Tag Archive: sonya blade


Not a Flawless Victory

Growing up, whenever the subject of fighting games arose among my group of friends, everyone found themselves in one of two camps: Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat. I readily admit I was in the MK camp (kamp?). The franchise seemed to put a larger emphasis on the story, which appealed to me, and of course, there was the blood and gore—and the controversy over that element would eventually lead to the formation of the ESRB.

Now, with the 10th main game in the series upon us—and as someone who’s been playing the series fanatically since the early days—it’s interesting to see that Mortal Kombat X is, in many ways, attempting to get back to basics when it comes to what the franchise has always been about.

The first aspect of this is MKX’s Story mode, which takes place primarily 25 years after the events of the previous game. Shao Khan is dead, and Outworld has been thrown into turmoil courtesy of a civil war between two of his lieutenants who’ve made claims to the throne—the ramifications of which are starting to spill over into Earthrealm. Meanwhile, minions of an old enemy, the fallen Elder God Shinnok, are moving in the shadows in an attempt to bring their imprisoned master back.

Whenever NetherRealm discussed MKX, the plotline was one of the key points of emphasis. We were told it would be an epic tale that brought kombatants old and new together against an unforeseen threat. But considering that it was a point of focus for the team and that MK9 provided a strong foundation to build on, I can’t help but see MKX’s Story mode as anything short of disappointing. Part of my frustration comes from the fact that NetherRealm touted a nonlinear story here, but MKX plays out the same way Injustice:Gods Among Us and MK9 did. It’s nothing new.

The nonlinear aspects simply come from flashbacks seen far too frequently that are meant to drive the main storyline forward in a singular fashion. They’re there to fill in the blanks, add missing backstory, and make desperate attempts at character development—necessitated by the drastic leap forward in time between games. If you lose a fight, whether in the past or the present, you still need to beat it if you want to move forward and see the next cutscene (or use a cheap “skip fight” token that can be earned in the Krypt, MK’s interactive way of unlocking extra in-game content via ‘Koins’ earned by playing the game).

The saddest part of MKX’s Story mode, though, might be the glimmers of greatness the game tantalizingly teases. Plenty of interesting subplots are hinted at throughout—like how character relationships between old fighters and new have evolved in 25 years, especially those with familial ties. There’s also Outworld’s civil war, which could’ve been more deeply explored and fleshed out, given how central a role it was supposed to play. Instead, it feels like Story mode tries to cram in too many ancillary tales that, while interesting, are never properly explored. And considering that MKX is 25 percent shorter in terms of chapters than MK9, I was left wanting more in the worst way.

On the flip side of that, admittedly, you can also get too much of a good thing. The game ships with 24 fighters, only a couple less than MK9, but each one has three variations that offer different abilities. For example, Kenshi’s three variations are essentially the moves he debuted with in Deadly Alliance, those he used in MK9, and a brand-new set for MKX that allows him to manifest the spirits that possess his enchanted blade and use them offensively. Personally, I found it too much trouble to learn all the variations for each fighter. Once I found one I liked, I’d simply ignore the other two.

The entire process of experimenting with the variations is frustrating in and of itself—I think people who are into fighting games want to figure out who their “main” is as quickly as possible, so giving them 72 options just feels like overkill. I’d rather have 10 more playable characters and none of the variations than to have all these degrees of gradation.

At the very least, the fighters who do show up—16 of which we’ve seen in previous MK games, along with eight new faces—all feel truly distinct, even if their own internal variations don’t. While a few elements seem lifted from Injustice, such as Ferra/Torr’s Bane-like charge attacks or Kung Jin somewhat resembling like Green Arrow, the returning characters feel like I expected (in a good way), while the debuting fighters all bring something new to the table.

The combination of Ferra/Torr, which sees the diminutive Ferra riding atop the hulking brute Torr’s shoulders as part of an odd symbiotic relationship, has amazing range when Torr swings Ferra around like a club. I also loved playing as Cassie Cage, because she’s such a smooth blend of her parents, MK icons Sonya Blade and Johnny Cage. She quickly became one of my favorites—not just for her fighting, but also her one-liners.

Takeda feels the most distinct of all the new characters in terms of gameplay with his whip attacks and arsenal of different weapons. Both Erron Black and Kung Jin took some getting used to, but they’ve got some absolutely punishing combos once you begin to master them. Kotal Kahn is your typical slow, powerful brawler, but his sun beam that heals him but hurts opponents makes for interesting zoning strategy in battle. Jacqui didn’t really move my needle either way, since she felt like just a faster Jax, and the insect-like D’Vorah was a fighter I just couldn’t get a handle on no matter how hard I tried.

When I finally figured out what variations worked best for me, what characters I wanted to stick with, and who I’d be comfortable competing with online, I found that perhaps the most important part of a fighting game—the actual fighting—was better than ever. The combos flow smoothly, and no character feels too overpowered. Some moves are tweaked from previous versions, like slowing down Sub-Zero’s ice ball and Scorpion’s spear, but only in the interest of preventing spamming. I was surprised at how quickly I was able to adapt to the changes, which makes me think they’re all for the better.

