Mortal Kombat Preview: Challenge Tower, Jax, Sonya, and more

We test our might with the latest edition of Mortal Kombat as it kicks us in the face (in a good way).

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Warner Bros. and NetherRealm Studios were on hand at this year's GDC showing off an updated version of Mortal Kombat in a hotel suite just a stone's throw from the convention center floor. The work-in-progress versions of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 games offered a broader sampling of content than what we saw earlier in the week and included additional playable characters and a taste of the new Challenge Tower mode. We're happy to report that the game is shaping up to be a fun, unrepentantly M-rated experience.

The first stop in our demo was the game's new Challenge Tower, which is a series of 300 challenges that scale up from tutorial-style fights that teach you a fighter's moves or other game fundamentals, to progressively more difficult tasks that will have you working up a sweat. Fans of the series will also be pleased to see a good dose of dark, zany humor tossed into the mix, because the fights will include little touches such as limbless fighters among other randomly goofy stuff.

The first 20 challenges were on display in the version we played and offered a sampling of what to expect. There were battles that ran us through Sonia Blade's and Jax's special moves, fatalities, and new x-ray attacks; pitted us against waves of Tarkatans (Baraka's toothy, blade-wielding nomadic mutants); had us managing a dispute between Johnny Cage and his director; and had us dealing with Reptile. The fast-paced matches were challenging but fun, which kept us coming back for more if we failed them. We were especially pleased to see the return of the familiar "test your might" and "test your sight" minigames that popped up in the sampling of challenges. One thing to note is that as you play through the game you'll earn coins that you'll be able to use to bypass challenges if you're getting stomped.

Once we got a feel for the Challenge Tower, we hopped into some matches to try out the new playable characters. The version we saw had 16 playable characters, with what looked to be about 10 empty slots at the lower half of the select screen, although we were told not to read too much into the character layout. Most of the gang handled as you'd expect them to, especially the ninjas, but some characters have seen some interesting tweaks. Sonya Blade, who used to be one of the more accessible characters in the roster, has had some changes to her moves that make her a little more challenging to use. The payoff, from what we can tell, is that she has become a much more versatile character when it comes to controlling a match and dealing out punishment. Kitana has also seen some tweaks that have brought her closer to the accessibility Sonya used to have. Jax has seen some streamlining and move tweaking that have broadened the options you will have with him, which seems to have upped his jerk factor considerably in the juggling department.

All of the above tweaks wouldn't matter much if the game's control weren't set up to give you the opportunity to explore all the face-stomping possibilities, but Mortal Kombat's control is. The franchise has always had a specific feel to it that has seemed a little stiff in recent entries. This latest entry loosens things up considerably with a combination of responsive control and animation that helps improve the overall feel of combat. We'll want to spend more time digging into the systems in the game, but we're definitely liking the direction in which things are going. The ability to string together your own combos works very well and brings a retro feel to the game that we appreciate.

The visuals are looking fantastic, making Mortal Kombat the most stunning entry in the series to date. The character models and environments feature a rich level of detail packed with little touches that you'll notice if you spend some time scrutinizing everything. Admittedly you're better off getting your art appreciation on while watching someone else play a match, because the game's speedy pace, helped along by a smooth frame rate and smooth animation, doesn't let you do much artistic contemplation before being kicked in the face. That said, when you do get the chance, we expect you'll be impressed by what you see. Characters have moving bits of clothing and accessories, and environments have a wide range of animating elements (along with buckets of blood) that all contribute to the game's sexy looks. Of course, the showstoppers in the game are the x-ray attacks and fatalities, which feature some of the most brutal and cringe-inducing beatdowns we've seen in the series.

There is most definitely a creative, gleeful vibe that runs through the moves we saw, which will make fans smile and possibly wonder if the NetherRealm gang doesn't have some stabbing issues to work through. We also have to give a special call-out to the stage fatalities we saw, which took a "kitchen sink" approach we can get behind. For example, why just mash your opponent's head in the side of a moving subway train when you can throw him in front of a moving northbound train after? Mortal Kombat's compelling reason for it is clearly, "because you can." While the over-the-top violence isn't for everyone, it's nice to see the game embracing the franchise's calling card with style and dark humor. The visuals get an extra kick on the PlayStation 3 thanks to stereoscopic 3D support, which will make everything pop a bit more for those with the setup for it. The feature is implemented well and doesn't distract from gameplay, although it will make the action look that much more painful.

Mortal Kombat continues to impress us every time we see it. The roster decisions, mode additions, controls, and the little touches peppered throughout the game are all setting it up to deliver on the promise we saw when it was debuted at last year's Electronic Entertainment Expo. We're especially pleased to see the balance of content for newcomers and veteran players that should make it the most accessible Mortal Kombat yet. At this point we're very excited to see the rest of the roster, dig into the story mode, see what NetherRealm has cooked up for us online, and just play. Look for more on the game in the weeks leading up to its April release on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

Discussion

223 comments
Kazmo-Khan
Kazmo-Khan

Anyone know if you can do Hara Kiri? Or any of the other finishers like Friendship or Animality?

elancion
elancion

quit it with the over hype ,the demo wasn't all that impressive.

007kt
007kt

more blood more fatality more fun in fighting

ThePimpChimp
ThePimpChimp

I'm so hyped for this game but still kind of pissed Kenshi didn't make the cut

SonOfKira
SonOfKira

...Cant wait to hear how this one's gonna sound in surround sound..Ol skl MK with Kratos 4 PS3 all the way!!..And the best bit is this game's comin out 2 days before payday..WHOOOPIEEEE!!!...

