Mortal Kombat (2011) / Mortal Kombat 9

STORYMK9's story retells the events of the original trilogy. In Armageddon, Shao Kahn becomes the supreme leader of all realms after obliterating Earthrealm's warriors. Before being killed by Shao Kahn, Raiden sends a foreboding vision of the future to his former self in the past, in order to reshape the events that happened in Armageddon. This causes the original timeline to be erased with a new timeline in its place. Thus, the classic characters and scenarios are brought back into action with new outcomes.

Classic MK... re-imagined in gorgeous next-gen visuals. 

In the past, every new installment to the Mortal Kombat franchise seemed to try to "push the envelope" with its controversial gore & shock value, while putting the all-important gameplay engine and technical aspects of the fighting game on the back burner. The ninth installment of the franchise aims to change all that, in an effort to regain the hearts of the hardcore fighting game community while still entertaining casual fans of the iconic series.

Taking the series back to its roots with an all new 2D engine, this reboot features a roster made up of classic MK characters from the likes of MK1, MK2 & MK3... and quite clearly, the dev-team decided to put "the all-time best" character designs of the series into MK9. In addition, nearly all classic locations in the series history have been re-imagined in gorgeous, lush visuals. In fact, from a design standpoint, MK9's backgrounds are some of the best I've ever seen in a 2D fighting game! The stages have an amazing level of detail & depth and very few jagged edges in 1080p! On top of the classic stages, a generous variety of entirely new locations help set the mood for this darker, grittier fighting game.

The explicit violence which the MK series is known for has returned full swing. MK9 is indeed the next-gen, ultra-violent Mortal Kombat game that fans of the series have been waiting ages for. Forget M-rated... the level of violence in MK9 should be considered "adult content" at the very least. I personally am not disturbed by ultra-explicit violence & gore, but if that sort of thing bothers you on any level, I doubt you'll be able to play MK9 for any extended period of time. On the flip side, if you have any sort of gore fetish, MK9 may be your new best friend. Though the new fatalities are just a novelty, most of them are cool and use next-gen technology to their advantage, while others seem forced and give off the "I've seen that before" kind of vibe. To break up the monotony of the gore, babalities have also made their epic return in MK9 and are more entertaining than ever before, since each one features hilarious character-specific animation!

Some of the best looking 2D fighting game backgrounds to date!

The classic 1-vs-1 gameplay is reminiscent of the classic titles, but MK9 also features an all new Tag Mode which offers fast-paced 2-vs-2 gameplay. Tag Mode features tons of high level combo possibilities and an impressive variety of assist attacks & specific tag combos per character. If MK9 was simply a 1-vs-1 title, it wouldn't have felt like it was necessarily missing anything, but Tag Mode is certainly a welcome addition and is the proud successor to the original MK's Endurance Mode. MK9 even features a short but sweet Tutorial Mode which takes a whole 10-15 minutes to complete... it's a shame the Tutorial Mode wasn't more elaborate, taking players through combos & move-sets for all characters, but at least it's there.

MK9's Story Mode sets itself apart from the standard Arcade Ladder and delivers a true fan service to long-time players of MK. This retelling of the Mortal Kombat core storyline covers the most prominent events that happened in the original trilogy, revolving around a different character with each chapter. Story Mode definitely contains it's fair share of cheesy moments, but at the very least, you'll be impressed with the effort of this elaborate cinematic experience within a fighting game. The Story Mode uses the sharp in-game graphics throughout but, unfortunately, at a slightly lower resolution than during gameplay. Also, I noticed character models tend to look more impressive when the lighting is dark and look a bit flat during brighter scenes.

The cutscenes blend together seamlessly with the many epic fights within Story Mode, keeping the pace moving and making it a fun and entertaining playthrough. MK9's Story presentation certainly raises the bar for future fighting game story modes and has "next-gen" written all over it, although, the actual storyline is a bit quirky at times. The storyline of Mortal Kombat was always on the sketchy side, but MK9's representation of Mortal Kombat lore is easily the best to date. Raiden's time traveling and "visions" allow for some clever changes in the Mortal Kombat universe... maybe it's the dev-team's discreet way of erasing the events of the lackluster "3D era" of Mortal Kombat!  Interesting. . . .

