Not only did Warner Bros. produce a new "Mortal Kombat," it went back to the classic formula. "Mortal Kombat" features 2D gameplay (thank gawd!), lots of characters, and lots and lots of blood and gore. In a sense though, it's schlocky and fun violence, more "Army of Darkness" than "Saw." While the actual number of occurrences of graphic violence surely outpaces "Manhunt" it simply feels more fun. And there's a good reason, violence in "Mortal Kombat" is about mocking your opponent. Think of it as gory trash-talking.
One simply cannot understate the success of the new "Mortal Kombat." "Super Street Fighter 4" has sold 1.6 million units. "Marvel vs. Capcom 3" has sold 2 million units. "Mortal Kombat," which has been out for less time than either game, has already sold just shy of 3 million units. This one game alone has already paid for the acquisition of Midway by Warner Bros.
So what made the game great? Well there are the obvious facts: it was a good looking game, especially in 3D, it received critical praise, and it was well supported by collector's editions, including a tournament edition with an incredible game stick. But what really made it fly off shelves? Easily accessible, highly satisfying local multiplayer.
Perhaps more than any other company, Warner Bros. understands the value of playing together. All one has to do is look at the Lego games, they are designed to be played with a friend sitting next to you, and they are very fun. While most of the industry seems to think co-op and multiplayer means "online" they are neglecting the fact that games are social, especially local.
From the couch, to the big 55" HDTVs we've set up entire rooms to sit in front of our gaming machines with other people. But it's not just about being local, all one has to do is play "Resistance 2" co-op to know that pretty and local aren't enough.
Accessibility and satisfying rewards are key. Sure you can get good at "Mortal Kombat." But let's be honest, if you're going to pour over the charts and get really good at a fighter, you're going to pick a Capcom game, like "Street Fighter 4." The game is designed for the hardcore fighter.
"Mortal Kombat" has never been a big tournament game. It has never been as tightly balanced nor as nuanced. However that's not the point. It's fun. By fun we mean competitive mixed with clear declarations of success. When you pull off a move in "Mortal Kombat" even a simple upper-cut, it's rewarding. The sounds, the exaggerated animation, the blood... they all combine in a way that makes you want to rib your neighbor and shout out "in-your-face."
One only has to look at the new "X-ray" moves. While all characters have special moves, the "X-ray" ones are spectacular to see. The game pauses and you see your character break the bones of an opponent, as if it were an "X-ray." To pull of the move you simply fight, your bar will fill with both damage dealt, taken, and blocked. Then you hit the same three buttons for every character, and unless you miss or it's blocked, you are treated to a standing ovation worthy, humiliating animated experience.
You see, that's the secret sauce in "Mortal Kombat." Even beginners can pull of the "X-ray" moves. Yet advanced players can pull of tricky combos. In a Capcom game a noob is always toast. But in flag football, even if you've never played, you'll find yourself doing something amazing, something worth celebrating.
"Mortal Kombat" is the flag football of fighting games. If you're skilled, you'll still dominate, but every dog will have his day and pull off at least one great, brag-worthy move. And, like flag football, taunting and teasing feels much better face to face than over a blue-tooth headset.
Watching sports with a friend on the phone isn't the same as having them over for the game. Watching a movie with a date on the cell isn't the same as having him or her on the couch. Playing a competitive game, especially one with short session durations, isn't the same as playing next to someone.
I love online multiplayer games. Genres that require heavy investment, such as MMOs and serious FPS games like "Black Ops" make sense and play better online. Sports sims tend to go both ways, depending on the desired experience. But so many games, esp. co-op and short sessions games like racing and fighting are incredible locally. Yet many game developers ignore local for online, or provide a weaker local experience.
So let "Mortal Kombat" act as a case study. Folks are hungry for local, accessible, satisfying competitive experience, and developers may want to consider providing more experiences to cater to them. The arcade is in the living room, perhaps even more than online.