Mortal Kombat had been in a rough place for a while, but with last year’s new addition to the series it reestablished its relevance both as a fighting game and a brand. Now, NetherRealm Studios is shooting for dominance on a new platform: the PlayStation Vita. Mortal Kombat Vita doesn’t release until May, but I got some hands-on time with the game at PAX East this past weekend. I’m pleased to say Mortal Kombat Vita is keeping stride after its latest success and has what it takes to stand above the other fighters that are steadily making their way to Sony’s portable system.
The most important thing Mortal Kombat Vita has going for it is an incredibly stable, silky-smooth frame rate of 60 frames per second. It’s difficult to express just how big a difference this makes; even consoles with all their horsepower have frame loss and slow down. I witnessed none of that, no matter how much was going on during matches. As was related to me at PAX, the development team’s main goal – beyond any modes or extra features – was a fluid and constant frame rate. It makes all the difference in the world and keeps the game as relevant in training and play for hardcore tournament players as it does for casual fighting fans.
The game certainly has extras to coincide with the move to Vita, though. All the additional characters and costumes that were DLC previously will be included up front for the Vita version. There are also two modes which take special advantage of the Vita’s touch screen: Test Your Slice and Test Your Balance. Test Your Balance puts different characters in the position of standing one-legged on a beam for a set amount of time, while the player balances them using the Vita’s accelerometer. Not only does it get more difficult to balance the character as the challenge level goes up, but severed heads fly in off-screen and pelt the character at random, requiring sudden shifts in balance. Falling into a pit isn’t all bad outside of being a miserable failure; you get to witness your character being dismembered in a variety of ways by the contraptions in the pit below.
Test Your Slice is a mode very similar to the Fruit Ninja-style games and was my personal favorite extra mode. True to Mortal Kombat form, though, there’s nothing so innocent going on as chopping up fruit. In Test Your Slice, players will be tasked with slicing apart decapitated heads as they are tossed across the screen. There are different power-ups and hazards that keep the mode interesting. Slicing bombs ruins the bonus gained from slicing consecutive heads, and must be avoided by shaking the Vita to blow the bombs up. Slicing a Sub-Zero head freezes all the other heads on screen for a few seconds to make things easier. Other power-ups gradually get introduced as the challenges continue, as well as time-based bonuses and penalties. It’s a bit of not entirely mindless fun that acts as a nice break from fighting.
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There are also 150 new challenge tower missions, some of which also take advantage of Vita features and others that were simply not put into the console version because of various constraints. Some challenges require players to interact with the screen in different ways during matches, such as wiping blood from the screen or tapping rockets aiming at their character. One notable addition is that fatalities can now be executed with the touch screen. I was never one to have issues with inputting a fatality using a d-pad, but it’s still a nifty feature for those who have.
Other challenges are centered around the former DLC characters that didn’t get time in the spotlight of the console challenge tower. The coolest addition may be the challenge missions that let players wield the power of Mortal Kombat bosses, such as Shao Khan. The bosses are still not playable in the base game modes because of the balance issues they create, but NetherRealm saw placing them in the challenge tower as a way to give fans a treat without messing up the game’s tournament worth.
For everything that has been packed into it, the game is not left wanting visually, either. Mortal Kombat Vita runs on a modified version of the Unreal Engine 3 and has all the bells and whistles that would be expected. It’s not an exact replica of the console version, but I wasn’t let down when I saw it in person. All the effects from special attacks, fatalities, and x-ray moves are present, and backgrounds have all the ambient activity that can be seen on consoles. Truthfully, the only thing missing is cross-platform play with the PlayStation 3; something that is by no means a standard feature in fighters yet. Gamers looking for a robust fighting game package need look no further once Mortal Kombat Vita hits shelves on May 1st.