The “Mortal Kombat” franchise hasn’t had the best reputation over the past decade or so, but with it’s latest reboot, NetherRealm Studios is trying to give the MK name a new life. The 2011 “Mortal Kombat” brings the series back to a system closer to “Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3,” arguably the competitive apex of the series, with a few modern fighting game enhancements thrown in.

The roster is pure fan service, with most of the characters from the first three games (and a few beyond) making return appearances. This is especially true of the female cast members. Apparently the average cup size in the “Mortal Kombat” universe is somewhere around an H. Whether you’re into that or view it as unnecessary pandering is up to you.

Graphically, “Mortal Kombat” is outstanding, with characters’ outfits becoming torn and bloodied as their fights rage. At the end of a character’s two or three rounds, he or she is a complete mess. Blood splatters onto the floor and dries to a slightly browner hue. The effect becomes ridiculous in training mode, where spending as little as 15 minutes pounding on your unkillable training dummy turns its entire upper body into a glistening red nightmare. This is more a point of amusement than a detriment, though.

After a decade of unsuccessful experiments with the third dimension, 2011’s “Mortal Kombat” returns the series to the 2-D plane, though gameplay wise it doesn’t necessarily feel like a typical 2-D fighter. Instead, the game plays closer to 3-D fighters like “Tekken” or “Virtua Fighter.” Combos are primarily made up of chains and specials, many of which cause ground bounces similar to “Tekken’s” bound system or pop-ups that allow you to perform horizontal juggles more typical of 3-D fighters.

New to the series is the addition of a three-tiered meter which fills as you take damage or hit a blocking opponent. Each “bar” of the meter allows a different ability, though the overall effect is similar to the super bar as used in “Street Fighter III: Second Impact.” This is particularly true of the “enhanced” specials, which allow you to spend a bar to beef up one of your special moves.

Two bars will net you a “breaker,” allowing you to bust out of an opponent’s combo any time you’re in hit stun and he or she is physically in contact with you. High level play, even in the early stages of the game’s competitive life cycle, typically sees 40-plus percent combos. As higher damage combos work their way into everyday play, use of breakers is going to be especially important in keeping the game competitive.

A full meter grants you an “X-Ray,” which is essentially “Mortal Kombat’s” take on the super combo. As the name implies, X-Ray attacks zoom way in, allowing you to see the victims bones shatter and organs rupture as he or she is brutalized by the opponent. The characters of course will stand up immediately afterward, regardless of if their spine is still connected to their ribs or if they still have a liver. Hell, you may have even broken their neck twice in one fight. It’s “Mortal Kombat,” though, so who cares?

One issue with X-Rays is that they all have hyper armor. For those unfamiliar with the term, this means that if you hit someone during the startup of his X-ray, he or she will take damage, but you won’t interrupt the attack (and in most cases, you’ll end up eating the X-Ray for 30-some percent and lose on that trade). This means that after your opponent has a full meter, your best bet is to hang back and hope your opponent makes a mistake on which you can capitalize. Despite popular belief, there’s nothing wrong with turtling, but the overall offense-heavy gameplay effectively gets turned on its head after the meter fills.

Gameplay modes include a standard arcade “ladder” similar to the original titles, a well-realized story mode and an obligatory training room (with a bare-bones tutorial to boot). The most fun aspect of single player is perhaps the Challenge Tower, a series of 300 special-condition fights and mini-games. Tag team matches have also been added and can even be played cooperatively with a friend – or in teams for up to four players.

The game’s online features are robust, but the netcode leaves a lot to be desired. Matches range from being playable to having input delays of over a second. This is especially disappointing given Warner Brothers’ promise to make MK the “Gold Standard” for online fighting games.

Despite some minor hangups, “Mortal Kombat” is, at its core, a solid fighting game. Its addition to the roster at Evo 2011 will guarantee that the much maligned series gets a shot at the competitive scene, which will hopefully keep NetherRealm interested in developing the franchise further with quality in mind.

4 out of 5 stars

Alex Girard is a senior majoring in journalism and communication arts. Want to talk about the latest Wii release or reminisce about the good old days of N64? E-mail comments, questions and suggestions to [email protected]