mccarron's Mortal Kombat (PlayStation Vita) review

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TRMK's Review of Mortal Kombat for the PS VIta

This is the review I wrote for over on TRMK. It appears here with my permission. Check that review out for all the pretty pictures I'm too lazy to move over here.

MORTAL KOMBAT MOBILE HISTORY

Over the last twenty years, there have been many attempts by both Midway and Acclaim to make a portable version of various Mortal Kombat games. The problem in the past was the big difference in processing power between arcade, console and the portable systems. This led to a vastly different experience from the main game in not only graphics but also in gameplay, including many missing features and playing completely differently than the original games. Even the arcade to console ports of that era had problems maintaining the same gameplay due to huge hardware differences and code having to be completely re-written for the different platforms.

Fast forward to the year 2012, modern mobile technology has advanced exponentially. Now mobile platforms have power comparable to their console cousins. And in the case of Mortal Kombat, its engine is based on Unreal Engine 3 which has support for both the PlayStation 3 and the brand portable by Sony, thePlayStation Vita. So when porting a game between the two platforms the end result can be much closer to each other.

When I first heard Mortal Kombat was coming to the Vita, I was expecting a different game built from the ground up with lots of gimmicks substituted for the core gameplay. That is not what Mortal Kombat for the PS Vita is at all. Instead, what we got was a near direct port of the console game with almost nothing sacrificed at all and that plays exactly as its console counterpart. Plus the developers, NetherRealm Studios, even added some new Vita-exclusive content that provides hours of new gameplay for those looking for something more bang for their buck.

CHANGES MADE FOR VITA

As we said, Mortal Kombat on the Vita is pretty much the same exact game you've been playing for the last year on your console of choice. All the features you enjoyed have returned. From the award winning Story Mode, Arcade Ladder, Tag Team mode, the 300 Challenge Tower missions and even all the various "Test Your ..." mini-games are all here. You can still spend your coins in the Krypt and browse your character stats and all the unlocked concept art and music in the Krypt. Let us also not forget the mode the competitive fighting game players love the most, Practice mode.

Actually the only major feature from the consoles game that didn't make it over is the online King of the Hill mode. Seeing that feature really pushed the limits of the consoles, I can see why it was removed. Another minor missing feature is the online lobby & chat system, which may have been removed to make players use the Vita's built in Party system. I would have still liked to see this feature though as it made organizing events easier for people who aren't already friends. We also noticed that Kratos' stage, "Chamber of the Flame" was removed. This isn't a huge loss since it's been banned in the competitive scene due to how the stage shakes and disrupts players.

The final notable thing that changed are graphics of the game. There are necessary changes to the game's graphics due to the PlayStation Vita having slightly less processing power than the PS3. The reduction is necessary to maintain the game's expected 60fps. Most of the time the differences are not noticeable since the game runs at a blistering fast 60fps like its console counterpart. The only time the differences in the graphics are actually noticeable is when the game zooms in on a player before or after a match.

Similarly, the other place it's really evident is in Story Mode where you can definitely tell when the game switches from pre-rendered console engine graphics to the live Vita engine. On the console this switching was seamless and barely noticeable to players. The overall experience I took away from these graphical changes was that during game play the graphical differences are not obvious or distracting, as you lose yourself in the fun of playing the game.

On a positive note the game retains the highly detailed and lively backgrounds from the console counterparts. This is something that really separates it from the other Vita fighting games available right now for the PlayStation Vita. For instance Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 uses a few static backgrounds in their Vita port. Not everyone will agree with me, but their backgrounds have a cheap feel. Mortal Kombat retaining their lively and moving 3D backgrounds makes this version retain the immersion featured prominently in the console version of the game.

Also I’d like to make special mention to judge the game just on the basis of screenshots. This game looks great in motion on the actual Vita OLED screen. Just looking at a few still screenshots on your PC monitor doesn’t do the game justice.

VITA EXCLUSIVES

One thing that many games have done when making the move to the Vita is that developers made it a point to change their game play to take advantage of each and every Vita hardware feature. This is often due to pressure from Sony to show off the many features of the new hardware. NetherRealm seems to have resisted that, and instead created unique new content for the Vita version of the game instead of re-working all their existing content.

Actually the only part of the consoles’ game mechanics that was changed for the Vita was giving players an alternative method of execution. Now you can tap the pulsating "X-Ray" button once your meter is full instead of engaging it by pressing the shoulder buttons together. You can also execute all the Fatalities by just swiping across on the screen instead of inputting them manually. But if you are stuck in your old ways, nothing is forcing you do doing it the new way either. I found this approach was great because I was not forced into using them. Instead as I grew accustomed to the new methods I gradually started to use them.

The most exciting new Vita exclusive content that NetherRealm added is a completely new "Bonus Challenge Tower" with 150 completely new Vita specific missions. Included in this tower are two new "Test Your" mini games.

The first is Test Your Slice which is a re-worked version of Half Brick Studio's popular touch screen mobile game Fruit Ninja, only now instead of fruit you slice at severed body parts with your finger while avoiding bombs. Test Your Slice adds unique power-ups and game rules that are not only fun, but ends up being quite challenging. Nothing is more rewarding than hitting a Toasty Mode power-up and having a quick 25 items fill the screen for you to swipe at as fast as possible while still avoiding incoming bombs.

