stick for movement. In a game where combos are key to success, the control pad greatly overpowers the stick in accuracy, and with no diagonal inputs or sweeping motions to worry about, it's simple and requires far less memorization. This is a good thing, because one of the most touted features of Vita version is the 60 frames per second, which keeps the action at a fast clip. The powerful hardware of the system keeps the resolution strong, and I have yet to see any lag. In this respect, it certainly feels like a successful crossover from the console version.

Mortal Kombat Screenshot

What did take a hit, though, are the character models. Of course, the cinematics are spot-on from the 2011 version and look absolutely gorgeous, but because the game transitions directly from cutscene to combat, the close-ups definitely show where developer NetherRealm trimmed the memory. It's not that they look bad, but the character models are easily discernible from the varied backgrounds, and some of the facial designs are just plain scary. Johnny Cage, as the prime example, looks more like Nicholas Cage with an afro during his pre-combat taunts. And I simply can't look at or listen to Raiden during a cinematic scene and not picture Superman wearing the God of Thunder's costume.

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