Mortal Kombat 2011

I am quite excited to say that this Mortal Kombat has fully renewed my interest in the series.  It has no semi 3d environments to worry about, no focus on switching back and forth between fighting styles, no mastering a weapon in addition to normal fighting.  It has been brought back to it's roots.  Back to what made it popular in the first place.  Simply two people beating the crap out of each other in all it's bloody glory.

This game finally brought back the full love I had for it as a 12 year old in the arcades. Back in the summer of 1992 I would mow all the lawns in the neighborhood for money just so I could dump the quarters into another chance at punching someone's face into submission.   I even agreed to work at the MN State Fair watching a friend's dad's art stand for coins just to play more. Remembering the first time I got to see the infamous Sub-Zero spine-rip fatality that clinched my love for the game is so nostalgic.  Ah, the good ole days.... (sigh) 
There are tons of little touches in this that bring back those feelings.  Seeing old levels like the "Pit" from MK2 with familiar faces fighting in the back on a second pit platform.  I have personally spotted Frost, Kenshi, and a male that looked sort of like Reiko.  It's also nice to see how filled out the areas have become.  Unfortunately, they have distracted me to the point of losing matches because I'm busy looking at things going on in the distance.  The new "Living Forest" is quite beautiful and has many people wandering around or dying in it.  Even Smoke is there peeking around like a perv from behind a tree.
(During a few cutscenes I believe I also spotted Bo'Rai Cho, Motaro, and Shinnok.) 
Anyway, the creators have taken years of a game that became bloated by additions and weighed down by junk, and cut out most the fat.  The main game is a basic "mano a mano" 2 dimensional fighting game, with the additional option of a tag team, where each side gets 2 players to swap in and out with. 

For single player there is the choice of Story mode, Challenge Tower, and Arcade Ladder.

Story Mode is a game that takes the player through the various levels and flips around which characters you use at any given time.  It's a good way to learn about the characters and what's going on in the game.  So near as anyone has ever learned, the story is something like this: In order to successfully invade another realm of the many out there, for whatever reason, a group of delegates must participate in a tournament of death and mutilation.  If 10 are won consecutively, you get to come on over and do whatever you please.  Usually more death and mutilation.  Well, this is the 10th tournament and Raiden has received a vision from his future self about needing to stop the Outworld emperor Shao Khan. 
The Story mode is both good for story and learning how to play, and bad because it forces you to play as most everyone without giving you a choice to which character.  Small price for a fairly decent story.

The Challenge Tower is 300 challenges that vary from tough to absurdly hilarious.  Of course they threw in recognizable old games like "Test Your Might" and "Test your Sight" along with "Test Your Strike and Luck". There is a win without blocking challenge, rounds without being able to jump, fighting without heads or arms, and even kombat with the screen flipped.  I personally think the dialog is better than the gameplay on some of these levels- Zombie Goro making gross noises as responses and Mileena's reaction to you not accepting her handmade teddy bear are wonderful. 
I personally believe this mode is good because die hard MK enthusiasts will learn new ways of playing and gaining insight into strategy.  There's also enough humor and strangeness to keep the play fresh.

Lastly there is the Arcade Ladder.  The mode that started it all.  Simple, effective, and entertaining.  One on one fights in a ladder that gets the typical normal matches, sub-boss, and main boss fights, finishing with an individualized video for your chosen character.

For multiplayer there is the regular one on one, two on two tag team, and a great new King of the Hill mode for online play.  King of the hill is nice because you can rate how the others are playing while watching like players in a theater to earn/give "Respect Points".  Which means cheapo players that are spamming the crap out of someone may get very low "Respect Points".  Whereas a fantastic player that goes easy on someone may get lots of points.  All rated by the others in the mode with you.  Granted- there will always be players with grudges that will give you a crappy rating no matter how decently you play.

Now to mention some of the downsides.  With all that feel-good nostalgia, it brought back with it the horrible aggravation.  The computer difficulty is unbelievably cheap.  It's one thing to make the AI a little faster and a little stronger, but it's a completely different thing to make it god like. 
When I first loaded up I left the difficulty on medium.  No big deal, just a guy seeing what he can do without knowing too much in the way of new combos and special moves.  The first 3 to 4 matches weren't too awful.  I certainly wasn't winning by a landslide, no combos or chained maneuvers.  Then out of no where the AI difficulty took on an entirely new mode.  God mode.  Blocking everything without actually blocking, constant streams of super moves that continue hitting you until you are dead,  and 6000 hit combos that take enough damage off your life bar to last the next 17 rounds. 

Somehow the "medium" difficulty became "you'll never win."  Which is odd because, while not an amazing player, I do fairly well against quite a number of other people in fighting games.  What I don't understand is why this would happen now.  I get it for a game created to be played in the arcades.  It gets into cheap tactics and unfair gameplay to sucker quarters out of people.  There was a time I remember playing Mortal Kombat 2 in the arcade and Shao Khan killed me in 4 hits.  Four hits.  As soon as the word "Fight" popped on screen he hit me with the sledgehammer and did the shoulder ram 3 times before i could even do anything.  The next round was roughly the same.  Unable to block the moves, i was completely powerless.  No contest.  I haven't played an MK game in an arcade since.

But... why now?  The difficulty level is absurd.  So I started a new round, this time on easy.  Same thing.  About 4 matches in it turned into a match that should be called "Mike Tyson Destroying a Toddler" mode.  With a couple of roommates gathered to make sure I wasn't just losing my mind, I tried again. 
The AI play skyrockets into insanity- I'd land a 7 hit chained combo that would do mere scratches of damage, the AI would retaliate with a small few hit combo that devastated my life bar.  What the heck?!?  Even if it was the SAME COMBO, my life bar took excessive damage, and theirs would have nothing gone.
AI opponents became fast enough to recover from being tripped and be returning a punch before I finished the leg sweep.  They could have your hand visibly THROUGH their skulls and they wouldn't register as hits.  Multiple times direct hits wouldn't phase the AI, but I would be caught in a move I was CLEARLY blocking or nowhere near. 
It is extremely infuriating to play against something that is so overpowered it's ridiculous.  Take the newly added "X-ray Moves", sure they are meant to do lots of damage but I landed a  fully charged one that did roughly 15% damage, the AI retaliated with the same one, through my block and took easily 50% off the life bar.  GAH!
It comes down to if you play even remotely well, the difficulty drastically increases to a level that is near invincible.  The AI will aquire impossible speed, super-superhuman strength, can block anything with a thought(actual blocking is unnecesary for them), and can hit you with any move, anywhere on the screen.  This might be so players don't get cocky.  Or it could be because the game's creators are just in love with making the gamers suffer as much as the characters they play as.

While the absurd difficulty growth is a serious issue, and there's a few imbalanced characters, the game is TOTALLY worth playing if you've ever liked Mortal Kombat.

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