Friday, August 17, 2012

Mortal Kombat (PlayStation Vita) Review

This past May, NetherRealm Studios ported Mortal Kombat to Sony's new handheld, the PlayStation Vita, with the goal of creating an experience that felt exactly like the game's console counterparts.  As someone who's quite addicted to Mortal Kombat (2011) and has spent hundreds of hours with the Xbox 360 version of the game, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to take some kombat on the road.

The PlayStation Vita version features almost all of the content available in the console versions, with a few exceptions, and it also sports some exclusive content.  This exclusive content sparked some outrage from the community as they complained about the recently released Mortal Kombat: Komplete Edition not being "complete," so let's take a look at what extra content the PlayStation Vita version has and what it's missing compared to consoles:

Exclusive Content

- A Bonus Challenge Tower featuring 150 new Challenges centred around the PlayStation Vita's exclusive functionality (touchscreen, accelerometer, etc).
- Test Your Balance
- Test Your Slice
- 16 additional Klassic/Alternate Costumes
- The Kombat Tomb stage featuring Augmented Reality (Training only)
- Touch Screen Fatalities
- Ability to touch the X-Ray icon to use your X-Ray
- Additional Concept Art in the Nekropolis
- An additional variable slot in Test Your Luck (When chosen under "Fight" from the Main Menu)

Missing Content

- King of the Hill
- Multiplayer Lobbies
- The Chamber of Flame Stage
- The ability to manually change your fighter's stance

Now while it seems that more was added as opposed to taken away, and it was, the majority of the new content is specifically tailored to the PlayStation Vita itself and simply couldn't be easily implemented onto consoles, at least not without their respective motion sensing peripherals.  The additional Klassic/Alternate Costumes would be a welcome addition on consoles, but seeing as how they're cosmetic they're certainly not essential, so I honestly don't see what all the fuss is about.

Outside of the exclusive content, it's essentially the same game, and as such my original review of the Xbox 360 version (found here), still applies so feel free to give it a skim.  For the remainder of this review I'd like to discuss the new content and technical changes present in the PlayStation Vita version of the game.

The Bonus Challenge Tower is great fun and is one of the primary draws to this version of the game.  Like the original Challenge Tower, some of the new Challenges are annoying and cheesy but for the most part they're interesting and well designed, and it's great to see the four DLC kombatants so prominently featured.  The majority of the new Challenges require you to use the PlayStation Vita's hardware specific features to advance, usually adding a great twist to the gameplay but occasionally the included functionality is very gimmicky.  There's also a few traditional styled Challenges mixed in, a fan favourite character guest stars (and is playable) in a few Challenges, and all the bosses are playable in the odd Challenge.  "Mini" versions of the kombatants also appear in several Challenges, where both speed and damage is increased.  As you progress through the Bonus Challenge Tower, you're also introduced to the two new mini-game modes:  Test Your Balance and Test Your Slice.

I personally loathed Test Your Balance.  Basically your kombatant is balanced above a pit and you need to tilt the PlayStation Vita back and forth to maintain their balance.  Subsequent Test Your Balance levels feature body parts being thrown at your kombatant to try and knock them off, and while the whole concept is good in theory, NetherRealm Studios clearly didn't play test this on a moving subway.  This is predominantly where I played the game, and the motion of the train regularly messed up the accelerometer to my great frustration.  If you fail, your kombatant plumets to their death, and there's about five possible ways in which they can meet their end.  While all of these potential deaths were fun to watch at first, they got quite repetitive after a bit, and since you can't skip them, they actually became rather annoying.  I have completed each Test Your Balance level and personally I never intend to touch them again.

Test Your Slice, on the other hand, is a different story completely and it's great fun.  Essentially it's Fruit Ninja Mortal Kombat style, and you're slicing body parts and power ups as they're tossed onto the screen while trying to avoid slicing bombs, which you can shake your PlayStation Vita to detonate safely.  Test Your Slice is a mode I keep coming back to when I need to pass a few minutes here and there, and I only wish there were more levels for it!  It's simple, addictive, and incredibly enjoyable!

Visually, the PlayStation Vita version of Mortal Kombat is a downgrade from its console counterparts, looking very much like a last generation title, however there's a solid reason for this:  frame rate.  Frame rate is something that's essential to a fighting game, and NetherRealm Studios chose to sacrifice the game's visual quality to keep it running at a smooth 60 FPS.  What this means for you is that you can play the game on your PlayStation Vita using the exact same combos and timing (more or less) as you would on the console versions, and I personally believe this is absolutely superb.  In truth while the visual downgrade is noticeable, it is not horrible at all, the game looks great for a handheld title, and you really don't notice it during the heat of a match.  I fully agree with NetherRealm Studios decision at having the PlayStation Vita version of the game play better over looking better.

The backgrounds suffered less than the character models, however, and they look very sharp and very close to their console counterparts.  There's less detail and animation in many of them, but again, during a match, you don't notice.  A great trick that NetherRealm Studios used is a lot of the background objects are actually 2D images of the high res versions found on consoles, and you'll only clue in on this when the camera angle shifts away from the standard 2D plain (such as during character intros).  Very clever and a great resource saver.

The cinematics featured in Story Mode are the exact same as those featured in the console versions, so you'll be able to see the characters in their high res and higher polygon count glory here, at least until Story Mode transitions into actual gameplay.

Audio wise, the game is exactly as you remembered.  The voice acting, announcer, sound effects, and music are all the same, which is great.  I did notice one odd audio glitch, however, and I've only experienced it in Arcade Ladder.  Sometimes, instead of saying, as an example, "Round 2.  Fight!," the announcer will oddly say something like "Round 6.  Round 7."  I have no idea why the wrong audio files are sometimes played here, nor can I reproduce the error at will, it is completely random, and it's the only audio hitch I've experienced.

As mentioned above, King of the Hill is absent from online play as are Lobbies, however you can connect via Wi-Fi to play Player and Ranked Matches or you can connect via ad hoc for local play.  I've played several Ranked Matches to date, and it saddens me to report that the lag which plagues the console versions appears to still be here, depending on the match, but thankfully the "Game Session is No Longer Available" drop seems to be absent.  Players can still disconnect on you though, screwing up your stats, but there's nothing to be done about that now and the overall experience is still both enjoyable and competitive.

The PlayStation Vita version of Mortal Kombat also features the same number of Trophies available in the PlayStation 3 version of the game, though some of them have been removed (such as the King of the Hill ones) and replaced with new Trophies related to the Bonus Challenge Tower, the new Mini Games, and a few other secrets.

At day's end, I really need to compliment NetherRealm Studios on an excellent port of an already excellent game.  Despite the visual downgrade, this is Mortal Kombat through and through with some great exclusive, hardware specific content to help keep things fresh.  Not only has the PlayStation Vita version of Mortal Kombat entertained me through countless commutes (and it'll certainly continue to do so), but it's also greatly improved the quality of my game, allowing me to learn additional kombatants and overall improving my skill in the game.

For you though, the real question is if Mortal Kombat for the PlayStation Vita is worth your hard earned cash.  Being almost the exact same game as that available on consoles, the question you need to ask yourself is if you're tired of the core game or not.  If the answer is yes, you're done with it or where never interested in it in the first place, then the PlayStation Vita version will do nothing for you.  If you're still in love with NetherRealm Studios fighter then there's an excellent experience to be had here which you can now take with you anywhere.  If you've never tried the game on any platform before and are itching for a solid title for your PlayStation Vita, I'd definitely recommend it as the amount of content available out-of-the-box is staggering for a modern day retail release, and you'll get months of solid enjoyment from it.

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