There are a total of 15 different challenging levels of Test Your Slice, 10 of which you'll encounter in the Bonus Challenge Tower. The later five missions are more challenging and will test your wits if you want the Trophy for clearing them all. The only thing I wish they added was one more Test Your Slice mission with no score cap that has a leaderboard to compete against your friends on.

The other new Vita exclusive mode is Test Your Balance. In this mode you are put on a small platform out over a pit of death. You have then then tilt your PlayStation Vita to maintain balance as body parts are thrown at you. Later stages have you having to maintain balance in a certain part of the meter.

While I started out liking this mode, it got incredibly hard to the level that I found it more frustrating than fun. There are just ten different levels of difficulty for you to complete in order to snag the PSN Trophy, but be careful it will not be easy!

Other missions in the Bonus Challenge Tower have you doing things like tapping on your opponent to remove its armor, juggling characters with touch screen rockets, wiping blood off of the screen, to throwing parts of your body across the screen with your finger. They really went hog wild in mixing up the Vita's hardware features into new difficult challenges for the players.

As you continue up the tower you learn more and more ways to use the Vita hardware during fights until you reach the End Game II mission where you have to put these learned skills to use to win.

Like the previous Challenge Tower, the development team added a bunch of humorous pre-fight dialogue and even some inside jokes and references just for fans of the series. Like the mission "Isn't It Marvelous!" where Johnny Cage mocks just having to tap the screen to win, just like the game feature from Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 for the Vita.

You'll even get the chance to play as the boss characters Shao Kahn and Kintaro for the first time in the Bonus Challenge Tower. They both have their own performable special moves, combos and maybe even Fatalities.

One change from last time, is that in this tower you will unlock Vita exclusive content as you progress the tower. There are sixteen new characters skins awaiting for you to discover. Also, who knows what other earth shattering secrets may lie in the bonus tower. For help unlocking and finding this secret content check out TRMK's Mortal Kombat Vita Forums where we will have guides up later this week detailing everything for you.

There is one Vita exclusive however that is getting a lot of attention that really shouldn't be. That feature is the "Augmented Reality Training Mode." This is really just an easter egg, not a line item feature at all despite many blogs saying otherwise. While it can be fun for a bit is pretty pointless because it's only available in training mode and the PS Vita camera quality leaves something to be desired. Lets not mention it's not even really Augmented Reality either.

Because the camera quality is so poor I wish you could instead select a still image or movie from the Vita's memory card. You'd be giving the users a way to basically create their own stages. That could result in more interesting and better looking results. Then just add a way to share it on Facebook or Twitter, and you got a new viral sensation for the community. Like below I added a Street Fighter background to the arena using the camera.

THE IMPORTANT PART, GAMEPLAY!

With all the changes and additions it plays just like the game we love already, and that's important. It's not often that the mobile port maintains a symmetry with it's bigger brother. On the Vita the same combos I can pull off on the console work just fine here.

During interviews at PAX East there was a bit of talk of minor changes on the Vita "fix busted combos that abused scaling holes". We have no official word on what changes were exactly made, but so far in limited testing the game physics appear to behave exactly as you expect. This includes some existing combo resets that we confirmed still work. It is likely that some of the major exploits that exist today on the consoles are patched out of the Vita version, but what was changed is not currently known.

Some of the interviews during PAX made mention that the game uses the same hotfix system as the console side. So it's possible NetherRealm will continue to keep all three versions of the game working similarly going forward.

One possible issue though was just brought up just yesterday. It has been reported that Sindel combos have been nerfed on the Vita. This is not the first time this nerf has occurred. So because of that no one is sure if it is simply an overlooked bug or a sign of an upcoming hotfix change for the consoles. Only time will tell.

One issue that some people will have gameplay wise with the Vita is that its buttons and d-pad/analog stick are your only options. Adding a different controller is not possible and pretty much defeats the purpose of the portable console. So if you are not a fan of the Vita's control style and prefer to play with an arcade style joystick, then this game may not be for you.

To ease the pain of the Vita hardware itself, it may be helpful for some people to use accessory grips for the device. I just ordered a set of PDP's Trigger Grips to test out with the system and the game. Look for feedback on that at a later date.

Despite all above, the important thing is that you can pick up the Vita version and once you adjust to the controls you can pull off the same combos from the consoles.

KOMBAT ANYWHERE!

One major difference between console and portable Mortal Kombat games is the complete lack of online play in the past iterations of the game. Typically in the past the mobile versions of games don't have any form of online play. You could typically link two handhelds together with a cable, but if you had no one to play nearby you had no one but the AI to play against.

In Mortal Kombat: Unchained for the PlayStation Portable it had only a Versus mode where you could play each other via local ad-hoc wireless networks. While that feature remains in Mortal Kombat for the PlayStation Vita, there is not much you can do with that feature if no one immediately nearby has both the game and a Vita.

