It may be rougher around the edges than what we expected or had hoped for, but Mortal Kombat’s debut on the Vita still provides the same level of fun that was had on the HD versions of the game. The visuals may be a bit ugly or reminiscent of a mid-era PSP game, but the Mortal Kombat formula is still fun and has a few fun modes to boot as well which does extend the overall longevity. With combat that’s fun and a multiplayer mode that seems to work (at least as of now pre everyone hopping online), Mortal Kombat on the Vita may not be a perfect port but it’s an admirable first effort that doesn’t feel like a complete shameless cash grab.
+ The fighting mechanics feel perfect on the Vita in respect to the buttons and layout of the device.
+ New Challenge Tower modes may feel a bit gimmicky in a few areas, but they’re still fun.
+ Having the DLC characters available at the start of the game is a nice bonus.
- Visuals are uneven and honestly look below what the Vita is capable of.
- It would’ve been nice if there were one or two Vita bonuses thrown in for the Story mode or character roster.
Ports of video games can be a tricky thing for a variety of reasons. First off when it comes to porting a game there’s already an obvious example of where the quality level should be and secondly gamers can be very particular as to what they expect out of a port. These days we’ve seen games receive ports that have been less than reputable as they’ve been riddled with issues in the all too important areas of visuals and gameplay. With the arrival of Mortal Kombat on the PlayStation Vita we have a port that does do justice to the franchise and the game which it’s based on, but at the same time it may not be the quality level material one would expect to see on Sony’s powerful handheld.
With Mortal Kombat for the PlayStation Vita we have a game that will likely be familiar to gamers who already played the ninth entry in the series last year on the PS3 and Xbox 360 as it’s a direct port. The same modern spin on the classic 2D based MK gameplay is present along with all the familiar tropes one would expect from the MK franchise such as fast action, an abundance of blood, and characters winning the unlucky lottery by being offed in wonderful but absolutely brutal ways. The basics of Mortal Kombat are simplistic in a way but at the same time they have a finesse to them that could’ve been ruined in a port if the game simply felt off in one particular area as it would’ve ruined the foundations. Thankfully when it comes to retaining the MK gameplay charm developer NetherRealm Studios has done a terrific job at giving Vita owners the MK experience we all know and love.
So far the Vita hasn’t been swamped with dozens of fighting games as we only have Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and BlazBlue, both of which are good in their own right but it’s not as if we have a Street Fighter, Tekken, Soul Calibur, and Dead or Alive games to really make the competition fierce. The thing that in some ways solidifies Mortal Kombat on the Vita as a brilliant port, at least from a gameplay perspective, is that it’s a direct match of what gamers enjoyed last year. Sure, we may be experiencing the game through the controls of the Vita and not a PS3/Xbox 360 pad or a fancy $160 arcade stick, but the game still controls fine and nothing has been tinkered with at all when it comes to doing the basics.
Since the game was first conceived in 1992 the Mortal Kombat series has had gameplay that has been easy to get into, provided constant fun, and to some gamers has had the perfect amount of depth. The arrival of the series on the PlayStation Vita still provides such goodness as doing Scorpion’s classic spear move, Johnny Cage’s shadow kick, or even one of the new X-Ray moves is still easy to perform on the Vita and packs the same wallop as it did on the PS3/Xbox 360 versions.
From the perspective of a fighting game fan, though I’ll admit I’m not a Justin Wong level fanatic, MK succeeds on the Vita as there’s no input lag and the game feels perfect when played on a handheld. We may already have a perception of what it’s like to play a fighting game on the Vita thanks to MvsC3, but there’s always room for error in the world of video game development yet that thankfully isn’t the case with MK’s gameplay.
A few modern touches have been added to the game with its Vita appearance but those shouldn’t be too much for fans of the series to accept or possibly ignore if they so desire. Yes, it’s possible to pull off Fatalities using the front touchscreen of the Vita and in some ways it is gimmicky but at the same time it does feel slightly natural. The only key difference between performing a Fatality with the touchscreen is that doing so automatically locks the character in the Fatality zone as opposed to doing it the old fashioned way. Based on how I’ve been with the MK series since the start I often found myself ripping guys in two the old fashioned way through button inputs, but on the few occasions I go the touchscreen route I was impressed with how responsive it was.
