To celebrate the simultaneous worldwide release of Mortal Kombat (Midway, 1992) on home consoles 13 September 1993 was dubbed “Mortal Monday”. Mortal Kombat’s move to home consoles impacted not only the ongoing “Console War” between SEGA and Nintendo but also videogames forever thanks to its controversial violence. Fittingly, to commemorate this game-changing event, I’ve been dedicating every Monday of September to celebrating the Mortal Kombat franchise.
Released: 1 March 2016
Originally Released: 13 April 2015
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Also Available For: PlayStation 4 and Xbox Series X (XL Edition); PC and Mobile (Standard Edition)
After gaining equal parts success, popularity, and controversy thanks to its peerless use of gore and violence and unique digitised graphics, the Mortal Kombat franchise (Various, 1992 to present) offered not only the first real competition for Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (Capcom, 1991) but also redefined videogames (especially fighting games) for years to come. After the series hit its peak in the mid-to-late nineties, Mortal Kombat struggled to find a footing in the emerging 3D fighter arena; however, after recovering from the poor reception of Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe (Midway Games, 2008) and bankruptcy, Midway was bought by Warner Bros. Interactive, rebranded to NetherRealm Studios, and successfully got their ultra-violent fighting game franchise back on track after Mortal Kombat (NetherRealm Studios, 2011) was very well-received for its “back to basics” approach.
Production of the next game in the series began in 2012 and much of the hype and marketing focused on the game featuring the most brutal and gruesome Fatalities in the series to date. Mortal Kombat X expanded upon not only the mechanics and story of its predecessor but also the content, featuring a wealth of new online modes that would come to be a signature of NetherRealm Studios, alongside far more downloadable content (DLC) than its predecessor. Sales and reviews of the game were incredibly strong, leading to the release of the XL version of the game about a year later; this version included all of the DLC and additional content released and continuing the game’s strong critical response and all but guaranteeing the production of the eleventh entry in the series.
Although Shao Kahn and his Outworld forces were defeated in Mortal Kombat (2009), much of Earthrealm’s forces were killed and enslaved by Quan Chi’s dark sorcery and put in service of his master, the fallen Elder God Shinnok. After Johnny Cage uses his mysterious latent powers to defeat Shinnok and many of their friends and allies are restored, a new generation of Earthrealm warriors are forced to put aside their egos and arrogance in order to prevent Shinnok’s resurrection and continue the uneasy truce Earthrealm has forged with Outworld.
Like its predecessor, Mortal Kombat XL is a 2.5D fighting game in which players select one of thirty-three characters and take on the game’s single-player story mode, battle one-on-one against another player or computer-controlled opponent, or challenge a variety of arcade-style towers or other players in a variety of online battles. As is the Mortal Kombat tradition, fights take place in a three round format and against a time limit, though you can customise these settings (and many others, such as the difficulty of computer-controlled opponents) from in game’s options to speed up gameplay or make things more accessible.
Essentially, the game’s fighting mechanics are exactly the same as in the last game but tweaked and improved in numerous ways. You can throw punches with either X or Y, kicks with A or B, hold RT to block, perform a grapple-like throw with LB (or X and Y and a directional input), dash towards or away from your opponent (or hold RT to run, though this consumes the new stamina meter), jump in or crouch to attack or avoid projectiles, and string together combos by pressing the attack buttons and using directional inputs quickly. The game also expands on the tutorial of its predecessor to teach you the basics of the in-game combat, which gets deeper and more intricate as you learn more about the game’s combo system and stringing together basic attacks, combos, and special moves but, thanks to a refined and simplified control scheme and a much more user-friendly move list that is accessible by pausing a fight at any time, it’s very easy for even new players to perform a few simple combos and succeed in most fights.
With a few simple directional and button inputs, you can also pull off a number of special moves, ranging from projectiles to grapples and elemental or telekinetic slams. This time around, though, every character has at least three different “variations” that alters their special moves and fighting style; this adds a great deal of variety to the game’s fights and means that you can focus on ranged attacks, grapples, or even summon minions to provide a modicum of assistance and can help make each character accessible to your fighting style. As you perform combos, special moves, and absorb damage, you’ll once again fill up the Super Meter at the bottom of the screen; this meter fills much faster than in the last game, allowing you to enhance your special moves with RT and pull off combo breakers much faster and more frequently. Once it’s completely full, you can once again pull off a devastating X-Ray move but, this time, you also have the option of enhancing your moves further with another tap of RT (though this will burn up your meter) and perform reversals and “block breakers” without draining your meter.