For as good as the combat is, though, the post-fight action might be even better. Fatalities are easier than ever to pull off—and, at this point, it’s almost comical how gory they’ve gotten. Of course, it’s still immensely satisfying to make someone’s head explode with Raiden, rip apart someone’s spine with Sub-Zero, or absolutely eviscerate them with new characters like Ferra/Torr.

What surprised me more, however, was how great it feels to pull off the returning Brutalities. While they’re not as bloody, Brutalities are sometimes more difficult because they need to be executed as the last move of the final round—and some of the conditions are as brutal as the punishment one could end up delivering with the moves. So, suffocating someone with Reptile, kneecapping them with Erron Black, or punching them in the face until their neck breaks with Kung Lao is sometimes even cooler. The game even includes stage-oriented Brutalities.

But that’s not all that will make you want to keep fighting until the wee hours of the morning. A new feature in the form of the Living Towers and an old one in the Krypt provide a tremendous amount of additional content. The Living Towers are three ladders that provide fresh battles with new stipulations every hour, day, and week, constantly pushing you to test your skills in different ways.

The Krypt, meanwhile, has been transformed from a glorified gallery into almost an adventure game within itself as you explore a graveyard, caves, a mausoleum, and more from a first-person perspective, with more of the world unlocking as you find iconic Mortal Kombat weapons—Scorpion’s spear or Kung Lao’s hat, for instance. There’s even random quicktime events that have you wrestling with threats that can pop out of nowhere now and that reward you with more Koins if you succeed. In the Krypt, you’ll find concept art, Test Your Luck modifiers, and more Fatalities and Brutalities for each character, but after unlocking nearly 100 tombs in the Krypt, I do wish there were a few more interesting things to find.

Mortal Kombat X feels, in many ways, like one step forward and two steps back. I can’t get over the lack of depth when it came to Story mode, and the fighter variations aren’t as interesting as I’d hoped. However, once I finally found my favorites, the actual fighting still felt great. And with the Living Towers promising to keep the game perpetually fresh, I found there’s still plenty here to keep me coming back for more in the future.

Developer: NetherRealm Studios • Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 04.14.15
7.5
When it comes to the gameplay, Mortal Kombat X is a solid fighting game, but a small roster and shoddy story hold it back from being a complete experience.
The Good The combat feels smoother than ever, and the Living Towers keep the game fresh long after Story mode is over.
The Bad The narrative has a ton of interesting subplots—but not enough time for any of them to breathe or properly come to fruition.
The Ugly You fight against three fan-favorite characters in Story mode, but they’re not a playable part of the roster. I smell a second “Kombat Pack” already around the corner.
Mortal Kombat X is available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC, with versions for Xbox 360 and PS3 coming later. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for the benefit of this review.

Back when the game was first announced, if you told me that “family” was going to be one of the key themes of Mortal Kombat X, I’d have looked at you like you had two heads. This was the franchise that 7-year-old me lied to his parents about the level of violence in order to get the game for home consoles. This was a series built on the decapitated heads and severed limbs brought about by countless arcade players with nimble-enough fingers to pull off some impossible Fatalities. I never thought something as wholesome as “family” could fit into Mortal Kombat.

But leave it to the developers at NetherRealm Studios to turn even this concept on its head. At GDC 2015, I learned that Johnny Cage would return as a playable character in Mortal Kombat X, and I briefly got to go hands-on with him in the first chapter of the game’s story mode.

I’ve always enjoyed playing as Johnny Cage, but part of his charm as a character has always come from his interactions with his beloved Sonya Blade, since she acts as a grounding force for Johnny’s over-the-top bravado. To my delight, she was present throughout many of his cutscenes, too. It’s always nice to see one of gaming’s earliest power couples reunited (and doesn’t CageBlade sound infinitely more badass than Brangelina?). Throw daughter Cassie into the mix, and you’ve got the whole Cage bloodline present and accounted for here.

As the story begins, Shinnok, the fallen Elder God and master of the Netherrealm, tries to invade Earthrealm. Among Shinnok’s army of winged, fire-breathing demons are the reanimated, undead bodies of Sindel, Kabal, Stryker, Jax, and others controlled by Shinnok’s necromancer disciple, Quan Chi. As the world goes to hell around them, Johnny, Sonya, and Kenshi take a helicopter toward Raiden’s temple (where Shinnok is focusing his attack) in the hopes of possibly ending this war at the source—but, as you can imagine, things don’t go according to plan.

Mortal Kombat X’s story mode plays out similarly to Injustice: Gods Among Us. You’ll control a character for several fights that clump together as a chapter; that moves the story forward, and you’ll then take over as another character on the roster. This way, players can become familiar with multiple fighters if they’re new to the series, as well as experience the story from multiple points of view.

In Johnny’s case, his chapter consisted of four fights before I switched characters—or I would have, but the demo ended before I found out who would pilot Chapter Two. Johnny’s signature moves like the Shadow Kick and Green Flame were present and accounted for, and I even got to try out some environmental hazards, such as jumping off a wrecked car to close the distance on a far-away Scorpion and deliver a jump kick.

