NetherRealm Studios' Hector Sanchez describes the new Mortal Kombat as being devoted to "fan service." So in case you were wondering why the game's playing field has flattened to a 2D plane, it's because that's what the great, old MK games had. If you're wondering why the roster of playable characters doesn't yet show a character that debuted in anything past MK3, it's because that first trio of Mortal Kombat games are remembered as the best in the series. After toning things down to a T rating to accommodate the superheroes and villains of the DC Universe, Mortal Kombat is back to ripping out spines, cutting dudes in half, and uppercutting your foes into pits of huge spikes. In short, Mortal Kombat is back.
But this game, once known as Mortal Kombat 9, is hardly some kind of pure nostalgia play. All of the redesigned and remixed things that you recognize from the older games in the series are wrapped in a fighting system that manages to feel like the classic 2D entries in the series where it needs to while also adding things that weren't found in those early MK. The combination makes the 2011 release feel like a more modern fighting game, and more in line with what Capcom's been doing with Street Fighter IV. Along those lines, Mortal Kombat has an on-screen super meter with three different main abilities requiring its use.
== TEASER ==
The first is a pumped-up version of your special attacks, done by holding block while performing the standard move. This makes Johnny Cage throw two fireballs instead of one, increases the length of dash attacks, and so on. It'll cost you a third of your meter to perform.
The second is a combo breaker. It's performed by hitting forward and block while receiving an attack, and it'll bust you out of a combo immediately, whether you're being juggled or just parrying an incoming hit. It's useful, but since it costs you two-thirds of your meter to perform, it won't make you invincible.
A full meter lets you perform your X-Ray attack. These are Mortal Kombat's take on super arts or ultra combos, and are currently performed by hitting the block and the throw button (both of the right shoulder buttons) at the same time. These are situational and specific to each character. For example, Johnny Cage's X-Ray is a parry. Scorpion's teleports him near his opponent. Nightwolf's will connect after a short forward dash. The impacts are hard, as most of these lead into a brief animation showing the victim's skeleton getting rocked by the attacks. Right now, the attacks can be blocked, but it sounds like they're designed to be unblockable, and the designers are still tossing around a few different ideas about how this stuff might work in the final game.
The roster in Mortal Kombat keeps with the fan service theme, and so far no characters from anything newer than Mortal Kombat 3 have been shown. The fighters maintain most of the moves they've had in previous games, including some that have never really been used on a purely 2D plane before. So Scorpion has the move where he makes fire rise up out of the ground right underneath his opponent, along with the spear, teleport, and leg trip moves he's had in the past. Sektor has his arm flamethrower available as a special move, along with the teleport punch, a straight-ahead rocket, and a rocket that falls from above. His homing rockets are still there, too, but they show up as the meter-draining EX versions of the rocket launches. Sub-Zero gets straight-ahead ice, ground ice, the slide, and his self-freeze move that counters incoming attacks with a quick ice sword to the face. Characters are also given more personality in win poses--Sub-Zero freezes the "lens" of the game camera and Scorpion quickly teleports himself back to Hell, giving you a fiery look at the place he calls home whenever he defeats the opposition. It's a cool addition.
Mortal Kombat is also a tag battle game, and when you're playing in two-on-two mode, the tag system works a lot like Marvel vs. Capcom 2. The character who isn't actively fighting can regain some of his or her health, and if you want to use some of your meter, you can make your partner run in for a quick assist attack. This sort of lets you add an extra special move to your roster, so if you're playing as Nightwolf, you can quickly call in Sub-Zero to freeze your opponent. The assist attacks seem like they'll make a potentially crazy combo system even deeper.
On top of all this, uppercuts matter, the game has turnaround kicks, and it generally feels a lot like the classic Mortal Kombat games, even though it breaks the buttons up by "front" and "back" instead of "high" and "low." It sounds like there's potential for some sort of MK-specific hardware down the line, too, as the game's more advanced moves, like tagging and throwing, can be done by hitting multiple buttons on the classic five-button MK setup, as well as via their dedicated shoulder buttons. It'll be interesting to see if that develops.
All that, plus it has--right now, anyway--two fatalities per character. The finishers are over-the-top without (yet) reaching the extremes of making arcade machines fall out of the air or making Scorpion turn into a penguin or anything like that. I'm not sure how I'd feel about the wackier side of Mortal Kombat making its way into this new game. On one hand, nothing is more awesome than dropping an arcade machine on top of a guy. On the other, 2011's Mortal Kombat trades in pure carnage and extreme dismemberment, so something like a "friendship" or a "babality" would seem very out of place.
Mortal Kombat is due for the PS3 and Xbox 360 in Spring 2011. It sounds like the PS3 version of the game will receive some additional features, like the ability to run in 3D on supported televisions. While it only has eight characters in it right now, the content that's already in the game feels very sharp. It's a fighting system that feels like Mortal Kombat where it needs to while successfully mixing in concepts from other fighters to freshen things up. If everything else that's still in the works comes together, Mortal Kombat might just be the best game to bear the name since the franchise went polygonal.