In some ways I was a bit disappointed that Mortal Kombat’s debut on the Vita wasn’t an entirely new entry in the franchise or the much awaited Sub-Zero/Scorpion Shaolin Monks spiritual successor. But with that said and knowing the ins and outs of the brilliant story mode already, I did have a good time with the new Challenge Tower mode which provided some much needed fresh content. On top of the existing Challenge Tower mode found in the original version of the game NetherRealm has added an entirely new mode which features 300 challenges – all of which have been created using different elements of the PlayStation Vita.
With the new Challenge Tower mode we once again have a situation in which certain gameplay aspects may feel a bit gimmicky in how they’re executed. Tilting or shaking the Vita may seem odd to do in a Mortal Kombat game, but the new gameplay elements in the Challenge Tower presented a nice balance of pure challenge and complete and utter fun in the most classic MK way possible. Featuring modes such as Test Your Tilt (tilt your character on a beam over a pit of spikes/piranhas), the new Challenge Tower may be riddled with modes that scream “THIS IS USING FEATURES ON YOUR VITA!” but at the same time it’s fun and provides a perfect pick up and play scenario for those gaming on the go or merely having a quick go if you're bored at home.
Perhaps the best addition to the new Challenge Tower is Test Your Slice, which is basically a direct copy of Fruit Ninja. In some ways going the casual route may give MK fans nightmares that the series is already digressing back to the era of MK Karting, but Test Your Slice is just a perfect example of how Mortal Kombat can be silly but at the same time can still be fun and in some ways provide depth. Taking the Fruit Ninja formula (use a touchscreen and swipe at stuff being tossed around), Test Your Slice adds a slightly morbid feel as heads, organs, and skulls are tossed around in place of bananas and watermelons.
Test Your Slice does have the same frantic nature found in Fruit Ninja as bombs are occasionally thrown into the mix as well, but the MK flavor is amplified through special combo opportunities that will either freeze the screen (Sub-Zero style of course), or provide maximum combos opportunities through slicing a piece of Toast. Is Test Your Slice the highest peak the MK series has been at? It certainly isn’t but at the same time it won’t do anyone harm by having some goofy fun when they’re not ripping the spine out of someone.
If there’s one almost painfully obvious low point in the Vita edition of Mortal Kombat it’s that the game doesn’t look that pretty. If I can channel my inner graphics whore for a slight moment, Mortal Kombat for the Vita provides one of those occasions in which the general consensus may be “this game doesn’t look good” as opposed to being debated in immense detail on a variety of message boards.
Utilizing the same art style found in the HD version of the game, the low point of MK on the Vita is that the character models are lacking a lot of detail thanks to low poly models and have slightly blurry textures as well. In a handheld fighting game such a thing may be forgiven since the action is constant, but unless I was jumping all the time or doing one of the many teleports that are available it was hard not to see something that looked rough around the edges and is far from matching the quality we’ve already seen in other Vita games.
The graphical issues with Mortal Kombat aren’t one of an entirely superfluous nature as they’re not rooted in the game not looking like a direct 1:1 match of what was found on the HD consoles or eclipsing such visual delights as Uncharted: Golden Abyss. Instead, Mortal Kombat on the Vita simply fails to deliver graphics that look like they belong on the Vita as they look sloppy in a few areas. Things like Smoke having different hair compared to his Chris Walken like hairstyle on the PS3/Xbox 360 isn’t a big issue, but seeing the transition from the story cutscenes, which are straight videos of what was in the HD versions, to direct gameplay shows how much of a graphical downgrade Vita gamers have been given. Like I said earlier, the game doesn’t look too bad in motion but there are still plenty of areas in which things look flat or simply bad in how the textures and effects look, especially when the action goes in close when an X-Ray move is performed.
Ultimately the disappointing visuals of Mortal Kombat will either result in two things: gamers will be split into different camps concerning the visual direction, or they’ll simply re-evaluate what makes a game fun to them. For what graphical shortcomings Mortal Kombat has, which honestly do point to NetherRealm having to make key compromises in order to sustain 60 fps, I still had a complete blast with the game and at the end of the day that’s what matters the most - whether or not the game is as fun as it could be.
Going into Mortal Kombat on the Vita I certainly knew of all the key beats that were to be had, but I still was on the edge of my seat while doing battle against Kintaro or I became psyched when I saw Dan Forden pop up and say toasty out of nowhere. At the end of the day the visuals may not look that good and no series altering mechanics, modes, or characters were added to the mix, but Mortal Kombat on the Vita is a decent first outing for the series which despite the uneven port job offers the same level of fun the Mortal Kombat series has been known for.
A review copy of this game was provided by the publisher.