Mortal Kombat 9's single player experience is rivaled by very few fighting games, and easily offers the most out of any of the latest fighting game releases. You can literally play for hours and not even scratch the surface (I was 8 hours into the game and still hadn't seen all of the stages)! Aside from the lengthy Story Mode and the Arcade Ladder, which features individual character endings done in a cool art style, single players will enjoy an all new mode called Challenge Tower, which features over 300 diverse missions. The missions include a variety of unique challenges & mini-games and conveniently allows players to become acquainted with many of the game's characters. The fan-favorite "Test Your Might" mini game also makes its epic return, in addition to new ones like Test Your Sight, Test Your Strike & Test Your Luck. Although these bonus games are simple and mindless for the most part, they add personality and nostalgia to the overall package.

Welcome back to the original trilogy... where the series saw its best days.

If past 3D MK fighting games like Deadly Alliance and Deception did anything right, it would be the Krypt unlocking system. Players steadily earn "koins" while playing, which can be used to unlock extras such as: artwork, alternate costumes and fatality codes. Overall, most of the extras within The Krypt are semi-useless and/or can be found on the internet, but roaming through the graveyard-like Krypt is an entertaining experience on it's own. There's nothing like destroying random gravestones and mutilating tortured humanoids as you unlock fun goodies... such a twisted imagination the design team has. It's all very perverse and unnecessary, but more entertaining than simply "opening chests" I suppose.

On top of the up-front spectacles and nostalgic value that MK9 offers, the dev-team finally set their sights on the hardcore fighting game crowd, putting gameplay & combat mechanics at the forefront of their game design. Returning to a 2D plane, strategies of the early MK games return but are joined by a slew of new gameplay elements. Even though MK9's gameplay is easily the best the series has seen in over a decade, history has repeated itself yet again, as Mortal Kombat has "borrowed" a few familiar aspects from Capcom's hit Street Fighter IV series. For one, the three-tier power gauge has finally found it's way to a Mortal Kombat game. As the gauge fills up, players can execute a Kombo Breaker, Enhanced Special Attack (a la SF3 & SF4) or use an X-ray Attack when the gauge is completely full (basically MK9's rendition of a super move).

Instead of the classic run button, the kombatants have a dash ability this time around (which feels unquestionably similar to dashing in SF4) and even dash cancels. MK9's combo system is far more open-ended and fun than any previous system in the series history, requiring a considerable amount of thinking, timing and practice to put together any respectable juggle. MK9's new combo system borrows aspects from Street Fighter and Tekken but also manages to offer a unique experience to high-level fighting game players. As in any quality fighting game, MK9's longer juggles are exceptionally satisfying to pull off and they hit hard!

The X-ray Attack is a devastating series of attacks which is unique to each character and deals out big damage... I knew the Romeo Must Die effect would find its way to a fighting game eventually. When an X-ray Attack connects, the camera swiftly zooms in to show the internal damage that is being inflicted upon the opponent, in gruesome detail... bones shatter, teeth fly and skulls are pierced. It's beyond silly that a character continues fighting after having both of their knees broken, or being stabbed straight through the skull... but that's Mortal Kombat for ya. Overall, X-ray attacks look gruesome, ridiculous, and satisfying to anyone who enjoys insanely hard-hitting moves. Animation-wise, X-ray attacks are superbly done and contain the best animation that the MK series has ever put out. The dramatic way in which the camera pans in adds to the intense ouch factor. 

Romeo Must Die!

The Enhanced Special Moves are cleverly designed for the most part, and some of them are practically entirely different moves than the originals. You simply haven't seen all of the special moves if you haven't enhanced all of them! On the downside, Enhanced Specials seem to be more risk than reward on most occasions, as waiting to build up an X-ray attack seems like a better idea most of the time. That said, if your X-ray move is enabled and you get caught in a stunning special move like Scorpion's spear or Sub Zero's freeze, you can say goodbye to a huge chunk of health. X-ray moves vary in their damage levels depending on the character, but on average are similar to that of a SF4 super move or a full power Tekken 6 combo, so I wouldn't call it game breaking... but it certainly requires far less skill to pull off. Whether or not it will be viewed as a flaw in tournament-level gameplay remains to be seen.