While the tag team system has been completely abandoned in Mortal Kombat XL, there are numerous opportunities in every stage for you to interact with the environment with a press of RB. This allows you to swing from vines, flip up walls, throw innocent bystanders, or use weapons to avoid incoming attacks or dish out a bit more damage to your opponent. Most stages have at least three of these but some have more, or less, and you can even set the game up to give you an audio indication of when you can interact with the environment or turn them off completely (though I don’t get why you’d do that). Of course, once you’ve drained your opponent’s health bar completely and won the decisive round of the fight, you’ll be given the chance to finish off your foe; by positioning yourself correctly and inputting some directional inputs and button presses fast enough, you’ll pull off a gruesome Fatality that will leave your opponent dismembered (usually with their brains, eyes, and/or other organs spilling from their remains).
Every character has at least two Fatalities (in addition to special “Stage Fatalities” that can be performed on certain stages) available to them and, while you’ll have to unlock their inputs in the Krypt or look them up online in order to pull them off, you can view them at any time from the pause menu, practice them in the Fatality Tutorial mode, and earn (or buy) “Easy Fatality Tokens” to assist you. While “Babalities” (and all silly elements) are no longer present, Mortal Kombat XL sees “Brutalities” return to the franchise; by following a specific set of instructions during a fight (such as ending the fight with a throw or a stage interaction or performing a certain number of attacks during the final round), you’ll mutilate your foe with a sudden, vicious kill move. Another new addition to the game is that you’ll be asked to join one of four “Factions” for the purposes of online play; as part of this, you’ll also be able to pull off one of five “Faction Kills” by standing a jump distance away from your opponent during the “Finish Him/Her!!” command, holding block, and entering specific directional inputs.
Every time you win a fight, you’ll earn Koins to spend in the Krypt, experience points (XP) to level up your user profile (which can also be customised with unlockable icons and backgrounds by winning fights, exploring the Krypt, and completing simple daily challenges), and points to aid your Faction. This allows you to increase your rank in your Faction, unlock access to more Faction Kills, and help your Faction to beat the others in an ongoing struggle for dominance. This is further aided by full on Faction War through a variety of towers and the regular Invasion of a super tough boss character that everyone in your Faction has to work to whittle down for more rewards, and you can change your Faction at any time to explore their different Faction Kills. Towers themselves are greatly expanded this time around; the traditional arcade ladder still has you tackling eight random opponents before battling Goro and Shinnok and unlocking your character’s ending but you can also take on daily, hourly, and premium challenge towers, and Test Your Might returns (though the other “Test” mini games are absent) in the tower mode as well. You can also tackle an Endless tower and a Survival mode that sees any damage you take carry over to the next fight and you can even create Tower Challenges for your friends to try out.
Mortal Kombat (2009) sought to revitalise the franchise by retelling the events of the first three games in a cohesive way and making big changes for the series and Mortal Kombat XL’s story expands upon this greatly. Essentially a retelling of the events of Mortal Kombat 4 (Midway Games, 1997), the story deals with the emergence of a new generation of fighters and the building of inter-realm relations between Earthrealm and Outworld. Divided into twelve chapters, the story again has you playing as one character for each chapter, which continues to be an effective way of getting to grips with a wide variety of the game’s roster (though, again, you still can’t perform Fatalities in the story mode), and you can replay them at any time. While you won’t have to worry about fighting two characters at once this time, you will have to be on your toes as you’ll be asked to perform a handful of quick-time events (QTEs) during the story, which also features cameos not only from unplayable characters like Sareena, Li Mei, and Smoke but DLC characters like Tanya and Bo’ Rai Cho. Because the last game left many of the series staple character undead minions of Quan Chi, much of the story’s focus is on Johnny Cage rather than Liu Kang and the new generation of fighters (Cassie Cage, Kung Jin, Takeda Takahasi, and Jacqui Briggs) but, sadly, a lot of the unique appeal of these new characters is somewhat undermined by the inclusion of their parents (the more popular series staples like Johnny, Sonya Blade, and Jax). Equally, the story immediately backpedals on a lot of the changes made in the last game; Sub-Zero is no longer a cyborg, Scorpion is human now, and both of them (and Jax) have been freed from Quan Chi’s influence, which is a shame as it would have been cool to see a streamlined design for Cyber Sub-Zero but it is cool seeing Scorpion’s human form.
