Monday, June 22, 2015

Mortal Kombat X - Mobile Edition

[Moral Kombat X (mobile), NetherRealm Studios, Warner Bros. Entertainment, 2015]

The Violentest Game Ever Comes to Your Apple and Android Device

That's right, the title that brought us the E for everyone, E10+, T for teen, and M for mature game rating system has finally come to your mobile device of choice, and not in a throwback nod to the original 1992 version, but in the form of a massive 1.1 Gigabyte, state-of-the-art addition to the wildly popular console title of the same name. Although it requires a hefty bit of free memory to download, it's worth every penny. By that I don't mean to insult the game. That was my witty way of saying, "It's FREE!" That's right, for once a game that isn't made for 6-year-olds that involves colored, avian balls or talking cats. This one is for the Mature gaming audience, down to the inclusion of the ever-controversial Fatalities. If you haven't had the pleasure of witnessing the brutal, match-ending murders that take place in this title, let me be the first to tell you that they maybe the most violent thing I've ever seen in a video game to date including the multitude of Calls of Duty, Auto Theft of the Grandest Kind, and their ultra-violent cousins in the gaming universe. 

First, a Little History

Not only is Mortal Kombat singly responsible for the ratings system we now have on all games, but it was the proud owner of the highest opening weekend sales for a short time following the release of Mortal Kombat II. Not only that, but it signalled a shift in financial paradigms. The debut weekend sales of $50 million marked the first time that a video game surpassed Hollywood movies in opening weekend sales. In the summer of 1994, it topped every last Hollywood blockbuster from that year including Mask, True Lies, Forrest Gump, and Lion King. Considering the acceptably arguable statement that this list includes both Jim Carrie's and Arnold Schwarzenegger's best films as well as the best thing Disney has done in decades, then top it off with a six-time Academy Award winning film that garnered Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director awards, among others. 

MKII didn't just beat a bunch of humps. That list makes up one of the best ever in combined quality of summer blockbusters. Go ahead, tell me you'd rather see Avengers 2, Furious 7, Jurassic World, and the remake of Poltergeist for the first time instead of getting a second chance at reliving your first viewing of that list from 1994, but be prepared to be called a stinking liar. Fair warning. 

MKII didn't just create a new set of laws about what kids could and couldn't play with it's murderous violence, it was THE pioneer in a change in the way investors look at our top two forms of entertainment. What had been seen as the purvey of sad loners and prepubescents busted onto the scene with blood-dripping savagery, proving that this was an art form that would not be ignored. Yes, I believe games, especially the really good ones, to be a form of art on par with film, television, literature, comics, photography, painting, and any other traditional and/or non-traditional undertakings that require great creativity to produce. The trend that was started in 1994 by the most violent video game created up to that time has continued and the gap in revenues between games and movies has only grown since that time. 

Pop culture they may be, but I challenge you to play Valiant Hearts and not cry at the touching emotion found within, or Contrast and not spend the next several days contemplating the possibilities of the multiverse and all the variations to existence that title implies. My old man might argue with me, but he doesn't believe that Hip Hip is an art form, either. My immediate retort is, if rhyme isn't an artform, then what was Shakespeare doing penning those 34 plays and 154 sonnets that are nearly all about sex, violence, war, and murder? His answer is always Gangsta Rap. My answer is Tribe Called Quest, Digable Planets, and pretty much the entire Ninja Tune catalog. He doesn't know I'm speaking English. The saddest part about that is that we're all inevitably going to turn into our parents. Argh. Oh well, enough losing the plot, let's get back to the game!


I Used to Know Every Fatality in the Game

I even knew the Babalities and other alternative endings. However, that was in 1994-96 or so. Along with the free mobile versions of Mortal Kombat X, I also purchased the Xbox One version, but I've spent twice as much time playing the iPad version as I have on the console one. One of the big reasons for that, I suspect, is that I have forgotten the vast majority of special moves and Fatalities. Luckily, that doesn't matter in the mobile version. Anybody can pick up this game and be decent at it. You don't have to spend hours memorizing controller combinations then practicing them in two-player mode against nobody. The control scheme for the mobile title is exactly what all successful mobile title control schemes are: simple. You tap the screen with one finger to attack and hold down two fingers to block. That's pretty much it. There are occasional prompts to swipe the screen for extra moves as seen above 
and successful attacks build your special attack meter, which appears on the bottom left as seen below. 