Bowserpwns
Bowserpwns

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

Guinho99
Guinho99

pretty cool but i have an xbox and for ps3 kratos is a special character and the x360 whos the special character???? (Ezio from A C brotherhood or Marcus Fenix from gears of war) if they choose Dante from Dante's inferno it's gonna be Kratos for ps3 and Kratos 2 for xbox360

rapboy_905
rapboy_905

Can't stop playing the demo. This game will be amazing. Can't help but notice that it seems to be a lot easier than the old-skool ones though. I suppose that's to prevent controllers going through as many tv's.

simon1812
simon1812

just played the demo and I have to say this revamp is a far better work than what capcom did with STIV and MvsC3. Im so getting MK as soon as it releases.

OoOgitOoO
OoOgitOoO

Kratos from god of war is going to be in this game :D

eliebaz
eliebaz

I doubt this will be anything but great very nostalgic to play a proper Mortal kombat again with proper fatalities cant wait!!

m-devil555
m-devil555

Mk deadly alliance is a cool game this has to top it if this new mk can top it this is game of the year 2011 for sure.

gamescottsman
gamescottsman

That last train fatality made me lol in horror! Quality!

ilidiandemon
ilidiandemon

Blood, violence, sexual appeal... I am so over-hyped =O

DarthChristian
DarthChristian

I cant wait to hear "test your might," again. Waves of nostalgia hit me just thinking about it.

thelostkin
thelostkin

what's with all these damn fighting games doing a trial mode? SF4 and SSF4 had this as well as BlazBlue and now Mortal Kombat.. I mean can we have something else besides trial challenges? Jeez

ssj5_nick
ssj5_nick

Anyone else still have their jimmies rustled by the fact that NO ONE from 4, 5, 6, or 7 is going to be here? Imagine the epic story and potential plot twists that we're missing out on. What would happened if Quan Chi showed up early? No Quan Chi, no Kenshi, no Drahmin ... not sure if I need to drop another 60 bones for an updated version of Mortal Kombat Trilogy. I think I'll just play Deadly Alliance again instead.

AvnKnight
AvnKnight

This looks good for an MK game not saying much. Probaly wont get any support after it comes out though just like MkvsDC. Also probaly wont be played competitively so I'm thinking pass here and just stick with MvC3.

Karlsfsn
Karlsfsn

Anyone have a date for the Xbox MK Demo?

Terrorraid
Terrorraid

a couple of months ago... i was selling my xbox 360...than i saw Mortal Kombat Remake ...i cancled the deal... now... i am just waiting...and waiting... and waiting... to get my hands on MK

blackart1111
blackart1111

I rarely comment on these but dood....MK Returns!Been wanting them to do this ever since the first lame 3d "style"-based fighting.Although the krypt was a cool feature.Not sure why they are shoveling Kratos in a-la-soulcal but whatever,so long as i can kombo up with Reptile and Subby once again ^.^

Drakkengoth
Drakkengoth

tes ur sight!? test ur might!? i am more than pleased already

buckybuckster
buckybuckster

Looks to be the best looking and playing MK in a while. Would not be surprised if this ends up being the #1 selling fighting game in 2011.

Testament
Testament

can't wait to see how kratos play

Testament
Testament

I wonder will you be able to knock people into another room that would be kool

singerbradley
singerbradley

I'm really impressed with the character damage. Did you see Liu Kang at 2:24!? If you're going to make a fighting game, you should polish it to a mirror shine and this Mortal Kombat has it down!

wars45
wars45

cant wait love tekken. but mk is the most fun fighting game to play. this 1 going back to its roots

AdrianoGamer
AdrianoGamer

This game will be awesome. Mortal Kombat back to be Mortal Kombat.

FruitiSynthesis
FruitiSynthesis

It'd be really interesting if they changed the buttons with this mortal kombat and made the triggers the main buttons, like they have with NHL and GTA

mxgod
mxgod

X-ray.. hmm what about the robots like Cyrex and Sector? Do they have bones for some reason?(or did they do their x-ray bodies different?) I mean they used to bleed out oil.. so they can't be human. So they better not give me any crap by saying they are human on the inside.

erix43
erix43

My gf suggested that MK make a d*ldo... Because I won't be bangin her for a while after this game comes out...

frazzz619
frazzz619

@Cillah187 I cant believe they cancelled it for us AU gamers i hate our government when it comes to games! United Arab Emirates- Mass Effect 2: banned due to lesbian relationships Saudi Arabia- Dante's Inferno: banned for hellish visions, religious sensitivity Venezuela- ALL games banned that include shooting someone Germany- Wolfenstein: banned for Nazi references China- Football Manager 2005: banned for recognizing Tibet as an independent country Suddenly Australia doesnt seem so bad!

Rentonboyo
Rentonboyo

I can't wait to play Mortal Kombat again. I remember early and mid 90's that game was sick. We used to sit around drinking coca colas, 8 people, and just round-robin it up, great fun game, esp. the fatalities. I'm a MK fanboy.

Synlore59
Synlore59

The CSI bonebreaking looks bad but everything else looks great!

ghostomg
ghostomg

yeah mk is a must buy 4 sure this game is best in fighting the only game comparingly equal i guess better is tekken. marvel vs capcom virtula fighter is boring seriously it is.

kavadias1981
kavadias1981

It looks and sounds fantastic. Sounds like Boon is pulling out all the stops to make this as rich and deep as possible. I really am looking forward to it.

VenkmanPHD
VenkmanPHD

@ghostomg The only truth in november is Skyrim, and how awesome it will be. Thank god this game is coming out SO much sooner than that! FINISH HIM!

ghostomg
ghostomg

i got the cheat code 4 mortal kombat 1)buy a ps3 2)buy mortal kombat 3)play as kratos in it 4)i m waiting to uncver the truth on 11-1-11 5)it has everything ps3 rocks its the best 4 exclusives and it special features