A year ago, Mortal Kombat was released to the masses, effectively rebooting the franchise and doing so in outstanding fashion. Two months ago, the Komplete Edition was released with additional content and tweaks, and now the Vita version takes all of that and expands it further. The Vita version includes a lot of exclusive kontent (sorry, won’t happen again) ranging from “simple” stuff like sixteen additional costumes (some never before seen) and new unlockable artwork, to more potent additions like another 150 challenges and new game modes. Other goodies include all new Trophies, touchscreen X-ray and Fatalties, and online play via Wi-Fi and Ad Hoc.
By now, anyone interested in Mortal Kombat has likely played it already or at least read some reviews over the last year, so I’m not going to spend time going over the core gameplay that is identical to the console versions. Instead, I’ll focus on how the move to the Vita was handled, what’s offered, and what experiences I’ve had with it these last few days I have been playing it.
My first impressions were quite positive, starting even with the digital manual. I know, sounds silly, but with the Vita, manuals are suddenly interesting again, at least to me. Well written and designed (the layout and art that was mixed in), the manual was worth the time for a quick read and gave me a first, albeit crude, measure of what type of quality I could begin to expect in this release. Moments later, the start menu was up, with a plethora of modes available to choose from, some familiar, some new. Familiar options included Fight, Challenge Tower, Training, and Extras to name a few, while Bonus Challenge Tower and two new Test Your modes were new. The Test Your modes now include Might, Sight, Strike, Luck, Balance, and Slice. The latter two are new, with Balance making use of the Vita’s accelerometer and Slice utilizing the front touch screen.
Test Your Balance mini-games appear in the Challenge Towers as well as in its own standalone mode. This mini-game sees a kombatant standing on a thin platform high above some kind of pit. The goal is to slightly tilt the Vita left and right, keeping a close eye on the status of your character to determine how to react. More difficult versions of this mini-game will have objects being thrown at your character, forcing you to quickly compensate. Should you fail, your character falls into the pit below. The type of pit they fall into changes, although you won’t know what pit you are above unless you fall. Many of the animations for this mini-game are completely new, including the fatalities. Death comes in several ways, like falling into flames, charring your flesh and bones until you smash to pieces upon hitting the rock bottom. Other times there will be a pool of piranhas, or spinning blades to slice you up. The variety of pits that you can fall into make failure less disappointing, and I appreciated the little bit of extra effort that NetherRealm put into making this mini-game more interesting than it could have been.
Test Your Slice makes for a fun little distraction in between fights. Here, various body parts fly up from the bottom of the screen. As they appear and begin their immediate descent back down out of view, you simply run your fingers across the screen in a quick swiping, slicing motion to slice through all the parts. There are various power-ups and dangers, like bombs, that you have to be conscious of. Should a bomb appear from the bottom screen, you have to shake the Vita (just barely) to detonate them. There’s not much to this mini-game, although it does get impressively harder as you progress.
You’ll find Test Your Balance and Test Your Slice as part of the all new 150 additional challenges in the new Bonus Challenge Tower. The Bonus Challenge Tower compliments the original one, which has had a few challenges re-worked, and it makes for an addictive and satisfying portable experience. With a tremendous amount of variety, quick load times, and satisfying and rewarding gameplay, the Challenge Tower will keep you going for hours. It’s become my favorite mode on the Vita version, and I enjoy seeing what new challenge awaits each time I clear the current one. Also of note, I really liked that you’re given the option to skip a challenge if you want to. Somewhere around mission thirty-five I found myself skipping one of the touchscreen challenges. It cost me several hundred koins, and I can go back to it whenever I want, but I was having a hard time with it and decided to pass it for now. Anyway, as I continue to work through the tower, I’m impressed with the variety and creativity on display here.
Each level of the Challenge tower has certain objectives, or details, that you can view before you launch the challenge. These objectives are usually a neat training technique, giving you reason to play as other characters you might not ever pick normally. Usually, the ultimate objective is to win the match in a 1v1 fight, but the parameters mixed in with this really spice things up, similar to the Test Your Luck mode. There is also some humor mixed in, much of which I found amusing. In one of the first challenges, Mileena is insistent on giving Scorpion a teddy bear. Scorpion refuses though, and you have to then fight Mileena to prove your point. What Scorpion does after the fight with the teddy bear is perfectly fitting for the series, which always has had this great way of being dark and serious, yet totally not at the same time.
Some other memorable challenges that popped up in the new tower included having to wipe the blood off of the screen while fighting. Literally, as you fight the CPU, splats of blood will appear on your screen, blocking your ability to see the fight. You have to take your finger and swipe the screen in a brushing or wiping motion to clear it up. Another challenge required that you tap your character’s head every few seconds, to keep it from exploding. Yet another has you tapping little rockets on the ground to keep juggling your character for x number of seconds. On actually quite a few occasions, you are fighting Freddy, either with him invisible or the screen fading to black, or other modifiers. Another cool challenge had the world going upside down, requiring you to shake the Vita to get it oriented properly again. The list goes on, but my point is that the variety and creativity of these challenges, combined with the sensible and laudable use of the Vita’s tech, is commendable.
Controlling the action in any mode is best done with the d-pad, in my opinion, although the left stick is available for use as well. You can configure and save up to four control presets, although I found the default scheme rather comfortable. The only control problem I had was the accidental pressing of the Power button when I slipped off of the left trigger or otherwise poorly adjusted my left hand. This was more my fault than anything, but I thought it worth mentioning. It didn’t happen much, probably about five times in twice as many hours. Other than that, I found the controls to be responsive and comfortable, including the accelerometer and touch controls. The new X-ray and Fatality touch controls are a simple, yet welcome addition, making it all the more easier to unleash those gruesome attacks on your foes.
As for the presentation, load times, animations, frame rates, and the sounds are all very nice, but the actual character graphics are underwhelming. I thought the detail of the characters — the amount of polys, the vibrance and richness of their textures — was lacking. The results aren’t bad, but they’re just not as eye-popping as I had hoped for. Backgrounds still look very nice though, and I’m happy that framerates are silky smooth, but I would have liked to have seen more vibrant character graphics. Ultimately, the character graphics are my biggest complaint in this otherwise outstanding release.
To the summary…