A bloody and brutal grind for kosmetics
The Switch version of Mortal Kombat 11 marks a big milestone for the franchise’s history with Nintendo. It isn’t the first time that the series has appeared on a Nintendo system, but it is the first time that NetherRealm Studios has brought their flagship series to the Nintendo family after they took the reigns from the now-defunct Midway Games. NetherRealm has shown their commitment to Switch in a big way by delivering an incredible port with the help of Shiver Entertainment. Despite a drop in resolution and some lower quality art assets, the Mortal Kombat 11 experience has made its way to Switch completely intact with one of the most impressive ports the system has seen yet. Unfortunately that 1:1 translation of the game’s mechanics doesn’t entirely hold up to the Switch’s portable nature, making an otherwise stellar fighting game infuriating to put up with at times.
The core gameplay experience of Mortal Kombat 11 holds up to the series’ pedigree. Every character has a basic kit made up of back and front versions of punch and kick attacks with standard fighting game moves like throws, blocks, and low attacks included. On top of this simple framework is a collection of special moves that are unique to the character you’re playing as. For example, Scorpion has his classic chain hook to pull in enemies, Skarlet channels blood magic to attack opponents from a distance, and Cassie Cage uses her drone and pistols to augment her martial arts. The character diversity in Mortal Kombat is one of its strongest points as no two characters feel like they play too similarly, making it easy to find a fighter that fits your own style of play.
In an effort to be accessible to veterans and newcomers alike, Mortal Kombat 11 comes decked out with one of the most extensive tutorials I’ve ever seen in a fighting game. Each lesson explains the move you’ll be practicing while offering a gameplay demo to show you what you’re supposed to be doing, and lessons range from basic movement and combos to complex ideas like spacing and putting pressure on opponents. The lesson that impressed me the most was the one that covered frame data—a concept that’s critical to understand in high level play that I’ve never actually seen a game take the time to explain on its own. With a recent patch adding individualized tutorials for every fighter in the game, Mortal Kombat 11 may deserve the award for best fighting game tutorial ever made.
On the story front, Mortal Kombat 11 features a full-length campaign around eight hours long filled with cinematic cutscenes that have consecutive fights grouped to chapters. The pace of gameplay is better than most fighting game stories I’ve played in the past—where many games will have a single fight in between what feels like endless sequences of characters standing around talking, Mortal Kombat strings a number of fights together at a time in order to give you a chance to get into the groove of gameplay before you get pulled out for more dialogue.
As far as the story itself goes, I found it very difficult to follow what was going on in what seems to be the big grand finale to the current Mortal Kombat timeline since I’m a newcomer to the series. This complaint may seem a bit silly since it’s a bit like walking into Avengers: Endgame without having seen any other Marvel movies, but given the franchise hasn’t been on Nintendo systems in over ten years I imagine a lot of Switch players will be just as lost as I was. Despite the confusion, I still had a good time with the story since the cutscenes are well directed, and the voice actors are all great (with the exception of Ronda Rousey’s guest appearance as Sonya Blade).
Unfortunately there is a fairly large elephant in the room. While actually playing out a fight in Mortal Kombat 11 is a blast, a hot topic of the game’s launch has been the excessive grind for cosmetic items. Cosmetics are available primarily through two main avenues: either by completing challenges in the Towers of Time, or by opening chests in the Krypt. There are a multitude of specific ways to get specific items, but ultimately the main thing you’ll be doing is playing the same game modes over and over again to grind out the currency needed to unlock outfits, character intros, victory poses, and fatalities.
There are hundreds upon hundreds of items to unlock, so it’ll take a long while to get everything you need, and the fact that many of the items are randomly distributed throughout the Krypt without any way to guarantee you’ll get what you’re looking for means you may never be able to get a particular outfit you wanted. I’m not sure why NetherRealm chose to give out cosmetic rewards at such a slow rate—you don’t even have the option to purchase the majority of them with real money, so this isn’t like the cynical loot boxes present in many big budget titles nowadays.
Many people are of the opinion that it doesn’t matter if grinding for cosmetics is a huge chore as long as the core gameplay isn’t affected. I’m not one of those people, but even if I was I would still object to the way Mortal Kombat 11 handles the grind through its always-online structure. Because the game obsessively needs to guarantee you have an accurate amount of currency, you’ll be constantly nagged to connect to the internet whenever you’re playing. This causes huge problems in the Towers of Time where the online connection is strictly enforced.
If your console loses Internet connection while in the middle of a Towers run—like for instance if you put the system to sleep at the end of your lunch break—you’ll be completely kicked out to the title screen once you return to the game. Even the wholly single-player Klassic Tower requires an online connection at all times, and it’s all to reinforce the authenticity of grinding for cosmetics. This severely limits the portability of Mortal Kombat in one of its most replayable game modes. Towers of Time is probably the mode I’d most like to play on the go, so being kicked out of the game entirely for taking advantage of the Switch’s selling point in a single-player experience is unacceptable in my book.
Mortal Kombat 11 is an incredible fighting game, and Shiver Entertainment’s work in porting the game to Switch is beyond impressive. I wish that I could’ve enjoyed playing it so much more, but the arduous grind for cosmetics permeates so strongly through the backbone of this game that picking it up to play at all can be frustrating. NetherRealm has promised a patch to make the grind easier, but all it seems to do is increase the rate you gain currency without removing the always-online restrictions. I hope that someday they relax a bit more and make Towers of Time more playable on the go, because right now I can’t recommend Mortal Kombat on Switch nearly as much as I want to.