If there’s one thing Mortal Kombat has always had over Street Fighter, it’s story. SF doesn’t really need one at all – it’s more about world warriors fighting to become the best or whatever, and when Capcom later started adding plot lines for Cammy, M. Bison, Evil Ryu and the like, it felt supremely unnecessary. MK, on the other hand, embraced its admittedly thin story since the beginning.
Above: MK1 had a shred of a story. MK2 added extra details and began an actual canon that detailed how and why every fighter was present. The new MK re-tells all those events
As the games wore on, the story spiraled into bizarre, convoluted nonsense. That’s part of the point of this entire game – to erase and rewrite a tale that got out of hand. An Ultimate Spider-Man take on MK if you will. The intro begins with 2006’s MK Armageddon, where baddie Shao Kahn finally triumphs over Raiden and the rest of the Earth realm fighters. Desperate for help, Raiden sends a message back in time to himself in hopes of averting this crisis, which begins a brand new take on the events from the first three games. Again, smart use of the three games most people latch onto.
MK’s story mode then spans 5-6 hours of surprisingly cool cutscenes and fights that show Raiden’s various attempts to stop Shao Kahn’s inevitable victory. No matter what he does though, the visions of a ruined future continue, leading him to make drastic alterations to the timeline. If you care about the MK story at all, with Shao Kahn invading Earth, Scorpion eager for revenge against Sub-Zero and the transformation of Lin Kuei ninjas into robo-assassins, this story mode is a total blast and absolutely worth playing through. I know it's hard to take MK's story seriously, but this is actually pretty cool.
Above: Honestly, it’s as good as any MK movie (or other video game movie) you’re likely to ever see
Then there’s the Challenge Tower, which contains 300 task-based battles that award you coins for use in the goodie-filled Krypt. These tasks start off simple (beat opponent with this move, win without blocking etc) but quickly transform into weird one-off modes that add a bit of spice to the battles, like winning while inside a cone of light, defeating Nightwolf before he can summon a massive lightning bolt or mashing Triangle/Y to attack waves of incoming zombies. The final reward for all this toil isn’t necessarily worth the time spent (we’re talking hours), but the journey itself is an interesting departure from the main game.
Above: Story mode, arcade mode and tower all give you coins to spend here, in the Krypt
That brings us to the Krypt. This feature has been in prior MK games and its function remains the same – earn coins in other modes and spend them on bonus content sprinkled throughout the Krypt. Thing is, you don’t know what you’re getting until you spend the money, so expect a lot of character renders and paintings when what you want are locked fatalities and alternate costumes.
I like the idea of the Krypt. Helps give a reason to keep playing. But there are (at least) 299 objects in this damn thing, each ranging from 800 to 1200 coins apiece. Story mode and the Challenge Tower will give you a huge chunk of change, but once they’re over, there is no good way to acquire more coins. Clearing arcade mode over and over again, which includes fighting Shao Kahn and Goro/Kintaro, two of the shittiest cheap-ass bosses I’ve ever played, nets you about 4000 coins per trip. If you want to unlock every character's second fatality (and you do), that means hours upon hours of grinding.
Above: This should feel like an Easter egg hunt; instead it’s just a slog
Now here’s the really interesting part – you don’t actually have to unlock a fatality in the Krypt to use it. Just look online for a list and boom, you can pull it off even without finding it in the Krypt. On one hand, hey cool, I don’t have to spend a ton of time earning coins for moves that should have been unlocked in the first place. On the other… WTF is the point of putting fatalities in the Krypt at all? Does NetherRealm think the world will even bother with it if we can just look up the moves online and they’ll work in the game regardless? Are they hidden content or not? It makes the entire notion of the Krypt ridiculous. Unless you really enjoy seeing promotional art and pre-release sketches, this entire mode is kind of a bust.
With these robust single-player offerings in place, I couldn’t help wonder why NetherRealm didn’t include character-specific tutorial or challenge modes that train you on special moves and combos. Street Fighter IV and MvC3 have this feature, which helps familiarize you with the ins and outs of each fighter, and in turn help you discover which you like best. Without those, all you can do is blindly select a fighter and hop in and out of the pause menu move list until you settle on someone you prefer. Another case of MK focusing on presentation and trappings instead of core fighting tools.