To a certain extent, being a Mortal Kombat devotee has also meant being a Mortal Kombat apologist. The series has never had the polished balance of Street Fighter or the depth of Tekken: It earned a place at the table by relying on controversy, palette-swapping characters, and enough spurting plasma to fill several blood banks. The last eight games were a case study in that Albert Einstein quote about insanity: doing the same thing and expecting different results. Frankly, the formula was getting old, and the series’ relevance was becoming questionable. Something needed to be done. Fortunately, with the 2011 reboot, Mortal Kombat has stepped up to the plate and done something drastically different, and the results are spectacular.
For starters, all the fat has been trimmed away and replaced with something previously unthinkable in Mortal Kombat: nuance. The characters’ look and feel has been so completely overhauled that Sub-Zero, Smoke, Scorpion, and all the other garbed ninjas actually feel unique. No two combatants control alike. Their moves are simpler now, but that shift actually lends a markedly better flow to rounds. In short, you no longer feel like you’re combating your controller and the other opponent. You’re now forced to think strategically from moment to moment, as in any other fighting game that’s become a staple for marathon sessions.
But Mortal Kombat hasn’t sacrificed its heart to achieve all this. Two new particularly striking additions are the super-meter and X-ray attack. Once the bar fills up, flicking both shoulder buttons unleashes a sequence of slow-motion assaults that show X-rays of bones, intestines, and whatever guts robots have splintering, exploding, or fracturing beyond recognition. This isn’t just jaw-droppingly brutal; it also can turn the tide of a round at a moment’s notice.
That same thoughtfulness has been applied to the story mode. Not that fighting games need compelling narratives, but Mortal Kombat’s convoluted storyline has finally been cleaned up. All 27 characters are woven into the story here, in a winding tale that manages to include every classic setpiece in impressively gussied-up forms. Anna Karenina it isn’t—many disputes are resolved with combat, and also kombat—but it’s a tirelessly crafted make-good well worth experiencing, just like everything else here.