Graphics and Sound:
As great as Mortal Kombat (2009) looked, Mortal Kombat XL is a massive step forwards in terms of its graphics, presentation, and gore; character faces can be a bit shiny and unnerving in the story mode cutscenes but you won’t really notice this minor issue when locked in combat. Similarly, there’s basically no distinction between the cutscenes and in-game graphics, with only a change of lighting and camera positioning separating the two.
This means that the game is presented so convincingly that it’s basically like playing a high quality CG cutscene and the character’s little quirks and mannerisms are emphasised even further; the winning character will back away from their fallen opponent between rounds, characters spit taunts after landing combos and special moves, and each one is injected with a high degree of personality to make them shine (Ferra and Torr, being two characters fighting in tandem with each other, are the perfect example of this but you’ll also get little moments like characters reloading or straightening their outfit). Even better is the fact that pre-fight introductions have been greatly expanded; characters will now trade dialogue with their opponent, which changes depending on who you’re facing and leads to some interesting references to previous games and rivalries. It thus remains a shame that NetherRealm Studios continue to offset all these impressive graphics with the motion comic-like sequences used to convey each character’s ending.
Mortal Kombat XL’s stages are equally far more detailed and full of even more life than ever before thanks to the wide variety of stage interactions on offer. Aside from the returning Pit stage (which still has random fighters battling it out in the background), stages in Mortal Kombat XL are both new and immediately familiar; the Dead Woods and Sky Temple stages recall the Living Forest and the Courtyard, respectively, for example. You’ll also battle on a boat in the middle of a tumultuous storm as bodies rise and fall with the waves in the background, outside of the Lin Kuei palace, in the middle of a dense jungle, and even before the very life force of Earthrealm itself. Each stage has a fantastic field of depth and brought to life through the different interactions and Stage Fatalities on offer, which allow you to bash your foe’s skull in, toss hot coals at them, uppercut them into the sights of a machine gun, or feed them to a hungry kraken.
Characters still carry cuts and the wounds from their battle but their clothing no longer rips or tears as fights progress. However, the game’s graphical upgrade does mean more gore and more brutal Fatalities and X-Ray moves. X-Rays now lose the distorting x-ray effect and clearly show bones, muscles, and arteries snapping and splitting in gruesome, over the top detail as characters stab their foe through the eyes and deliver bone-breaking shots to their limbs. Similarly, Fatalities are much longer and gorier than ever and make Mortal Kombat (2009)’s look tame in comparison: Kung Lao forces his opponent face-first into his razor sharp buzzsaw-like hat, Kenshi cuts them into little bloody chunks with his telekinetically-controlled sword, Takeda and Ermac uses their whip and psychic powers, respectively, to rip out their opponent’s insides, and Reptile dissolves his foe in pools of acid. The game takes full advantage of its greater processing power to show guts and brains plopping out from their dismembered remains and characters being torn apart in explicit, sickening detail and there’s a definite sense that Mortal Kombat XL’s Fatalities were purposely designed to be as entertainingly disturbing as possible.
Enemies and Bosses:
As before, every character in Mortal Kombat XL will be your enemy at some point as you play through the story mode and many different towers; this time around, though, you don’t just need to worry about the fact that every character plays and controls a little differently but also has a variation that can fundamentally alter the way they fight. You might be expecting Scorpion, for example, to fight with his trademark kunai and fire breath but one of his variations adds additional sword attacks and another allows him to toss demons at you or hold you in place. This means that you’re asked to adapt your playstyle on the fly and experiment not only with different characters but their different variations as well; Kotal Kahn might be a lumbering, unwieldy lug but his War God variation affords him greater reach with his sword and D’Vorah might be a massive pain in the ass of a character but her different variations give her different rush and projectile attacks. It’s all about experimenting and seeing which variation of which character best suits your play style and finding ways to counteract the different moves and abilities afforded by your opponent’s variations.
Of course, there are quite a few new characters on offer in Mortal Kombat XL but, as unique as characters like Erron Black and Takeda are thanks to their long-range weaponry and whips, respectively, characters like Cassie and Jacqui are merely faster, weaker shadows of their parents (Johnny, Sonya, and Jax). Personally, as much as I like Johnny, Sonya, and Jax, I feel like the game missed a trick by not removing them from the roster and simply having their moves represented solely in the variations of their kids as it would help them stand out more but, as it is, I’d always pick to play as the iconic and capable Johnny than Cassie. Kung Jin, despite being related to Kung Lao, is basically a new version of Nightwolf, which hurts him a little, and Ferra/Torr (despite their unique symbiotic gameplay) are little more than an ape-like beast. Of all the new characters, Takeda was my favourite to play as thanks to how overpowered and versatile his whips were but the four generational characters left a lot to be desired in terms of their design and attire (but then, to be fair, Johnny also gets a pretty disappointing default attire this time around).
