You may have read my NBA Jam preview from last month and, if you did, you'll know that there are two games basically responsible for my childhood pre-Goldeneye, both of them delivered by Midway. One of them is the aforementioned, cartoonish basketball game that spawned the phrase 'Boomshakalaka!'...the other is Mortal Kombat.
Though I can appreciate them and have spent a lot of time playing the wealth of instalments that both seasoned series have birthed, I can't say I've ever been a huge fan of Street Fighter or Tekken, although I have bought every single iteration of Soul Calibur (number two kicked butt largely thanks to Necrid). It's always been the OTT, tongue-in-cheek uber-violence of MK for me. Mortal Kombat II remains, to this day, one of my favourite games of all time.
It hasn't always been the most reliable series. Deadly Alliance and Armageddon flirted with some rather bizarre, and under-developed, questing elements, and the fighting system became confused and muddled as it tried to keep up with the new wave of 3D beat-em-ups. Even favoured fatalities went under the knife at one point, Armageddon instead opting for a mediocre finishing set that had you create your own, significantly less satisfying conclusions to battle.
But, from the ashes of Midway's demise, has finally emerged something of a phoenix. Mortal Kombat is back...and we spent some time at Gamescom finding out exactly why it looks to be something of a triumphant return.
You can forget about the Teen rated MK vs. DC Universe interlude that reared its head a couple of years back. This is no place for kids, the bloog, guts and gore are back baby, and this time it's more outlandish than ever. Claret is everywhere, comically gushing from your opponents as you smack them around, fighters becoming increasingly bruised, their clothers torn, eventually missing chunks of flesh as the battle heats up. Gore flies everywhere, more so when you manage to execute stronger moves like the classic uppercut, grapple takedowns or when weapons are briefly brought into play at the end of a hit combo, staining the walls and floor like an abattoir.
But Ed Boon and Netherrealm Studios have taken that even further. Start piling the pressure on your opponent and a bar at the bottom of the screen will gradually fill until an 'X' begins to pulsate. Mash down the right bumper and trigger when within grapple distance of your foe and you'll execute an X-Ray move. These attacks are utterly, hilariously brutal. With each hit – generally three – the camera will zoom in on the contact area in slow motion, showing the bones and gristle fracture and split under the force of the blow.
Then, of course, there are the fatalities. When playing with friends we always had the cheat mode enabled to allow for maximum shaming of the defeated combatant without having to break the controllers to try and furiously input the right code before the loser dropped to the floor out of boredom. Thankfully, it was on today, to more readily showcase the bloody finishers that made the series a household name, and a parental worry.
Some of them were particularly nasty. Reptile spits acid down your throat before ripping out your stomach as you chunder everywhere. Sektor targets your head and arms before firing a missile at your torso that makes the aforementioned appendages fly off before they're hit by several smaller seeker missiles as the legs fall over comically. Cyrax uses his saw to slice and dice his opponents before sending the various chunks flying with a kick to the sternum and Johnny Cage, classically, uppercuts your head off before ripping apart your body with his bare hands.
The tiny room was quivering with uproarious excitement, exclamations of 'Ohhhhhhh!' and 'Ewwwwwwww!' and I'm pleased to say I managed to win all of my games.
Mortal Kombat has never been the most responsive fighter on the market, but I found it to be a cinch to control, with several moves discoverable by just experiment with the old classics of mixing up back+down+high punch, back-forward low kick. Thankfully, Reptile's invisibility is much easier to activate than it was in MK Trilogy. Netherrealm showed us a mode that was basically tag-team two on two, although they were quick to inform us when asked that there'll likely be a variety of game modes, even if they weren't prepared to illuminate further just yet.
We left our little behind-doors preview – one we'd managed to blag with some smooth talking at the front desk – with big grins on our faces. It's good to see this reboot returning to the visceral style of gameplay that made the original games so popular. There were only around ten playable characters that we were able to get to grips with – including Johnny Cage, Kung Lao, Scorpion, Sub Zero, Kitana, Mileena, Reptile, Cyrax, Sektor and Nightwolf – but if the character select screen was anything to go by there should be at least 26 favourites to punish and humiliate come 2011.