I didn't get a chance to test ad-hoc on the final version of the game. But back a few months ago I used it at the Vita Hill Social Club's Mortal Kombat Demo Event and it worked flawlessly. Not only that, but was dead simple to setup. Felt was like you were playing on the same console, with no lag at all. It even transmits your voice from your Vita if you want too.

Thankfully for people without friends in your house with a Vita, online Internet play finally makes its way to a portable system with this port of Mortal Kombat. As long as you are nearby a WiFi hotspot at home, or while out and about, you can log into PSN and play other players with the game as easily as you could with a console.

When playing over WiFi there are RANKED, PLAYER and PRIVATE match options available to you just as before. RANKED randomly matches you up with someone with no way to bail on the game when you see their win/loss record without taking a penalty against your record. But if lighter competition is your game, then both PLAYER and PRIVATE matches show your opponent's stats before you accept the game, and also offers you the ability to rematch against that player again if you so wish.

In addition to those online modes, are also given access to both your overall stats and online leader boards which also includes a hall of fame.

In the over fifty online matches I've had, lag spikes were few and far between over my home's WiFi connection. I had only one game that was totally unplayable that resulted in the player dropping out on me. So I'd say it works as good if not better than the PlayStation 3's online play over my same internet connection. If you have problems playing online currently with your internet connection, this game wont make it suddenly better. I played on a few vastly different WiFi networks, some of which was a public WiFi network with other people on it, and had no problems finding and playing games.

The one main issue I see with the PlayStation Vita multiplayer, is that you can't tell when the other player is trying to talk to you. I typically keep my mic muted, which is the default behavior, but I'd switch it back over if I see them trying to talk. This may actually be a limitation on Sony's end, and if so I hope a future patch includes the ability for games to indicate to other players when the mic is being used.

In order to maintain this quality of online play, NetherRealm decided to not allow for online games over the 3G connection for those who bought a PS Vita with 3G capabilities. Current generation of 3G connections are not reliable enough to provide end users a reliable connection for online play. I read that a Mortal Kombat competitor is working on changing that, but I'll believe it when I see it. I personally feel that until LTE wireless makes it to portable systems, online play for fighting games on anything but Broadband over WiFi will not be a fun experience.

CONCLUSION RECAP

The game has a whole lot of content available and is easily worth the $40 price. You will find after picking this game up that you now have a LOT of game content to play, much more than the console counterparts due to the new additions for the Vita. After a few days of almost non-stop playing of the game, I still have quite a bit of content left untouched. Some of the new Bonus Challenge missions I skipped over due to difficulty, and I'm looking forward to clearing it out as well as finishing up Story Mode.

While the graphics may not be as good as the console version of the game, it doesn't distract from the game itself. After years of portable games not playing similarly to the arcade or console counterpart, I'm happy to have what I feel is a comparible experience.

One of the questions I have heard a lot of fans ask me is, "I love Mortal Kombat, should I buy a Vita and this game?" The way I see it, there are going to be two major use cases for this game.

The first is that of a tournament pro player, someone who wants to have more opportunities to practice their combos and strategies on the go. Because the game lacks 3G play, you won't be able to play ANYWHERE but if you have access to a WiFi hotspot or friends with Vitas you can connect and get some real games going. Since the gameplay is almost identical to the consoles having this will be useful if you are waiting for your turn and want to warm up while at a tournament. Or it would make practice easier on the road with other players on your way to a tournament. I see a lot of opportunity here for these players to really take advantage of Mortal Kombat for Vita as a training tool to up their game even further.

The other type of player that would benefit from this game would be that of players who have to share a common TV with other people. Being able to play Mortal Kombat anytime on your Vita while the TV is in use is a very nice thing to have in a crowded household. The majority of time I was playing the game for this review was while watching movies on my TV or while someone else played an Xbox game. It really is nice to have a powerful portable system capable of AAA quality games with real physical controls instead of cheaper touch screen only smartphone games.

Be sure to swing by TRMK's Mortal Kombat Vita Forums for our strategy and FAQ guides on the game as well as user reviews, discussion & feedback.

If either of these cases is something you can see fitting into your life, then I think it's an easy case to buy a Vita and Mortal Kombat.

PROS

  • Mortal Kombat that you can take with you.
  • Plays identical to its console cousin.
  • Hours of fun and challenging Vita exclusive content.
  • Test Your Slice is lots of fun.
  • All of the content from the console edition.

CONS

  • Graphics are of lower quality than the console counterpart.
  • Online is missing King of the Hill and the Lobby Chat Rooms.
  • No way to tell players are using their mic online.
  • "Augmented Reality" arena easter egg is being over hyped as a feature.
  • Not enough Test Your Slice missions.

RATING: 4 out of 5

Thanks to everyone who I got the opportunity play online against the last few days. Especially Delriach and STORMS for the good games and gameplay feedback.

Disclaimer: While I received an advance copy of the game from Warner Bros. to review, we were not required to write a positive review or provide them a copy or synopsis of the review prior to publishing.

2 Comments
Posted by DubbleChrisp

Excellently written review. Good on ya, mate.

Posted by mccarron

Thank you very much, glad you liked it!

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