The ninth Mortal Kombat instalment -- creatively titled, Mortal Kombat -- is an exciting rebuke to how most publishers approach the fighting game. There's no need to pay for additional characters, costumes, or online play: this is reminiscent of the fighters of old. There are some decidedly-modern additions to the formula, but the PlayStation Vita version provides a refreshing value proposition that shouldn't be ignored.
For anyone who's had experience with the home console iterations, you're bound to notice that the visuals on the portable version don't quite measure up. They're actually ugly when compared to most Vita games, all things considered. To be fair, the cut-scenes in Story Mode look great and the transitions between these segments and actual gameplay are surprisingly quick. Further to that, the lack of visual fidelity has made the X-Ray moves and Fatalities no less quease-inducing; the animation is as convincing as ever. This isn't a great looking game, but it doesn't need to be.
The viscera is the star of the show in Mortal Kombat, and save for a middling crossover with the DC Universe, it always has been. Be prepared to see plenty of intestines, acid, blood and vomit as you defend Earthrealm from the combined forces of Outworld and Netherealm. There are some cases -- Noob Saibot and Skarlet's default Fatalities come to mind -- where even those with iron stomachs will be hard-pressed not to wince or swallow bile: the violence on display is beyond explicit. While in no way suitable for children, the excessive nature of the visuals is a macabre attraction that is not only a big point of difference in terms of the genre at large, but it also holds your attention. No fighting game quite sells its sense of impact like Mortal Kombat.
Apart from some inconsistent touch controls, Mortal Kombat's core fighting action functions as per the home console versions. The Vita's d-pad is perfectly designed for fighters, meaning I had no qualms in terms of control unless I was attempting one of the more gimmicky stages on the Bonus Challenge Tower. Unfortunately, the cheap AI also survives the transition to the portable version, with any bouts against Shao Khan nearly compelling me to throw my expensive piece of kit. Fights against any of the boss tier characters can induce rage for that matter, as these bouts tread into unfair territory often. Worst of all, I found that there was no real strategy to winning these bouts; more often than not, spamming quick combos would eventually nut out a win. The cheap end game isn't a huge turn off, but it did artificially lengthen the Story Mode and render many Challenge Tower levels unenjoyable.
Despite my frustration, Mortal Kombat offers unparalleled value for a fighting game on the Vita (or any platform for that matter). With standard arcade ladders (as well as a tag variant), a plethora of mini-games and two Challenge Towers, you'd have a hard time experiencing all that this game has to offer. The Bonus Challenge Tower is exclusive to the Vita version, and offers many fun and frustrating ways to experience the portable's touch controls. This iteration also includes the complete roster, including Sony-exclusive, Kratos and all four paid-for characters: Rain, Skarlet, Kenshi and Freddy Kreuger. Better still, there's a slew of unlockable costumes that don't cost an additional cent. Content is unlocked through sustained play, not by shelling out extra dough. When a competitor such as Ultimate Marvel Vs Capcom 3 demands around thirty bucks to supply each character with some extra duds, Mortal Kombat is a cost-effective breath of fresh air.
Disappointingly, I wasn't able to connect to any online multiplayer lobbies, so it's just as well that the Vita version doesn't require redemption of an online pass. Repeated attempts at matchmaking ended in failure, but I suspect this may have a lot to do with the fact that there are few Aussies who've opted to import this version.
It may be frustrating, even ugly, but Mortal Kombat is easily one of the best games on the PlayStation Vita and a brilliant fighting game in its own right. With enough blood and guts to keep players engaged for months, this is a game that you should certainly consider importing. I only wish there were some bloodthirsty kombatants nearby so I could play some matches online, but rest-assured, it's a great fun playing solo.