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Mortal Kombat | review | game | Lollipop
(Warner Bros. for Xbox 360)
By Mike Delano
The Mortal Kombat series nearly performed a fatality on itself over the course of the past decade, roaming as it did into a foggy realm of half-heartedness and general confusion. With needlessly bloated character rosters, unintuitive attack commands, and enormous (but mostly useless) move lists, games like MK: Armageddon carved out their own little miserable niche: Fans of the brand checked them out in hopes that they would either recapture the campy, streamlined charm of the original trilogy or muscle up and compete with the likes of 3D standard-bearers like the Soulcalibur series.
They did neither. But was a simple return to fighting on a 2D plane, like fans of other wayward classic franchises often seem to think, really the cure-all for MK's woes? Nope. Although 2009's Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe more closely resembled the classic Kombat experience that shot the series to glory, all was not right. Whereas the recent Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds delivered on all the bombast promised by its title, the MK vs. DC crossover was trapped in limbo, pleasing neither MK fans looking for the familiar blood frenzy nor DC fans looking for the same lavish treatment for their universe as Capcom gives to its Marvel license.
Somehow, all has been righted just two years later with the simply titled Mortal Kombat (numerals and colons be damned). The title may be all that has been streamlined in this edition of the series, however, since it takes a kitchen sink approach, one that actually enhances rather than obscures the game's strengths.
The 2D fighting returns and has been refined into a tight, responsive beast that gives satisfying feedback when you land a blow, and the fully restored gore is as over-the-top as one would hope, with viscera, teeth, and bone fragments flying about regularly. But it's the avalanche of polished content that really sells this reboot, from the hours-long story mode that seamlessly blends battles with cut scenes to the 300 floor Challenge Tower that demands increasingly absurd dedication to the standard arcade ladders that allow crusty old-schoolers to simply battle to the end with their favorite characters like they were back at the mall food court.
All of the tasks that the player takes on, including online multiplayer challenges, build up credits that can be spent on hundreds of pieces of collectible artwork and unlockable secrets inside a morbid necro bazaar. Amazingly, this overwhelming amount of stuff to do never comes off as an unfocused dumping of features designed to spruce up the bullet points on the back of the retail box. Instead, it feels like a celebration of the series' history, and if there's one group that needed some celebratin' after these recent years of darkness, it's the devout MK fans whose patience has finally been rewarded.