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Mortal Kombat: Challenge Tower hands-on

The upcoming Mortal Kombat reboot is no doubt hoping to rekindle interest from existing fans, but it's also clearly aiming to pull a brand new audience into its grisly, blood-soaked universe. Gone are the "silly" characters and cartoonish fatalities with obscene amounts of bright red blood - they're now replaced with a set of popular, iconic Kombat characters who bleed, vomit and shed chunks of flesh with each round, plus amazingly graphic fatalities that actually elicit "holy SHIT!" exclamations from everyone in the room. If that doesn't raise an eyebrow, nothing will.

To further sweeten the deal, developer NetherRealm has included both a Fatality trainer and a substantial tutorial (called Challenge Tower) to ease new players into the series. Whether you're an MK fanboy or a curious newcomer, both modes will help explain the basics as well as the game's new features, such as tag teams, combo breakers and X-Ray moves. Warner Bros Interactive didn't provide screens for each of these new elements,so I hope mere words and unrelated (yet new) images will suffice.

Challenge Tower

Above: The inky Noob Saibot and mysterious Ermac going at it

In this mode you work your way through 300 (!) training missions, which begin with simple tasks like "perform Sonya's special moves" and then escalate into elaborate combos or weird circumstantial challenges. Should you approach one that's too difficult, you can spend coins (koins?) earnedfromcompleted missionsto skip that particular challenge and proceed up the tower. I asked about the reward for completing all 300 challenges, and they simply hinted that the payoff was substantial. Wonder if you just have to reach and beat mission 300, or if you're still able to attain that prize if you buy your way past some of them. Probably shouldn't skip too many though, as the goal is to teach you each character's basic move set as well as familiarize you with the game's power meter along the bottom of the screen.

As with Street Fighter, hitting and being hit slowly fills up a meter. At 1/3 full, you can fire off a powered-up version of your projectile move, one that does extra damage or hits multiple times; at half full you're able to trigger a bail-out move that interrupts your opponent's combo and pushes him/her away, giving you some breathing room; and at full charge you're able to bust out the X-Ray attack, a (literally) bone-crusing move that deals intense damage and shows your foe's innards crunching under the pressure.

Above: Examples of Liu Kang's moves, combos, tags and X-Ray attack

Fatality Trainer

Above: Not the Fatality trainer

Fancy tag-team juggles are one thing, but the real reason everyone plays MK is to see what horrible acts of violence the kombatants will unleash on each other. We've seen our fair share already, and good lord are they brutal. Like, really, really nasty stuff. So naturally you want to see them all! And to that end there's a Fatality trainer that walks you through each character's finishing move step by step. It tells you the button inputs as well as precisely where to stand for each Fatality, and also lets you choose between infinite time to pull off the move or actual game time, which is only a few seconds before your foe passes out.

3D glasses?

Above: Example of a tag-team match. Kung Lao summons Johnny cage in for a fireball toss, who then replaces him as the main character on your side

Part of the latest demo included a look at MK's 3D tech found in the PS3 version. One of the goals was to make the 3D work well with the glasses (obviously), but also to remain viewable to people in the room without expensive pieces of headgear. I sampled both, and while the 3D image without glasses is still slightly blurry, it's nowhere near as obnoxious as other PS3 games I've seen. As for the 3D effect WITH glasses... it's OK. It's there, but is it a draw? Not really.

Test your might, sight, strike, luck

Above: Test Your Sight, from theMK Wiki

Remember the classic "Test Your Might" bonus stages, where you mash on buttons to break piles of wood? Those are back as part of the Challenge Tower, and they're joined by Test your Sight, Strike and Luck. Sight is a traditional sleight of hand cup-in-a-ball game where you have to, in MK style, follow an eyeball hidden in one of three severed heads. Lose and you die. Win and you get stuff!

We didn't see Test Your Luck in action, but we're told it generates one of many possible effects, similar to the Kombat Kodes in Mortal Kombat 3. Possible outcomes were character buffs, headless combat, upside down levels and so on. Test Your Strike is a variation of the classic Test Your Might, but we didn't see it in action to confirm precisely what was going on.

There's actually a demo of MKcoming soon, so get on that, and check out the reviews as they hit near the game's April 19 release date.

March 7, 2011