Animation quality was one of Mortal Kombat's biggest flaws in the past 3D games, but thankfully a lot of movements were cleaned up nicely in this installment. However, the "technique" of many characters is still silly-looking and, in typical MK fashion, most characters swivel their hips and move their arms in a very peculiar manner during their stances. Also, a few of the characters simply throw punches "like girls" (no offense to girls) and a few kicks & maneuvers are just plain ugly. Overall though, the barbaric nature of the fighters and their movements compliments the series. On the bright side, the move-sets in MK9 are by far the best designed in the series history, another huge improvement over the past 4-5 prequels. The fighters thoroughly differ both in looks and play style, making the roster seem even bigger than it really is.

Now let's talk about the graphics.... As stated earlier, the stages are badass. Along with breathtaking lighting & shadow effects and various animations, many backgrounds even have "foreground effects" which really immerse you. The character models are highly detailed, but character anatomy is borderline last-gen. Muscle detail, skin tones and faces look good from a distance, but up close have some noticeable flaws. However, the visual damage on fighters and the unique skeletal system anatomy within each fighter (during an X-ray move) is definitely eyebrow-raising! Fabric and armor shine and look excellent, but hair detail & physics are ineffective... long hair on characters seems "springy" and unnaturally stretches similar to that of a rubber band at times.

MK9's Online Mode contains a few interesting features. The innovative "King of the Hill" Mode aims to recreate the arcade experience online. While waiting your turn in a battle lobby, you are represented as a "chibified" Mortal Kombat character (or XBL avatar on 360). While you watch the fight, your avatar can act out various gestures like cheer, boo or laugh; and there are even some special "hidden" actions that avatars can perform. At the end of each fight the spectators can rate the players from 1 to 10, and the players will earn "respect points" based off of the scores. Pretty cool idea. Unfortunately, MK9's netcode itself might be a deal-breaker for some, as "common" latency gets in the way of serious online battles.

On PlayStation 3, MK9 features full 3D support and a playable bonus character, Kratos from God of War, rendering it superior over the 360 version. The four additional DLC characters (Skarlet, Kenshi, Rain, and the horror icon, Freddy Krueger) strengthen the already solid roster... and props to the dev-team for not littering the game with characters from the insipid "3D era" of MK. DLC "klassic" skins were also a nice touch in terms of customization options. Some of the alternate costumes could've been designed better, but a few really stand out like "human" Cyrax and Sector, which actually feature alternate animations!

MK9's soundtrack is primarily comprised of "remixed" tunes from the series past. The overall music style is a bit sleepy, dated, and sounds like it could be suited for a score for a B-grade action movie; even so, gamers who put countless hours into the original trilogy will immediately recognize some of the catchier tunes such as: The Courtyard, The Subway and The Living Forest. It's certainly not a fighting game soundtrack I'd listen to in my car, but it does a good job of enhancing the nostalgic effect of MK9, as many of the tracks sound very close to the originals.

Most of MK's iconic characters have stayed close to their original roots as far as looks go, which is a good thing considering some of their goofy "alternate costumes" in the later games. However, the dev-team noticeably fleshed out several costumes designs, adding numerous fine details which are even visible during gameplay. Still, the character designs are "typical MK"... scantily clad, stripper-esk women with ridiculously large breasts and burly men with their trademark loincloths & shoulder pads. While the MK cast of characters aren't the best-looking bunch, their MK9 incarnations are arguably their best ever. Finally,
MK9 is missing a few staple options that any tournament-level fighting game should have. For starters, players should be able to configure buttons while in the game or on the selection screen. Also, the recording option in Practice Mode is practically useless since you can't record something and then practice defending against it.

Page Updated: January 28th, 2020
Developer(s): NetherRealm Studios
Publisher(s): Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Designer(s): Ed Boon
Paul Garcia
John Edwards
Platform(s): PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360
Release Date(s): Apr. 19th, 2011            PS3 / 360
May 1st, 2012                 Vita
May 3rd, 2012                Vita
July 3rd, 2013               PC (Digital)
Aug. 2nd, 2013               PC
Aug. 6th, 2013                PC
Characters Sub-Zero, Scorpion, Kung Lao, Liu Kang, Baraka, Reptile, Johnny Cage, Kitana, Mileena, Kano, Nightwolf, Cyrax, Sektor, Jax, Sonya Blade, Raiden, Sindel, Stryker, Sheeva, Ermac, Jade, Kabal, Noob Saibot, Smoke, Shang Tsung, Shao Kahn, Quan Chi, Goro, Cyber Sub-Zero, Kintaro, Kenshi (DLC), Rain (DLC), Skarlet (DLC), Freddy Krueger (DLC), Kratos (PS3)

