Mortal Kombat was the best fighting game of 2011, it wasn't a statement I took lightly, nor was it a decision I arrived at easily. I've always loved Mortal Kombat as a franchise, for its hokeyness and that special part of American gaming history that it represents, but I had never thought any of its games were ever particularly good – especially from tournament-level fighting game standards. Mortal Kombat changed all that, not only by staying true to the series' ridiculous goofball roots, but also by being a solid, well-balanced, mechanically rich piece of game design. I know, I couldn't believe it either.
Fast forward just a little over one year to the day, and it's time for Mortal Kombat's encore performance on the Vita. Thankfully, the portable version of Raiden and friends' adventure through Outworld is just as fun, gruesome and reliable as its console counterparts, though perhaps a little rougher around the edges. What's new this time around? Mortal Kombat's Vita port packs an astonishing amount of content for a portable fighting game, although it has had to make some slight concessions in order to do so. Very nearly everything from the console version is present, including the full story mode, Challenge Tower and all of the Krypt's unlockables. All of the console version's downloadable characters and costumes are also included at no extra cost. Most importantly, its gameplay is identical to the console version – I had no trouble executing some exorbitant combos with Kitana or Ermac, despite the Vita's itty-bitty face buttons.
NetherRealm Studios has also added an entire second Challenge Tower, build specifically to take advantage of the Vita's unique suite of input methods. Challenges range from blatant (yet entertaining) Fruit Ninja rip-offs to more interesting implementations, like tilting the Vita to slant the stage, giving your character higher ground and, consequently, a damage buff. It's a tasteful, segregated way to leverage the Vita's somewhat gimmicky features in fun and interesting ways, without compromising the original gameplay that makes Mortal Kombat so excellent in the first place.
These sacrifices are worthwhile, however, as they enable the game to run at 60 frames per second, faithfully recreating the console experience. Given the choice, I'd always prefer a solid frame rate over better looking graphics, and I'm glad that NetherRealm made the same decision, as it was my deciding factor in whether Mortal Kombat would be worth owning. If the fighting had suffered, no amount of touchscreen minigames or unlockable costumes would have made up for the fact that the game's core experience had been lacking.
How's it hold up? The last year has seen a ridiculous number of fighting game releases from virtually every company that's ever made one, so it'd make sense to think that Mortal Kombat, one of the oldest of the new guard, would have lost a bit of its relevance as its grown long in the tooth. But, if anything, age has only served to grow Mortal Kombat into what is surely its most cohesive, full-featured version to date.
Mortal Kombat has reached the hypothetical sweet spot for fighting games, where patching is completely finished, all of it characters have been released and all of its match-ups are well balanced. It usually takes years for fighting games to reach this level of maturity, rather than just one, and the fact that Mortal Kombat is still so widely played in the fighting community means there's still time left to enjoy how good this version is. Couple that with the bonus Challenge Tower and all of the console version's original content, and you've got the recipe for portable punches that practically can't be beaten.
... Seriously, that's not a metaphor. Shao Kahn is still the hardest thing ever.
This Deja Review is based on a PSN download of Mortal Kombat, provided by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.