Mortal Kombat is somewhat of a gaming institution. While maybe not quite as iconic as Super Mario or Tetris, the series has a public cache to people who aren't even interested in video games.
And lets not kid ourselves. This is due to the spectacular amount of violence. The franchise has made its name, at least in the popular culture, due to the gregarious nature of it's brutality. That isn't to diminish the game's quality as a fighting series mind. While perhaps not as technical as Street Fighter, the series is immediately playable. That might drop it a few levels in the eyes of the hardcore fighting community, but for everyone else, there is a real accessibility to the franchise that makes it easy to play and easy to satiate a virtual bloodlust. This is popcorn, but a with some genuine substance. So it's like, Meaty, steak-y popcorn. (I'm not sure that analogy works…)
Mortal Kombat X is no different. As a whole, the game does little to rock the boat of the classic formula. Matches are rarely longer than a minute and half and the showmanship of its evisceration make it satisfying to play as well as spectate.
The cast of characters here are a great mix of old and new, bringing in a younger generation into the series as the children of the older roster and such. It's encouraging to see NetherRealm offer players their old favorites, while also trying to focus on a new cast of heroes that will bring the franchise forward. The variety is stellar too, with quick and nimble characters going toe to toe with heavy hitting, projectile and counter based ones. The visual and concept diversity of the fighters is a huge plus too, what with your lizard ninjas, thunder gods, movie star turned spec ops, Aztec emperors and a whole host of other characters. It's gloriously silly and it makes it enjoyable just to engage with Mortal Kombat on an aesthetic level. The game's character's breathe a vibrancy that is tough to not be charmed by.
But how about engaging with them? Mortal Kombat X has several unique ways of putting context to your battles that should offer variety for players who don't get enough of a kick out of just beating player's down. There is of course the Story mode which attempts to provide emotional context for the dismemberment you are subjecting poor opponents to.
As someone who has not spent much time with the Mortal Kombat lore, I'm staggered by the density of what NetherRealms has put together here. While everything feels deliciously like a B-Movie, when the narrative tries to take itself more seriously, it tends to stumble. Perhaps it gels for those more initiated with these characters, but for those who don't know much about the alliances, realms or inter-character relationships, there is no where to latch onto as the story blasts through its run-time. On another note, maybe it's just me, but having a world with the wise cracking Johnny Cage and people talking about world eating demons and demi-gods, when the campaign tries to add a little brevity to proceedings, it feels a little out of place.
On top of that, the cutscenes to fighting ratio in the Story Mode can be pretty egregious. You might sit through a six or seven minute cutscene to get to a 45 second fight. NetherRealm try to break this up with quick time events that are surprisingly dynamic, but it never masks the time I'm spending there not playing the game. This isn't to say that the story doesn't offer cheap thrills and a few fun moments, but I just can't recommend the game if that's your only interest.
Of course, I know this isn't your only interest. The interest should be in the fighting and showmanship, which NetherRealm knock out the park. Fights are just plain fun. As I said before, they are brief, but the dressing of the violence and the way the characters interact with each other uniquely to the match up makes them always feel substantial. Getting you head around move sets is pretty satisfying for players like me who aren't fighting game veterans. You'll be able to pull off strategies without having to remember more than one or two directions and a button. And then, of course you have the Fatalities. NetherRealm have gotten pretty creative with their disembowelment. Lots of them play for gags pretty effectively, exaggerating the over the top nature to get a blood smeared smile from the player. Having said that, some of these are pretty close to the bone. I'm not sure Mortal Kombat X ever crosses the line, but Fatalities like Ermac's "Inner Workings" go dangerously close. Obviously you wouldn't come to MKX without an awareness of the violence, but this is just fair warning.
The game does have Towers mode too, much like the original Mortal Kombat. That's where I had the most satisfying experience. This tasks you with fighting several characters, one after an other until you reach the top of the ladder. You then get a nice little animated cutscenes about what happened to your character and that's it. You can be done in just a over 10 minutes and get a decent sense of accomplishment. No frills and straight to the fighting. Bing, bang, boom. This is the optimal way to experience Mortal Kombat at least in my experience.
Mortal Kombat hasn't changed a lot since 1993, but that's to its credit. There aren't many series that could last with the same core formula for 22 years so it's a testament to the franchise that we're still buying it in droves. Despite the significant graphical update, this is Mortal Kombat through and through. It's like slipping back and watching an old 1990 ultra-violence action movie. It's trashy, but weirdly feels like home. I'm someone who really gets nothing out of 'nostalgia' either. This is a great core experience that'll serve people who have friends over and want a quick few rounds to crave a bloodlust. The 90s flavor is just the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down. While it missteps in several areas, the core experience of Mortal Kombat X is excellent and easily recommendable. Even if it will make the squimish stomachs turn. That is almost certainly the point though.