Mortal Kombat had a triumphant return to consoles, and it is that iteration that has come to the Vita. It is an excellent port that not only manages to retain the feel and content of the original in its smaller scale, but it also manages to add on an additional Vita-only challenge tower.
If you haven’t played the recent console edition, or even the last few Mortal Kombat’s before it, don’t fret. This is a reboot of sorts. The villain Shao Kahn, leader of the Outworld, has won a prerequisite amount of tournaments to acquire the blessing from Elder Gods to merge the Outworld with the Earthrealm. Everyone is dead, seemingly by his hand and hammer. Only Lord Raiden is left, and it is at his instance of death that he sends memories back in time to himself in order to avert the world shattering cataclysm.
Most fighting games tell a preliminary piece of story, and then the plot drops out completely until you’ve defeated the final boss. There is a fully fleshed out story here, complete with chapters to follow, each divided into a set of fights. Each fight is separated by a cinematic explaining context. At best the story can be tense and full of surprises, at worst terribly amateurish. And while it does manage its share of low points, like when Johnny Cage fails to make a move on Sonya Blade and subsequently beats her for it, the overall story is still better told than nearly every other fighting game before it.
The return back to the classic days of Mortal Kombat isn’t merely contained within the story mode, but is also infused within the mechanics. The fighting engine is one of immediate simplicity and exploratory depth, easily allowing the novice to quickly learn the basics while also providing the experience fighter room to refine their style.
Every character shares several of the most basic moves all with the same basic functions. The assortment of unique combos and special moves are what makes the individual fighters not only appear unique but also fight differently the rest. Mastery demands knowledge of how to use the special moves and combos in conjunction, to discover how one could lead to the other and back.
The super meter provides even greater versatility to the combat. The most common use of it is the most violent: the x-ray attack. It’s a powerful combo that requires a full meter and clobbers the opponent with moves so painful that the fatality is given competition. Bones shatter and break under these monstrous attacks. However, the super meter also allots for strategic use, and can instead be spent on more powerful counter attacks, along with stronger versions of special attacks.
And for the most part it never trips up. There are a few, circumstantial, oddities that creep up. Such as, when two attacks clash, one attack is going to defeat the other. A jump kick will be defeated by an uppercut. An uppercut will be defeated by a special move. The oddity shows up when the animation appears late, as though the uppercut followed through and then the special move canceled it out. It happens occasionally, but when it does it almost feels as though the game has taken away a good hit.
The Vita receives a graphical downgrade, as expected, but it’s something that’s really only noticeable in the story mode, when the cinematics convert to in-game engine. Otherwise, once the fight begins, everything happens fast and fluid enough to distract from dips in the polygon count. The real issue that the Vita brings to the table are the tag team controls. Specifically, the controls used to call in a tag team partner and have them attack requires pressing a face button and flicking the right analog stick at the same time. It’s the kind of input that turns fingers into claws, and it simply isn’t taking the ergonomics of the Vita into account.
But that’s no reason to sell the Vita version short. It has everything the console version had, along all DLC. The classic Ladder match returns for the straightforward series of bouts to victory over Shao Kahn. The challenge tower, with its wealth of tests, arrives along with a secondary bonus challenge tower specific for the Vita. Within the bonus challenge tower there are touch screen based challenges, like one that mimics Fruit Ninja but with internal organs.
Mortal Kombat is a step back in time, but a step forward for the series, and for fighting games in general. The gameplay is a highly refined version of the classic experience, crafting a deep experience that’s simple enough to grasp, yet tricky to master. It might be a while before a fighting game emerges with a genuinely amazing story, but for now the plight of Raiden and the representatives of Earthrealm is fascinating enough.