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Mortal Kombat Vita Review

By Jeff Buckland, 5/1/2012

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Fighting games seem to be a favorite genre for PS Vita ports, isn't it? We already had BlazBlue: Continuum Shift and Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 on launch, and this week Mortal Kombat gets ported to Vita - and we still have Street Fighter X Tekken on the way soon, too. But this review is for MK, the first American-made fighting game to make a big splash in quite a while. Included in this Vita port is the full roster of the original game's characters (including the paid DLC ones), all of the action, solid controls, and some Vita exclusives too.

Just about all of the modes available in the original 360/PS3 title are available here, along with tag battles in offline and online play. There's the full story mode, which is one of the best in the history of fighting games with full cutscenes and voice work threaded in between every fight and character change. On top of that, there are quick play modes against the CPU, some decent training options, a solid practice mode, the original challenges that play with the rules of a fight, and now 150 new bonus challenges that make use of the Vita's motion sensors and touchscreen in various ways. Some of them have you moving your character with the D-pad while tapping the screen to knock out incoming dangers, while others have you focusing solely on the touchscreen; others are a balancing act as you tip the Vita to keep your fighter from falling, and still others are just plain mini-games that have very little to do with fighting. Some of these challenges include nods to MK's past, while others reference other games, including a few smartphone favorites over the last few years. All of this can lead to new Vita-only unlockable items alongside all of the original bonuses, as the Koins system is still around for unlockign tons of extra content.

But that's all new stuff that can be safely ignored in the main modes. If you're into fighting game purity, then that has certainly been maintained here. I am not qualified to talk with authority about pro-level issues like frame differences or millisecond-level timings and whether this port maintains everything from the original perfectly, but the developers have chosen to forego some of the visual fidelity in order to maintain the original 60fps frame rate, and while it doesn't always look good, it certainly plays very well. Online play works pretty smoothly if you're connected to a wifi network, or you can do offline adhoc wireless play if you want, and you can even talk trash with voice chat over the Vita's microphone. 3G Vita users will have to get back on the wifi grid to do any multiplayer, unfortunately, but any 3G network, AT&T or not, would be generally pretty awful for a fighting game.

Probably the only real downside I see with this port is that the near-seamless transition between the story mode's cutscenes and the actual fights, something I raved about with the original game, has been made to be much more jarring. It's not that the Vita doesn't try, but it's really obvious when the game switches from beautifully rendered cinematics to its cut-down mobile 3D engine - the characters are rather low-poly and the textures aren't the most crisp, especially when seen up close. Of course, it was the right choice to maintain the playability of the original, but it'd have been nice to see just a little bit better detail on the characters, especially during the rather ugly transitions from the story mode's cutscenes to fights. Still, we're very early in the Vita's life and the folks at NetherRealm aren't exactly mobile gaming specialists (yet?), so considering all of that, I still have to say that they did a damn good job.

I hammered on Mortal Kombat Vita and tried to hold it up to the standard that home console games bring, because I've been questioning the wisdom having bought a PS Vita in the last couple weeks, but overall I've come away quite satisfied with what Mortal Kombat offers. After all, if Sony's asking you to spend upwards of $300 (or more) on a system and memory card, and then you've got to pay $40 for this game, then you should be getting a premium experience that is vastly better than just playing more Angry Birds on your phone, right? Well, that's exactly what NetherRealm has achieved, because the only real negative about this Vita port that I can come up with is that the graphics aren't always very pretty - but it's only really obvious when the camera closes in for X-Ray attacks, fight introductions, and a few cutscene transitions in the story mode. One the camera swings back to the 2D view, the 5" screen hides most of the ugliness.

Through all of this, I've barely talked about how Mortal Kombat Vita plays, but suffice it to say that this is a very accurate port of an exciting, revitalized version of a classic fighting game - now with new features and very few mobile-gaming sacrifices to go along with it. At this point, the only real sacrifice is the one your wallet will have to make, as I still think that forty bucks is a lot to spend on a mobile game - and that's assuming, of course, that you even own a Vita yet. But if you do make the plunge, you will know where that money went, as MK on Vita is a damn good example of how future ports to Sony's handheld should go: dial back the eye candy if you need to, but do not compromise your gameplay or remove features just because it's hard to make them work on a mobile system. Good job NetherRealm, and I look forward to what surely is the inevitable Mortal Kombat sequel that, this time, hopefully will be launching on Vita alongside the home console versions.

Disclosure: This review is based on a downloadable review copy provided by the publisher.

Overall: 9 out of 10



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