That’s an X, not a ten apparently. While the newest Mortal Kombat to bloodily butcher its way onto our consoles and PCs (and a mobile port that shall not be mentioned) might be the tenth game in the main series, that’s not what we’re calling it. In some ways, it’s indicative of NetherRealm Studios’ approach to the latest game in the MK cannon since 2011’s rebranded Mortal Kombat.
While the depth of evolution you expect from a fighting game franchise is some balance tweaks, better net code, and spruced up graphics, MK X has went one step further and began to feel like a genuine evolution of the franchise. Sure, we’ve still got buckets of viscera and a hefty dose of the old ultra-violence, but around that, things feel much more subdued. The female characters are generally actually dressed, and the personalities and motivations of the main roster are explored in a more nuanced way you might expect from the story mode.
If you’ve got any notion of the Mortal Kombat canon, you’ll realise there isn’t one. I tried to read up on the back story before getting stuck into the tenth iteration and it didn’t make much sense at all. Nobody really stays dead, that much being obvious from a game that revels in having players torture each other to death, but even in the actual story, people die and come back as robots and die again and come back as evil zombies then they get imprisoned and return all over again.
What’s really curious is how some of the characters are aging in real time. Liu Kang, Raiden, Scorpion, Kenshi, and Sub Zero are all starting to look a little grey. Jonny Cage seems like something of a pathetic mess when you realise he’s fifty years old with a daughter (newcomer Cassie Cage) in her early twenties, but he says hashtag you suck at the end of a battle and still wears shades.
Still, that’s the crux of your story here. There’s a new age of Kombatants, Cassie Cage, Jacqui Briggs (daughter of Jax), Kung Jin (younger cousin of Kung Lao) and Takeda Takahashi (son of Kenshi and pupil of Scorpion). We’re also joined out Outworlders Ferra/Tor, Kotal Kahn, D’vorah and Erron Black. The Outworlders are an eclectic and exciting new bunch, while the Earthrealm folks are dull until their backstories are explored.
And that’s something you never thought you’d hear from a fighting game. With the aging of the old guard, the focus shifts to the new squad, formed by Jonny Cage and headed by Cassie. At the outset, the newbies are at odds with each other, rambunctious, and all eager to prove their worth to the detriment of the team. As they try to prevent the return of fallen Elder God Shinnok together, battling Quan Chi and a host of other baddies, they naturally, start to bond. It also turns out that Kung Jin is gay, but it’s incredibly subtle and you’ll likely miss it, unless you’re paying a great deal of attention to every single one of the story mode cuts cenes.
Surprisingly good main story aside, there’s lots elsewhere to keep long term fans and newcomers gripped. The returning towers provide fresh challenges every day and a great way to gather koins to unlock kollectibles in the krypt - yes, that’s right - and they throw a host of fun modifiers into the mix. Narcolepsy, raining skills, tilting screens, ice hail, one hit KO’s, down to more average fair like no jumping and no special attacks. It keeps things fresh, and the ability to pick a faction and earn points for your other members across the world to win the weekly faction wars is a neat touch, adding a feeling of persistence, community, and excitement to the game every day.