Mortal Kombat captures all the fun of a face stabbing

, | Game reviews

I don’t really know why I like gory horror movies. I hate actual gore. I’m squeamish about the sight of blood. After 9/11, I went to give blood and I fainted before they managed to wring even a pint out of my arm. I hate seeing people get hurt for real in supposedly funny YouTube videos. I once saw someone get hit by a car in the real world, and I was surprised at my reaction: I turned my head away. It only lasted for a moment, and I pretty quickly got my wits about me and went to help the guy. But I’ll never forget my reflexive reaction was to turn my head so I wouldn’t see what was going to happen.

But I like horror movies, on a couple of different levels. A really good horror movie is actually horrifying and cathartic and hopefully has some sort of larger message, but I won’t recommend it to most people, because if it affected me, it’s got to be pretty dire. A really bad horror movie is just flat-out disgusting and I want no part of it. But most horror movies are in between and I would characterize them as basically funny. There’s something fundamentally absurd about movie gore, and slasher films, and creature features, and so forth. That’s why I love a recent horror movie called Rubber, which features shots of exploding heads, but in the context of a meta message about watching horror movies. In its own absurd and slightly pretentious way, Rubber clarified for me why I like gory horror movies.

Speaking of absurd and pretentious, I’ll actually get around to reviewing Mortal Kombat after the jump.

This fondness for the absurdity of gore is the level on which Mortal Kombat appeals to me. During one of the fatalities that I will probably never see outside of the training missions because I have no idea how people are supposed to remember the stupid codes to trigger them, one of the monsters — and, really, almost all the characters in Mortal Kombat are monsters — does something so painfully terrible to his opponent that the opponent vomits. Then she gets her head ripped off. Arterial spray, trailing spinal column, the works. My first thought was that Mortal Kombat had gone too far, but I realized that was because vomiting is gross in a familiar way that getting your head ripped off isn’t. Maybe as DLC, one of the fatalities can involve a character evacuating his bowels at the moment of death. Actually, evacuating bowels may already be in there. I don’t mean to give Mortal Kombat too little credit.

Mortal Kombat’s silly videogame gore, which sits somewhere between the grating seriousness of Manhunter and the weirdly colorful cheer of Castle Crashers, is the same thing that endeared me to the recent Splatterhouse, which I can confidently call a “bad game”. But I’m pretty sure Mortal Kombat isn’t a bad game. In fact, it might even be a decent fighting game. I can’t confidently say that about any fighting game, because this really isn’t my wheelhouse. But beyond the decent gameplay, Mortal Kombat appeals to that absurd corner of my brain that winces and chuckles when a monster gouges out an eyeball, alien spider acid sprays into someone’s face, or a box cutter is pneumatically fired into someone’s crotch. Those are all things I’ve seen in recent movies, by the way.

Mortal Kombat misses the mark a bit for taking itself too seriously. It might not know how absurd it is. It’s missing that crucial sense of self-awareness that drives Robert Rodriguez’ brilliant Planet Terror, or Headstrong Games’ equally brilliant House of the Dead: Overkill. The story mode is a slow earnest slog through unskippable cutscenes notable only for not having any loading screens (Take that, Portal 2!). But the rest of the game, which is full of reasons to play (Take that, Capcom!) revels in pointless gore, pointless unlockables, and some wonderfully pointless gameplay variations. Why don’t more games have a mode similar to Mortal Kombat’s “Test Your Luck”, in which you spin a slot machine to pick random variables for how a match plays? Take that, nearly every other game in existence! There’s a thin line between randomness and replay value.

I understand that the online multiplayer is lacking, but I’ll never know. If I’m going to get good enough at a fighting game to play online, it certainly won’t be this one. But I find myself playing Mortal Kombat more than other fighting games because it does such a great job of giving me reasons to play. So what if it’s not as good? I don’t like the inconsistent and contrived controls. The lack of quarter circle commands feels herky jerky and unnatural. Why does the right punch do ice balls, but the left foot does teleportation?

There’s far too much symmetry among the characters, both in terms of how they play and how they look. It seems like half of these characters are woman all but falling out of ridiculous swimsuits, differentiated by the color of the swimsuit. Mileena in purple, Jade in green, Kitana in blue, Sonya in black, and so forth. The controls are horribly built for my bitchin’ $150 Fightsticks because they’re made for a gamepad with a trigger control. And although I understand the gameplay value of it, I’m really not into having to press a button to block. Haven’t fighting games streamlined out that bit?

A lot of these things are core values of the Mortal Kombat series, so I can understand why there’re in here. But it’s a bit of sad irony that Mortal Kombat has come so far in the gameplay department — this is a remarkably friendly game for casual players — but it ultimately teaches me how good certain other fighting games are. So this latter day gory reboot gets a thumbs up from me, but it mostly deserves props for rekindling my interest in fighting games. And on that note, tomorrow I’ll start a five-day series on the best fighting games, looking at a different game each day.

3 stars
Xbox 360

Friday: you are not ready
Monday: the real grindhouse
Tuesday: you’re wearing that?
Wednesday: amateur night
Thursday: the worst best one