The character roster is perfect. NetherRealm chose exactly the characters I would have wanted in the ultimate MK game. I didn't feel like anyone was wrongly left out. All of the fighters received excellent design updates that make them look very realistic. Except for Reptile, who was left looking more like a lizard-man than the acid-spitting ninja from MKII. There were no new characters added to the MK story, only Kratos from God of War was added as a special, PlayStation 3-only character. Xbox 360 unfortunately did not receive any bonus content.
Just like in the classic, the Arcade Mode has the player ascend the ladder to the bosses. However, unlike the early titles, Mortal Kombat 9 features the deepest and most intriguing story mode ever in a fighting game. Instead of initially selecting a single character, the player fights his way through chapters of the story, in which each chapter focuses on a different fighter. After winning a match, a cutscene follows and advances the story. The transition from match to cutscene is very well done, as is from character to character. The lack of load times makes for non-stop action and helps the whole mode blend flawlessly together. The best way to describe it is to imagine that you are playing through the Mortal Kombat movie, in a fighting game. It wasn't short either. It took me 8 hours to complete, which is actually longer than a lot of action games and first-person shooters. I would play through it again.
Mortal Kombat fans will love the writing. It presents a very well done retelling of the first three games in the series - MK, MKII, and MK3. The story holds true to the MK saga. It begins as Raiden, on the verge of being killed by Shao Khan, sends a message to himself through time to his earlier self in MK1. The player then follows Raiden during MK1 as he tries to understand the messages being sent to him from the future and tries to help the Earthrealm fighters win the tournament. The plot allowed the developers to recreate the story of Mortal Kombat with the characters from the first three titles, and without creating new ones. Not only did they make the right decision, but they set a precedent for story in the genre.
NetherRealm made the decision to return to 2D fighting, and it payed off. This resulted in a classic feel to the gameplay, which is actually a very good thing. Projectiles once again have a larger role and are very enjoyable, yet uncomplicated to pull-off. Ice, fire, bullets, energy, arrows, and knives, all with unique effects, will be flying across the screen. Uppercuts and sweeps make the game feel very much like the classics as well. Special attacks can even be combined with basic strikes in a single combo. The Super Meter adds a new element to the gameplay that isn't over-complicated and actually works very well. The idea is to fill the meter up to perform more powerful moves: one bar enables the player to pull off enhanced specials, two bars enables the player to break free of an opponent's combo, and a full meter allows the player to perform X-ray moves. Also new to the series, X-ray moves are essentially devastating special moves executed with a full meter. Opponents are generally left with several fractured bones or massive stab wounds. Whether or not you can pull off the X-ray move has added an interesting dynamic. While the game's mechanics do very much hold true to the first three titles, the Super Meter has proven to be an enhancement to the series worth keeping around. The same can be said for X-ray moves.
Fatalities haven't meant so much since the 16-bit era. The over-the-top mutilating finishing moves that helped make the series famous are back and crazier than ever. Every character has at least two fatalities, and some have more to unlock. The grisly moves are for the most part very creative and push the envelope for violence--exactly what I wanted to see from a Mortal Kombat game.
Tag-team has added the possibility of 4-player battles. This game is absolutely awesome to play 4-player. The 2 player co-op is also a feature that I personally play a lot. While its always fun to snap your buddies neck, it's also fun to have him help you fight a freak-show like Goro. The addition of Tag-team play was executed almost perfectly. The new Tag-team feature has added significantly more replayability, and a huge increase in fun factor.
MK’s art design is gritty, realistic, and very MK-esque. It tries to recreate the style of MKs of old with 2011 technology--isn’t that what every MK fan would want? The game’s graphics are powered by the Unreal Engine 3, producing beautiful, detailed visuals. The environments are very well done, turning classic levels into 3D. Damage can be seen on fighters based on where they were hit, leaving them covered in blood by the end of the match. Enough damage to the face will result what looks like a gun shot wound. The level of detail here is impressive.
The gameplay is almost tight enough for tournament level competition. It's close. I know for sure MK9 will be used in competitive tournaments. In fact several tournaments have already been featuring MK9--Level|Up, PowerUp, and Hadoken II. However, nothing currently will supplant the ultra-technical Street Fighter 4 when it comes to the highest level competition. Marvel vs. Capcom 3 won't accomplish this feat either.
Out of the box there are some issues with MK9 as a tournament fighter. The lack of a button configuration in-game and on the character select screen poses a vital time constraint issue during a tournament. Valuable time is wasted if players have to exit all the way to the main menu to change their config. Another issue is the stealth update system, which allows NetherRealm to fix exploits or tweak gameplay on the fly and without actually releasing a full patch. These updates present a problem for tournament players because they need to be practicing and competing on a consistent version. The updates could be helpful for the first six months or so after release, but NetherRealm will need to settle on a version for the game to be tournament friendly. There aren't any problems that are too big for a patch, which is vital because unlike Midway, NetherRealm is making it a point to be active in the fighting game community and listen to feedback from tournament fighters. It will take some time to balance after the initial release, but because of its very solid core gameplay, MK9 has the attributes of a tournament capable fighting game.
The game is, from the start, very fucking fun to play. Once you get a few moves down and check out a few different fighters--you won't want to put the controller down. I played with the Hori Fighting Stick 3, which is solid, but the layout of the MK9 fight stick from PDP (shown below) would be better because of the game's button layout. MK9 offers a great balance of difficulty. It doesn't make anything overly hard, while still maintaining the feel of a challenge. Players new to fighting games could find the Story Mode difficulty to complete, especially in the latter stages. It’s very accessible for those new to the series, but will still allow tournament level players to have lots of gruesome fun.
If you have priceless memories of playing Mortal Kombat in the 90s, then MK9 is a must buy. The game produced intense nostalgic feelings inside me from the days of the Genesis, SNES, and Arcade classic, as well as its movie counterpart [which still is quite possibly the best video game movie to date]. But even if you’ve never played a MK game before, it will still appeal because of the sheer fun factor and the overall completeness of the game. The new elements introduced to the series work surprisingly well, and add a deeper level of tactics to the game. Ed Boon and NetherRealm came up with a plan that was executed flawlessly.