So It's Easy to Play, What's the Game About?

What is any fighting game about? Kicking arse and leaving the dead in your wake! Like all previous Mortal Kombat Games, they attempt to put some unintelligible plotline together about Elder Gods, invading demons, some evil God, and some sort of tournament for the future of "Earth Realm." It falls as flat on my 2015 ears as it did on my 1994 pair, but it doesn't really matter. If you're playing Mortal Kombat for the plotline, then I'm afraid it's you who have lost the plot, seriously and to an unrecoverable point. 

Force + Form

The gameplay itself takes on a singular form with several small variations. Basically, you pick a team of three fighters and they face off against three others. The fighting character can one of the two remaining ones if they have sustained too much damage or you just want to switch it up. There are three tiers of character: bronze, silver, and gold. Their attack, health, and recovery levels increase significantly with each jump in the corresponding metal's worth. You can also purchase increases in these statistical categories for individual characters using "Koins" (See what they did there? :-) or by earning equipment through battle. The equipment can be moved from character to character, but the statistical category increases can not so choose wisely, unlike this poor Nazi sympathizer. 

There are usually two main types of gameplay with a special offering going on now for a limited time. The first is Battle Mode. Here you move from tower to tower taking on (usually) six groups of opponents that contain three fighters each. There are 33 such towers and you must beat every group in each of them to beat the game. The second is Faction Wars. This takes you online to fight against other real players' teams. While it's not a true online multiplayer in the same sense as Call of Duty or Elder Scrolls Online where you are facing off against other players live in real time, it brings an interesting aspect to the gameplay in that you never really know who you're going to face. Sometimes you get three bronze level characters who belong to a level 4 player. Other times it's two golds and a silver that have been carefully crafted by a level 35 opponent. Although I would prefer live face-offs against real opponents, I'm not sure that mobile platforms are up to that challenge yet, at least with a game of this size and graphic superiority. I'm afraid it would cause lag of unbearable proportions that would make the game mode unplayable.

Whatever the developers' reasoning, they have mostly made up for the lack of true online battles with the addition of factions. You join a particular faction at the beginning of every week. Depending on how many points you get for your faction and how well the team does throughout the week, you will get a certain set of rewards. If your team comes in last, guess what? Sucky rewards. First place, though, and it's rare equipment and statistical increases out the wazoo, not to mention the money. 

Finally, there are the limited time Character Challenge Towers. This week completion of the challenge will land you Raiden, my personal favorite character in the MK series. You have to complete five increasingly difficult towers in order to earn the elusive character types, and keep your eye on that clock, because if you haven't completed every last one before it runs out then you're S.O.L. 

Summ Fun, Huh?

I had initially planned to review the console version of Mortal Kombat X, but while in the Play Store looking for a companion app, I discovered this free game and decided to give it a try, especially considering I haven't discussed a mobile game for some time now and there are considerably more readers with smartphones out there than next-gen consoles. I was afraid I would quickly lose interest and long for the console game, but that hasn't happened. If anything, it's a relief to not be forced into re-learning special moves and Fatalities combinations that I used to know by heart but have long since forgotten. Don't get me wrong, the console version is far and away the best fighting game I've played in years. That said, NetherRealm Studios did a fantastic job in creating this game and not trying to push the control scheme past the abilities of the platform to handle. There's nothing I hate more than trying to play a game on my phone or tablet where the controller is drawn onto the screen. My thumbs continually slip off their appointed areas and it's nearly impossible to control them with any semblance of dexterity. So, if you're looking for a mobile app that is high on action, graphics, and gameplay options, give Mortal Kombat X a try (unless you're too young). Even if you haven't played an MK title since high school, you should be able to pick it up quickly and easily, and you'll have a lot more fun than flinging around a flock of angry pigeons in the process. 

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 for vastly exceeding my expectations and making a really solid mobile version that could very easily have turned out to be nothing more than a piss-poor carbon copy of the actual game.

Penalties: -1 I almost feel bad for taking a point away for this, but if you're going to call it "Fight Online" then you should supply an online opponent, not a team of Avatars that someone else created. That said, I don't know the logistics of online match play on mobile platforms, especially for a game of this size and memory requirements. I'd like to give them a pass, but I've got to take off for something. 

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10. Well worth your time and attention.

See here for our scoring system.