After I played a bunch of 2011’s Mortal Kombat 9, I had wondered where NetherRealm Studios could go next. Mortal Kombat 9 had successfully used through the beloved characters and story from the original trilogy as the base for that game, so it was hard to see where they could go given that the games after the original trilogy were not as well received.
Enter Mortal Kombat X. It keeps what MK9 had going good for it, returning to the 2D fighting plane, but adopts stage interactions and more stylish moves from NetherRealm Studio’s previous game, Injustice: Gods Among Us. But in many ways, Mortal Kombat X takes the franchise in a bold new direction.
Almost half of the cast from MK9? Gone. All of the stages and music from the original trilogy? Gone. The Challenge Tower from MK9 and Injustice? Gone (or at least not in the same form that it was previously).
Instead, while slightly more than half of the 25 character cast is returning characters of the likes of Sub-Zero, Scorpion, Raiden, Johnny Cage, et all, there are 9 completely new characters, some of who are descendants of the mainstay characters. There are also 2 returning characters in Goro and Shinnok, but neither were playable in MK9.
The cast of MKX is just a tad smaller than MK9’s cast, but it makes up for it with variations. Each character has 3 variations. Each variation has specific traits, special moves, or different normal moves. The reason why this is important, is that sometimes when playing with a character competitively, you’ll find that he’s a bad matchup against another character. Variations opens up the possibility that while one version of your character is a bad matchup, another slightly different version (which will take MUCH less time to learn than a completely new character) could be a great matchup. It’s amazing that NetherRealm fit so many characters given the differences in their variations.
Continuing from a tradition which goes back to Mortal Kombat Deception, most recently in Mortal Kombat 9 and Injustice, MKX has a fully featured single player Story mode. MK9’s was fantastic because it took all the flavour text from the biographies and endings in the original trilogy and fleshed it out into a fully featured story. Here, while the story mode does reference some of the events of MK4 (albeit in a new context, since MK9 altered the original timeline of Mortal Kombat), it goes in a new direction. A good portion of the story takes place 25 years after MK9 and is focused on Cassie Cage, Takeda Tahashi, Jacqui Briggs and Kung Jin, who are all descendants of previous MK Kombatants. I don’t want to spoil the Story, so I won’t get into specifics. But the best thing for me about MKX’s Story mode is that it has tons of callbacks to MK9’s story mode and ties a lot of loose ends, while creating new ones that make me excited to see the next Mortal Kombat’s story. There’s a lot of confusion about the length of the Story mode– many reports are out there of the Story mode being shorter, but in fact, content wise (cutscenes and number of fights), it’s slightly longer than MK9’s. However, they’ve got rid of the handicap and boss fights that were in 9’s Story mode which proved to be significant roadblocks. On one hand, I like that they made it easy for people to play through the game and just see the story. On the other hand, I thought it was really cool to be forced to learn your character to progress in Story mode. MKX does rectify a couple of issues with MK9’s story mode– you can explicitly change Story Difficulty, and you can jump to any Chapter that you’ve already played– making the mode way more replayable than it was in MK9. One of the weird things about the Story mode is that a lot of the backstory of the new (and returning) characters is fleshed out in the comics. If you don’t take the time to read them, you might be scratching your head as to what a character’s backstory or motivations are.
I did have a little more trouble finding my footing with the characters in MKX than in MK9, but I could attribute that partly to lack of familiarity. It is sad to see so many of the recognizable characters from MK9 not appear as playable here, but it was probably a necessary step to move the franchise forward. If I had my way, everything (including the Stages) would come back from MK9. But nonetheless, they did a great job forging a new direction. In fact, this game might be the first MK game in a while to not have a returning stage from a previous game. Tag mode is gone in MKX. It really was a novelty in MK9, as most people rarely used it. Still, it was a nice party mode, and I wish it was still there. Also, the handicap and tag matches in the Story mode are also gone, and they were great at changing things up in the story mode.
In MK9 the big modes were the Story Mode, The Towers (Classic Arcade Tower and the 300 level Challenge Tower) and Online. Here, the Towers take a slightly different form. The Classic Tower is back (beating it with each character gives a different ending with a couple of animated scenes and a voiceover), but the Challenge Tower is no more. Instead, there are a variety of Towers including Test Your Might, Test Your Luck (modifiers applied to gameplay), and Living Towers (which rotate with different challenges hourly, daily and weekly). It’s a neat idea but I miss the uniqueness of the Challenge Tower. Literally every level on the Challenge Tower in MK9 had a different twist. Here, each Tower as a whole has its own twist, meaning the twist wears its welcome after a couple of fights. I found the Test Your Might tower a fun throwback, but the final challenge is pretty ridiculous. I had to use the aid of a pen rubbing across my DualShock 4 to be able to beat it. That being said– there’s a certain charm to it. Online is similar to MK9 with Versus matches and the King of the Hill Lobby where winner stays on. They’ve also brought in the online training mode from Injustice.
One of the fantastic things about the game is that each matchup you can have in the game has several different introductions– even for matchups where a character is facing him or herself! This just adds an extra layer of personality to the game. As I went through the Klassic Tower with different characters, in a way it helped form my own unique Story as I went through the tower. Maybe the intros get repetitive at some point, but I have been enjoying them during the review process. I also found the Arcade endings to be of a very high quality, and really make it worth going through the Classic Tower with each character.
The graphics are fantastic in this game, while keeping a smooth 60FPS. The only rough spots I found were the X-Rays– when the skeletons are zoomed in close, you can see some unfortunately low resolution textures.
There’s a few more crazy things about this game that I’d be remiss to mention. First, is the Krypt– the place in the game where you go to unlock extra content like Costumes, Fatalities, Concept Art and more. They made it in the style of an old school first person dungeon crawler. I love that they keep making this thing that started out as a visual menu to unlock extras into something that’s more interactive and almost its own full blown mode. There are a few light puzzles to solve here. Also, the XP system in MKX is kind of nuts. NetherRealm doesn’t do a good job of explaining it up front, but at the same time I think it was a nice revelation as something I discovered after I beat the Story mode to help lengthen the life of the game. In a nutshell, you earn XP and Faction XP, which in turn unlocks boosts which can help you earn more XP, Faction XP and Koins as you do various things in the game. Not only that, but doing certain things over and over (Fatalities, Brutalities, Throws, etc.), levels up those skills and you can also earn more XP and Koins through that as well.
The final thing that I find absolutely crazy and awesome about this game, is that it’s been out to the public for a week, and it was leaked and available to reviewers for weeks before that. Yet everything about the game still has not been discovered. That’s RARE in this day and age. The last time I can remember a game that I played was like that was Fez. I haven’t been into the Souls games, but I get that those are also similar. It’s pretty awesome, that after years of NetherRealm wanting to recapture the magic of the arcades, where there were a bunch of rumours going around for how to unlock certain things, they’ve actually recreated that feeling.
Mortal Kombat X is an outstanding effort. Unlike sequels of other successful games, you can really see that they spent the money they made off the huge success of the last game all over the place. From the fight intros, to more costumes, to the Krypt, and the XP system. And everything just feels more polished.