The game looked like one of the best new-gen titles yet, with each level providing an exquisite amount of detail. Whether it was Raiden’s temple or a destroyed city street surrounded by crumbling buildings, Mortal Kombat X looks nothing short of gorgeous. How it plays might be another story, however.

For example, I was a little taken aback that Johnny Cage felt slower than I remembered. I adapted by the end of the demo and delivered some solid combos by the time the chapter was over, but I don’t know if Johnny’s just gotten slower due to his age or whether the game as a whole is a half-step off, since I only got to play as him in the demo. Of course, it’s also difficult to judge based on only four fights.

Aside from this, it felt really good bashing people’s faces in, and I couldn’t help but get more amped up for the final game, where I can mess around with some Fatalities and Brutalities. Since we had only a limited amount of time, however, I only pulled off an X-ray maneuver.

In regards to the little bit I saw of the actual story, I’m also curious to see where all that goes. Kenshi and Jax were confirmed as appearing in-game during my playtime (Kenshi in cutscenes, Jax as one of Johnny’s opponents), and their kids are playable characters, too. There’s also Kung Lin being related to Kung Lao somehow, and even Scorpion has a fatherly relationship with Kenshi’s son, since he trained him. From what I saw, there seems to be a stronger emphasis on character relationships in the story here than in any previous Mortal Kombat game.

I imagine I’ll get some sort of payoff once I get to play the entire story mode come review time, but for now, this theme of “family” in Mortal Kombat X’s story is an intriguing one. It could serve as a welcome continued evolution of the series, or it might end up as an overplayed premise that makes the experience more cheesy than cool. As someone who’s been a fan since that very first chapter back in 1992, though, I think giving these longstanding characters more depth can only be a good thing.

Get Over Here!!

Something that has littered much of the Vita’s launch has been ports of popular games from last year that could easily make the transition. And fighting and racing games are typically the easiest of the easy for the bunch. So, I admit, when I heard Mortal Kombat was coming to the Vita, I just shook my head and figured “here we go again”.

But Ed Boon didn’t want that. And seeing an opportunity to play around with some new technology, wanted to make sure that there was something that made this version of Mortal Kombat a little special and differentiated it from it’s console brethren from a year ago. So at GDC, we were able to go hands on with Mortal Kombat for the Vita and the handful of new features were just enough to actually make the short list of Vita titles I’ve been excited for.

A lot of what made last year’s console Mortal Kombat great in the first place remains like the tight combat and story mode. But now there are special Vita-centric challenge towers that utilize the touch screen, like a fight where blood splatters on the screen with each hit and you have to wipe it away to see, and special new mini-games modes to go along with classics like Test Your Might. We were also told of an expanded ‘Krypt’ to show off some behind the scenes of the development of the Vita version.

The challenge tower was the first thing we looked at and to go along with the blood splatter mission, there was also a mission where you had to catch falling ‘koins’ by tapping them before they hit the ground and a juggling contest where you would tap missile launchers to bounce a falling ‘kombatant’ around and keep them from hitting the ground. The promise of even more missions and another challenge tower promises a lot more longevity to this new game. Not to mention one mission where you can play as Shao Khan…

The next thing we looked at were the two new mini-games: Test Your Slice and Test Your Balance. Test Your Balance takes advantage of the Vita’s built-in gyroscope and has a character balancing over a pit filled with blades, acid, or some other instant kill trap. Not only must you balance your character for a certain amount of time, but random body parts from previous balancers who failed will be thrown at you, trying to knock you into the pit below and adding an interesting challenge to this game that was a lot of fun.

But what was most surprising was Test Your Slice, which is basically Fruit Ninja, but with a Mortal Kombat flair. Instead of cutting fruit, you’ll be slicing apart brains, hearts, and skulls just to name a few body parts. There are also a few characters’ heads with special abilities, like Sub-Zero’s freezes the stage, thrown in as well. Just make sure to avoid the bombs. This, too, was a lot of fun and made great use of the Vita’s touch screen.

The most impressive part of the game though may have been the local connection we ended up trying out. Not a hint of lag with the inputs impressed me more than any other multiplayer feature for a Vita game to date as I used my preferred Sub-Zero to best my opponent’s Noob Saibot in three rounds. And what was really phenomenal was I then pulled off Sub-Zero’s classic beheading/de-spining Fatality by using the touch screen. Yes, Fatalities are easier than ever now as with a quick simple rubbing of the screen back and forth over my opponent and his head was my latest trophy for my wall.

All in all, this was easily the most impressed I’ve been with a Vita title to date, as even though it’s a port, it offers enough new features to keep old fans happy and hopefully brings in even more newcomers with its portability. And we can’t forget that it also features PS3 exclusive roster character Kratos and all the DLC characters as part of the package so I can’t wait to really put this fully through its paces when it releases sometime this Spring.

And if you want, the reveal trailer is embedded below for your convenience. FIGHT!

Originally Published: November 22, 2010, on ClassicGameRoom.com

As a part of CGR Undertow, I reviewed Mortal Kombat: Armageddon for the Wii, the final game in the MK storyline that features all 64 characters.