Featured Video:

Related Games: Mortal Kombat, Mortal Kombat 2, Mortal Kombat 3, Mortal Kombat 3 Ultimate, Mortal Kombat 4, Mortal Kombat Trilogy, Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, Mortal Kombat: Deception, Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, Mortal Kombat X, Mortal Kombat 11, Mortal Kombat VS DC Universe, Injustice: Gods Among Us, Injustice 2, Tekken 6, Super Street Fighter 4, Ultra Street Fighter 4, Killer Instinct (2013)

Gameplay Engine  8.5 / 10
Story / Theme  9.0 / 10
Overall Graphics  9.5 / 10
Animation  9.0 / 10
Music / Sound Effects  8.0 / 10
Innovation  8.0 / 10
Art Direction  8.5 / 10
Customization  8.5 / 10
Options / Extras  9.0 / 10
Intro / Presentation  9.0 / 10
Replayability / Fun  7.0 / 10
"Ouch" Factor  9.5 / 10
Characters  9.0 / 10

9.1 / 10

 Review based on PS3 version  


Final Words:

Mortal Kombat was arguably "dead" in the hardcore fighting game arena after the glory days of MK2 and UMK3. It took about 15 years, but Boon and company finally did next-gen Mortal Kombat right. MK9 is by bar the best Mortal Kombat game to date. At the very least, Mortal Kombat can once again be competitive with the top fighting games of the genre. Way to dig yourself out of "the pit" MK!

I'd go as far as to say MK9 is the biggest comeback in fighting game history. In the last 10+ years, seldom would you see a Mortal Kombat game at any creditable fighting game tournament. That record changed in 2011, when MK appeared at an EVO tournament (and other majors) for the first time ever. The longevity of MK9 as a competitive fighting game was tested after NetherRealm Studios released a number of patches which frustrated players. Other tourney-level fighting games of this era kept a stronghold in the scene for upwards of 3-5 years (some without patches), so in retrospect, MK9's continuous patches might've been its demise competitively. 

Going back to 2D gameplay is easily the smartest decision the MK dev-team has made in the last decade. No 3D iteration of MK really ever came close to competing with the top 3D fighters of the genre. MK started as a 2D fighting game and the most respected incarnations of MK were 2D, so it's common sense why the series went full circle. There's still something about MK's infamous typewriter-esk "Dial-A-Combo" combination moves that's very last-gen, but MK9's overall gameplay mechanics offer a hell of a lot more than in any recent prequel.

As a Street Fighter & Tekken player, it takes some "adjusting" to get back into MK. Old school fighting game players will be able to pick up MK9 and start throwing around special moves with ease, but becoming skilled will require practice, time and a lot of memorization (of those Dial-A-Combos). Even though it has obvious differences from the top games of the genre, MK9 undeniably offers something "unique" to the table and mostly strengthens the image of the fighting genre as a whole. Thanks to the solid 1-player experience, MK9 may appeal to a wider audience than most fighting games do, but the gratuitous violence may also rub a few gamers the wrong way.

MK9's many bells & whistles and deep 1-player experience impressively raise the bar for future console fighting games. While most hardcore fighting game players don't need 8-hour long story mode to get into a game, MK9 shows that casual gamers should still be accounted for. From a design standpoint, MK9 is a brilliantly balanced fighting game, able to satisfy both hardcore and casual players alike. Personally, MK9 never grew on me (I stopped playing after a month or two), but I can respect it as a well-designed and well-rounded title. 

On a side note... I'm sure that a few veterans in the "fighters generation," who grew up playing MK1 & MK2, may now have kids. I'd imagine the best of those people wouldn't want their kids playing this game... ironic isn't it? (I don't have any kids and don't plan to, so I don't have to worry about such things, but I will say if you let your 12 year old play this game, your parenting skills are questionable). To state the obvious, the level of violence in those early games pales in comparison to MK9's.
It's a sick and twisted little game, but it's all in good fun I suppose.

~TFG Webmaster | @Fighters_Gen

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