Mortal Kombat 2011 Single Player Review: Story Mode, Challenge Tower, Arcade Ladders and Mini-Games

More of the same?

The Mortal Kombat series has shed fans over the years. The Golden Age was Mortal Kombat II, the Silver Age Mortal Kombat III. After the release of Ultimate Mortal Kombat III, things started downhill. Released on April 19, 2011, is the new Mortal Kombat (no number on this title) more of the same? No. Is it fun? Yes. Who knew that taking the series back to principles from the earliest titles would go so far as to resurrect this much interest in the series? Well, the fans did, and Boon listened.

Story Mode

Mortal Kombat 2011 has raised the bar when it comes to single-player content and story presentation in a fighting game. The Story Mode will take a player a couple hours to complete. It is broken into 16 chapters, each having at least four fights with a given character. Some players may be put off by the Story Mode because they cannot choose which fighter they are using and they cannot perform fatalities. Others will enjoy the cinematic feel of the presentation. Before and after each fight, lengthy in-game cut scenes are presented, giving context to each bout. Younger players will also be able to experience a version of the Mortal Kombat lore from the first three games. This is a lore they might not have ever seen considering the original game was released almost 20 years ago in 1992. Each fight that you win advances the story and awards you some koins (the game's currency). Story Mode is great at forcing players to use different characters that they may not have tried before.

While fantastic, the Story Mode does not offer much in the way of re-playability. It is linear, and the scenes do not change. You are not able to skip the scenes, either. Only hardcore fans or those that wish to record the gameplay for YouTube will visit this mode more than once. Still, even with these pitfalls, more fighting games needs to sit and take a lesson from Mortal Kombat on how to present their story in a clear, coherent, fun manner.

The Challenge Tower

The Challenge Tower is also a single-player environment. It has 300 fights and events, each with a specific challenge. The fights have modifers added, such as having your arms removed, which disables any punching attacks. My favorite thus far has been a fight where your character slows down all animations by 1% for each second the fight is still on. There are also events in addition to fights. Each event is one of the the following: Test Your Might, Test Your Strike, Test Your Sight, or Test Your Luck. More on the events later. For each challenge you complete, you are awarded the next challenge on the tower as well as some koins to spend in the crypt. The challenge tower will take a few days to beat, even for an experienced player, due to what I call "Tower Fatigue." After 50 challenges in a row, it's time for a break!

The Arcade Ladders

If the Story Mode and Challenge Tower were not enough content for you, you also get the classic Arcade Ladders. These are the towers we saw in MK, MK II, and all incarnations of MK III. You choose your fighter and the game difficulty. You then face a series of matches against AI opponents, culminating in a battle with the game's end-boss. Each of these end with a character story about the fighter you used to beat the game with. These are different from the Story Mode. There is also a PS3 trophy and Xbox 360 achievement for beating the ladder with all characters.Unlike story mode, you can perform your fatalities at the end of the fights! Some players may skip the Story Mode altogether and get right into the classic Arcade Ladders just for this reason. You earn koins in this mode for winning fights and pulling off combos.

The Side Events

There are four Side Events that you can play through. In the beginning, most are locked. You unlock these by progressing through the challenge tower and beating the events there. Some players may not ever use this mode, feeling that conquering each event once in the tower is enough. Others might want to challenge their friends.

Test Your Might is the first event, and it's a return to classic MK roots. Just as in the original game, you are presented with an object to break. You mash on the attack buttons to build up power. Once your power meter is above the line required to break the object, hit one of the shoulder buttons to unleash your strike. If you fail, you die. If you are successful, you break the object and get some koin.

Test Your Strike is similar to Test Your Might. Instead of one object, there are usually several objects stacked together. Your goal is to break only one in the center of the pile. Instead of a line to cross in the power meter, there is a box where you must keep the power contained. Stay within the box for a few moments, and the meter will turn green. This is when you unleash your strike. If successful, you are awarded koin. If not, you die.

Test Your Sight is the third event. There is an object under a cup. Sometimes it's an MK amulet under steel cups, others it's an eyeball under human skulls. The cups are mixed, and then you must select the cup that contains the object. Again, if you are successful you are paid, and if not your character dies.

Test Your Luck is the oddball of the group. You are thrust into a fight with an opponent. Before the fight, you spin slot reels. The reels can determine your fighter, your opponent, and one of several modifiers to the fight. Sometimes you get lucky and get a jackpot of koin. Other times, you are unlucky and get poisoned, slowly draining your health through the fight. Or, the screen could be turned upside down, or the slots decide to remove your character's limbs and force you to fight handicapped. The possibilities are many and sometimes hilarious.

The Fights

The meat and potatoes of this game. The fighting engine has been overhauled compared to classic Mortal Kombat games. For the first time since MK IV, the fighting is back on a 2D plane. Projectiles are deadly again since your opponent cannot simply dash into the foreground or background to avoid them. Unlike past classic MKs, each character has a distinctive feel. The back punch for one character has different timing and animation compared to the back punch for all other characters. These are not the carbon-copy clones we remember.

Each character has a set of combos and special moves. You can string these combos and moves together into impressive air juggles. One of the trophies/achievements for the game is to get a 10-hit or higher combo on an opponent. Many of the challenges in the Challenge Tower are built around having you discover these chains and exploit them to pass a test. For example, with Scorpion, you can jump in with an air punch, hit two quick jabs, then use your spear, and then transition into a long punch-punch-kick combo for some nice damage. Expert players can continue the assault and string together combos that can take upward of 40% of your lifebar. Note that this is not Tekken, and you cannot make up your own standard striking combos. All combos are listed and have a pre-set animation.

A super-meter has been added to the fray. Each meter has three levels. At level one, you can unleash an overpowered special move. This move is typically faster and does slightly more damage than the normal special. This will cost one bar of your meter. At level 2, you can unleash a combo-breaker. This will stop the onslaught of your opponent and give you a split-second opening for a counter attack. This eats two bars. At level 3, you can unleash your X-Ray attack. This is equivalent to a super-move. The action slows, and an x-ray view gives you the specifics on the internal damage you are inflicting to your opponents. My only gripe with the X-Rays is that not all are created equal. Characters like Kano will give you 41% damage, while Sub-Zero will only hit for 32%. Some players may argue that it's close enough, but for a close finish, those extra percentage points mean the difference between victory and defeat. I hope this is one thing the developers are able to "quick-balance" in the game.

At the end of a fight, as with all Mortal Kombat games, you are given one last chance to finish your opponent off (unless you are in Story Mode or the Challenge Tower). Each character has at least two fatalities, one stage finishing move, and a babality. The fatalities are gruesome ways your fighter kills his opponent. There will be buckets of blood and limbs flying. The stage finishing moves are specific to each stage. Some stages do not have one. You use the environment to kill your opponent. The most famous example is the Pit, where you throw your opponent off the bridge onto a floor of spikes below. This time, then end result is more gruesome, with a liver/stomach/something stuck to the end of the impaling spike. Babalities make a return, where your character turns your opponent into a baby. These moves are not listed and are secret.

Final Thoughts

The game is deeper than I expected it to be. The fighting engine is accessible to new players, but will keep experienced vets fighting in order to figure out how to get their deadliest combo chain a few percentage points higher. The single-player content is plentiful, which is a boon for PS3 owners who cannot go online due to the PSN outage. I would not recommend this game as Game-Of-The-Year, but I would say it's a must-buy for any fighting game fan or Mortal Kombat fan.

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