When playing the story mode, you’ll have to battle against Tanya at one point, which was the first hint towards some of the DLC characters that would round out the game’s roster. Similarly, originally, Goro was only available as a pre-order bonus and would await you as the penultimate boss in the traditional arcade ladder. Thankfully, Goro is nowhere near as cheap or as tough as in Mortal Kombat (2009); a far more balanced character, he still tanks your attacks with armour and is capable of dishing out a great deal of damage but it doesn’t feel like the game (and the character) has suddenly been ramped up when you face him (you can even perform finishing moves on him this time around). Fighting Goro really helps to emphasise how much fairer Mortal Kombat XL is over its predecessor; Breakers and parry moves are still a pain in the ass but the computer no longer hides behind their blocks and is nowhere near as cheap and frustrating as in Mortal Kombat (2009).
At the conclusion of the story mode (and waiting at the end of the classic tower) is Shinnok (who is, unlike Shao Kahn in the last game, also a playable character). The fight against Shinnok is a standard two round affair that is far easier than battling Shao Kahn; first of all, you don’t have to worry about Shinnok hiding behind armour and spamming moves that drain half or all of your health in a few attacks and can freely jump in and attack Shinnok with a string of combos rather than camping out at the far edge of the screen and spamming your projectiles. Defeat him, however, and he transforms into the boss-exclusive “Corrupted Shinnok”, a demonic form that looks far more intimidating than it actually is. You are still free to attack at your leisure and however you prefer, which makes beating the arcade ladder much easier and far less frustrating than in the last game. Sadly, though, there are no secret or hidden fights to be found this time around, which is a shame.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Although it scales back on the available mini games and distractions, Mortal Kombat XL sees the return of the Test Your Might mini game and the Test Your Luck mode. Test Your Might is now confined to the towers and has you, once again, mashing buttons until the targeting reticule is in optimum position so you can hit LT and RT to smash a variety of materials. This quickly becomes incredibly difficult, though, and sees you frantically mashing buttons only to fail and see your character being killed as a result. Test Your Luck allows you to have up to seven different modifiers that will randomly select your opponent and cause a number of positive and negative effects to alter the fight; this can cause acid to rain down, Cyrax’s bombs to fly into the fight, dashing, blocking, or Breakers being disabled, an instant boost for your Super Meter or health, or characters to randomly fall asleep among many others. It remains a very fun and entertaining additional mode that adds a lot of chaos and variety to the game and there’s even a whole tower dedicated to this mode to really spice up your fights.
When tackling the Living Towers (either as part of a Faction or the timed tower challenges), you’ll also be tasked with completing a “Dragon Challenge” as indicated by an ethereal dragon flying around your next fight. This gives you the option of performing a specific task (such as landing certain attacks or not blocking) during the fight to earn additional Koins, XP, and points for your Faction. When tackling the Living Towers and Faction Towers, you’ll also find that your opponents are far more capable than in the regular arcade ladder on the easiest setting and that fights are often subject to Test Your Luck-style modifiers and, though Kombat Kodes are no longer a thing, you can evoke the spirit of those codes using the Kustom Kombat mode to set modifiers and fight-altering effects when fighting against a friend.
Mortal Kombat XL offers sixty Achievements for you to earn, with only two being directly tied to the completion of the story mode. The others encourage you to experiment with all the different characters, variations, and game modes on offer, giving you Achievements for winning fights with every character variation, completing towers, performing jumps, throws, and Fatalities, and battling online. Best of all, the developers added thirteen additional Achievements when they released the DLC packs, with many of these directly tied to the DLC fighters, though a great deal of the game’s Achievements are tied to battling online, which can be tricky given how stupidly good players always seem to be online.
