Street Fighter arguably launched the fighting genre of video games, but Mortal Kombat, with its intense gore and brutality, brought it to new heights in the early 1990s. Today, gamers of a certain age no doubt remember their first fatality with Liu Kang, Sonya Blade or Johnny Cage.
With some skill and a combination of button-pushing and joystick-tapping, the match ended with a blood-spattering move that often involved ripping people's spines out of their backs or something equally as graphic. It was everything a fighting video game was supposed to be.
The series was recently given a reboot of sorts by Warner Bros. Interactive, intended to highlight the best of the original with the varied gameplay and high-quality graphics expected by today's gamers.
For a game that took my quarter every two minutes in the early '90s, there is an incredible amount of replay value in this new version, simply called Mortal Kombat, and it is every bit as fun as it was back then.
The game has an unbelievable number of options. There is a training mode to go over each of the playable characters' special moves and a separate fatality training to perfect that spine-ripping finisher. There is also a story mode, an arcade mode with several game types within that, co-op play and online play.
The controls are pretty intuitive. As expected, the directional pad on the Xbox 360's controller seemed more accurate than the joystick for the advanced moves that require combinations of back or down taps.
A fun feature in this game is the X-ray move. A power meter at the bottom of the screen powers up as the match proceeds. You can use some of this as you play to add extra damage to special moves, or you can save it up and do an X-ray move unique to each character. A short cutscene shows the X-ray version of someone's skull being cracked or kidney being pulled out, for instance. Surprisingly, if your opponents have enough energy left, they can shake it off and continue the fight.
The story mode consists of 16 chapters each focused on a character. Each chapter has a few minutes of cutscene that you can't skip. The dialogue is worthy of a bad action movie, unfortunately. A challenging aspect of the subsequent fights are when your character has to fight two others who are tag-teaming the match.
If you don't want to bother with cutscenes, go straight into arcade mode and pick a character and difficulty. You can play a straight ladder that ends with Shao Kahn. There also are tag-team matches and a challenge tower. As many as four players can play in a tag-team match. As with most fighting games, the living room matches are where the real fun lies. There are enough moves that require only one or two buttons — hint, just hit right bumper over and over — for a novice to get some good hits on a more experienced player.
The newest incarnation of the series lives up to its predecessors with its level of blood and graphic violence. Also, the female characters don't wear much, and what they do have on looks more like cellophane than Spandex. All this near-nudity and violence is cartoonish, though, and not anything like the cinematic cutscenes in some other games. So use your own parenting judgment.
Part of what made Mortal Kombat so controversial back in 1992 was that there had been nothing like it before. That's no longer the case. And this iteration is a solid fighting game that certainly stands out, but it's not the bold next step, through graphics, gameplay or content, that the original was in the 1990s.