2011: Eons after suffering through the many 3D Mortal Kombat games where fighters can switch between stances and pull off custom Fatalities, I was incredibly skeptical about the Mortal Kombat reboot. This was my time at GameSpot, so I was on high alert as to whether Ed Boon and his then-new studio can recapture the glory days of the simple-but-fun Mortal Kombat II.

Thank goodness I was proven wrong, because the reboot knocked my socks off with its plethora of modes, its insanely-packed single-player story campaign, and fun-if-kombo-centric fighting mechanics.

2015: The 10th Mortal Kombat game got a bit too serious for its own good. With a washed-out palette and a grittier approach to its violence, particularly its snuff film-esque fatalities, I wasn’t really feeling it with this version. Plus its females are less tarted up like in the past game. The goofiness was gone.

Thank goodness the game itself was still fun to play and had a ton of guest characters from horror films I knew and loved. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Scorpion get mauled by a xenomorph.

2019: Four years later, I get to try out the closed beta of the latest Mortal Kombat 11, now with a slightly-saturated palette, a bunch of old characters joining the fray, and a crazy time-travelling story where old and new versions of the same character meet.

Thank goodness it at least manages to stay consistent in being a very goofy yet serious Western fighting game for good or ill. I’ll explain below.

What’s Kool?

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Mortal Kombat’s fighting does not need to change drastically to cater to its audience, but the new UI and fighting game additions help make things flow better from the get-go. For starters, the segmented special Attack and Defence bars are easy to keep track of and helps players allocate their resources efficiently. Now you don’t have to worry about 3 stocks of bars for your offence and defence: you have 2 for each style of play.

I just went to town with Baraka and his Hack’ n Slash variant, applying footsie and poking pressure until my opponent reacts with a heavy recovery move. The fact that I didn’t need to learn that many combos on the get-go also helps in me winning the games through fundamentals alone.

I can play this game using proper footsies and mid-range poking tactics like Street Fighter but with an “alternate” control scheme, while not worry too much about eating a 10+ hit combo.

Since you can’t use a Combo Breaker move like in the last games, you have to use up meter for a quick armour-property wake-up move when you’re knocked down. I notice I haven’t been using my defensive options more during my smooth matches against online foes during the weekend. I got wrecked by Scorpion players and their Misery Blade variant, as well as Kabals who knew what they were doing; perhaps if I bothered to figure out my wakeup moves and defensive options, I would have a fighting chance.

What’s also great? I can customize my own version of Baraka so that he doesn’t look that plain. The character kustomization isn’t just relegated to gear and power levels; you can pick your favourite outfits and colour schemes. Time will tell if I can give Baraka a sombrero or some other customization options ala Tekken 7 instead of presets, but I’ll take what I can get for now.

As far as online fighting is concerned, which is the whole point of these betas, I haven’t come across any absurdly bad connections when fighting against Malaysians and other Southeast Asians. There is going to be lag in online play, but it’s pretty minor from my side of the world; your mileage may vary.

What’s Konvoluted?

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Older players may not find the game to their liking if they liked how it was back then. The combo-centric and aggressive game style may not gel well with MK9 and MKX players. Personally, I love the neutral and footsie approach to the game this time around, but I don’t represent the core fanbase and long-term players.

MK11 has mixups and meaty setups aplenty, but you have to implement them a little differently this time around since you only have 2 bars for offensive maneuvers. Which is why fishing for whiffed attacks and counter-attacking is more important than ever.

Just like SoulCalibur 6’s lethal hits and Street Fighter V’s Crush Counter, it’s about figuring out which attacks are best to punish or close the gap quick. If the five selectable characters and their three variations are of any indication, MK11’s roster will have tons of long-range projectile and teleportation wars going on before a player seals the deal with an up-close custom combo of their own.

Let’s also not forget about the controls of the game. They’re standard NetherRealms Studio fighting game controls. They’re neither bad nor good; they’re just their style of controls and that’s how their fighting game engine works.

Even with the alternate inputs added and tweaked, most players who come off from “perfectly-mapped” Japanese-made fighting game controls will have to take a lot of time readjusting to how different the game feels and plays.

Is Everything Coming Up Rosey (With Blood)?

The more things change, the more they stay the same. As far as the game’s feel and look go, it’s a big improvement. No longer do I feel like I’m experiencing a one-sided fight if I don’t know all of my strings. Damage scaling feels fair. The counter-hit/lethal hit system lets you punish characters appropriately while also making you wary about whiffing attacks on purpose.

I’ll tell you this: it’s hard to go back to Mortal Kombat X after this. With refined controls and fighting systems, this may be Mortal Kombat’s finest iteration yet. Let’s hope the game’s other modes like the Krypt and its non-kompetitive bits are just as promising and as refined as its current fight mechanic. After all, these are the important ingredients in making a fighting games fun as a whole for all levels of players instead of for a subset of esports-savvy folks who like to keep it real.

 

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