As in the last game, the DLC characters unfortunately don’t come with additional costumes but their appearance does change when you select their variations (Alien has a variation that spawns Baraka’s trademark arm blades, for example; both Jason Voorhees and Leatherface’s appearances alter to reflect their looks in different movies, and you can even choose to play as Cyber Sub-Zero by pressing up twice when selecting Triborg’s variation). The DLC fighters are an…interesting bunch; on the one hand, the game offers what I would consider to be underwhelming characters like Tanya and Bo’ Rai Cho (I seriously don’t get why Rain wasn’t upgraded to the main roster after the last game) while also bringing back an obscure character like Tremor and making the brilliant decision of combining the cybernetic ninjas into one character. Then there are the guest fighters; Predator was an awesome, inspiring inclusion (as was the skin packs that accompanied him) and including Alien was a logical choice but, as great as Jason is (one of his variations has him returning to life with a small bit of health after being defeated), it feels like a missed opportunity to have him in a game where Freddy Krueger is absent. Leatherface is a decent enough inclusion, to be sure, but hardly conjures the same visual as Freddy when set against Jason.
Thankfully, though, the DLC characters aren’t completely mute this time around and there were loads of additional skins released for the game (some that were only unlockable by linking up to the mobile game) that include classic outfits (and Fatalities) and character cosplay. All of these are included as part of the XL version of the game but NetherRealm Studios did release a few additional skins after the XL edition released so, while it is the definitive, most complete version of the game, it’s not got 100% of the content as a result. Returning from Mortal Kombat (2009) is the Krypt, which is now a far more elaborate first-person jaunt through spooky, gothic environments; this time, you can also acquire a number of iconic items (such as Reptile’s Claw, Scorpion’s Spear, and Raiden’s Staff) to open up new areas and explore further. In the Krypt, you’ll be able to spend your Koins opening a whole bunch of chests to unlock concept art, finishing moves, and other goodies but, if that’s all too much work for you (and, honestly, it can be), you can pay real-world money to unlock everything in the Krypt.
Otherwise, you’ll earn rewards and Koins the old-fashioned way: grinding. Lots and lots of grinding. You’ll do this primarily by besting the game’s many towers with each fighter, performing finishing moves, and battling online. Online fights include standard one-on-one affairs and the “King of the Hill” mode where you sit and watch other players fight until it’s your turn and offer (and receive) “Respect” points. Sadly, however, I found online play far too difficult to be enjoyable; I don’t know what it is but online players always seem to move at lightning speed, stringing together nearly endless combos and attacking with an aggression that makes it almost impossible for you to win without a bit of luck and a lot of spamming. There is some attempt to encourage collaboration through the Faction mechanic but it’s tentative, at best; when an Invasion Boss becomes available, you’ll battle them alone rather than directly alongside other players and your Faction can easily win (or lose) without you being involved in any of the decisions at all.
Mortal Kombat XL takes everything that worked in Mortal Kombat (2009) and ramps it up to eleven; not only are the graphics leaps and bounds beyond the last game, the gameplay mechanics have been tweaked and adjusted and expanded upon to make the game far more accessible and enjoyable. The inclusion of intractable stage elements adds an additional layer to every fight and increases your immersion in the game and, thanks to the Super Meter filling faster and the wide array of offensive and defensive options available to you, fights are faster and more entertainingly gruesome than ever. Best of all, even with the continued inclusion of Breakers, parries, and having to hold block to press up for some finishing moves, the computer-controlled opponents are far less likely to hide behind their block or just smack you out of the air so fights are much more fun rather than becoming frustrating or annoying.
There’s very little at fault in Mortal Kombat XL for me; of all the NetherRealm Studios Mortal Kombat games, it’s easily my favourite and expands the story into new territory. While it’s a shame that some story elements were abandoned and a lot of the new characters are a bit underwhelming, the benefits on offer far outweigh the negative. Mortal Kombat XL also comes before NetherRealm Studios got greedy and locked everything behind numerous in-game currencies, grinding, and real-world purchases; the DLC was really well done and actually included additional Achievements, I enjoyed all of the different skins, and the game expands upon the Challenge Tower of the last game into a wide variety of different gameplay modes to keep you coming back for more (as if the horrific Fatalities weren’t enough).
What did you think to the XL edition of Mortal Kombat X? Did you buy the base game and all the DLC packs separately or, like me, did you wait for this complete edition to release before buying the game? What did you think to the DLC characters this time around and the additional Achievements and skins made available? What did you think to the game’s story; did you like it as a retelling of Mortal Kombat 4 and an expansion into new territory or were you disappointed by the new fighters? What did you think to the new features, like the variations, Factions, and Living Towers, and which Faction was your preference? Were there any characters or features missing from the game for you? Which Mortal Kombat game, movie, comic, or other piece of media is your favourite? Whatever your thoughts on Mortal Kombat XL, or Mortal Kombat in general, leave a comment down below.
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