For almost as long as I’ve loved playing video games, I’ve loved Mortal Kombat. But the reasons I love Mortal Kombat never really had much to do with how the games played. So while it made a lot of headway in becoming a fighting game I legitimately enjoyed playing, I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed by Mortal Kombat X. Despite a fairly lengthy movie-like story mode with a lot of new characters and dialogue, I found the mode lacking in what I really enjoyed: the goofy lore and creativity. Gone were the days of Kamidogu and Mokaps, instead there was a bunch of weirdly realistic and kinda boring character designs, military stuff, and every character had something witty to say to everyone else. It felt like Mortal Kombat was getting real writers and starting to take itself seriously, and that’s just no good.
Mortal Kombat XL‘s 4 new fighters are notable not only in that they add a whole bunch of new movesets to the game’s set of fighting styles, but also because they bring back some of the endearing ridiculousness I love about Mortal Kombat. Like the last Kombat Pack, there’s a mix of 2 guest fighters and 2 returning veterans from previous games. Unlike the last Kombat Pack’s characters, all of these characters are distinctly drenched in the Mortal Kombat world and feel like they have some purpose in being there.
Anyone familiar with guest and DLC characters knows how it usually is: there might be some thrown together backstory about a character magically transporting into the game world and the story ends there, or there might not be an explanation at all. XL’s new characters go the extra mile by integrating their stories directly into how they play and how they fit into the universe.
Take the Alien, for example. At a glance, it’s the classic movie monster that people love and Predators hate. Actually playing the Alien, however, reveals the full story. I quickly noticed that in a lot his moves, this particular Xenomorph has blades extending out of its hands. It turns out, this incarnation of the Alien grew out of a Tarkatan’s (Baraka’s race, for the uninitiated) belly, and so it has adapted both the traits of a classic movie Alien as well as classic Mortal Kombat character.
Alien ends up being a character all about pleasing both fans of the Alien and fans of Mortal Kombat in an extremely interesting blend. Two of its variations focus on classic movie aspects of the creature like acid spitting or summoning face huggers, and those are definitely cool. The real highlight for me was the Tarkatan style, though, which emphasizes the Baraka blades and gives you some of Baraka’s old special moves. While having a wholly unique playstyle, Alien still gives a taste of what it could have been like to play Baraka in Mortal Kombat X.
Speaking of playing classic characters, there’s Triborg. Triborg follows a story thread laid out in the story mode, in which Sub-Zero apparently took out the entire population of cyborg Lin-Kuei by himself. That was by far the coolest bit of lore in the entirety of Mortal Kombat X, but it wasn’t touched upon at all beyond a passing mention. Thanfully, Triborg is the living embodiment of that story, being an AI conglomerate of the backed up cybernetic Lin-Kuei out for revenge against all organic life.
This character is pure fan-service, from looks to backstory to reactions from other characters. I couldn’t help but geek out that in his ending, the Triborg starts the Tekunin, a clan of cyborg ninjas and also the same clan that Sektor starts in his ending of Mortal Kombat: Tournament Edition on Gameboy Advance. I’m not sure how or why I would remember that, but this is the kind of thing that excites me.
But of course the real fan service is Triborg’s wide variety of variations. Despite being called Triborg, he’s actually a Quadborg and houses the playstyles of Smoke, Sektor, Cyrax, and Cyber Sub-Zero. Variations are the defining trait of Mortal Kombat X, and the goal was to make the character feel completely different to suit multiple playstyles. I think Triborg accomplishes this better than just about every other character, so no matter which cyborg you want to play as, Triborg feels like a perfect balance of the old and new styles of Mortal Kombat.
Leatherhead is the closest to a “went into a magic portal and now he’s in Mortal Kombat” kind of character. In fact, that’s literally his backstory in the game. But the way he’s implemented in XL is very interesting. I’ve never seen any of the sequels or remakes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but in the original movie one of the things that always stood out to me is that very little of the gore is actually shown to you. Mortal Kombat has no such restraints, and so actually getting to the chainsaw connect in all kinds of painful ways makes the character feels different enough that he does in fact belong in this universe.
Perhaps another point attributed to being in Mortal Kombat, Leatherface gets very creative with his chainsaw. Creative enough to fill three variations, in fact. One of his variations makes Leatherface into a bit of zoning character, chucking chainsaws at his opponents, which doesn’t seem that practical but that’s why I like it. Interestingly, his Killer variation turns him into a stance character which makes him great for mixing up the opponent. He does bring in a mallet for one the variations, but no matter what style you pick there’s plenty of chainsaw to go around. All in all, Leatherface is a lot craftier and more creative then you’d think a guy with a chainsaw would be.
And then there’s Bo Rai Cho. Bo Rai Cho farts and burps and basically embodies the most silly and juvenile parts of the series . . . and he’s exactly what I think Mortal Kombat X needed. While his current design definitely feels like they tried to make him more serious, everything he does just looks ridiculous. He drinks alcohol, he farts gas clouds, and lights said gas clouds on fire in order to cause explosions. He’s a character that’s impossible to take seriously in nearly any context. If he wasn’t supposedly the teacher of some of Mortal Kombat’s most important characters, he would be a full on joke character.
Bo Rai Cho’s variations take full advantage of his concept. For the most part he feels like a character based on set ups. One variation revolves around getting knock downs so that Bo Rai Cho can drink some booze and buff himself up, while another revolves using fire to make deadly fart gas traps. There’s even a fun nod to the PS2-era games’ weapon system, with Bo Rai Cho having an entire variation dedicated to his staff. Bo Rai Cho feels like a perfect mix of goofy and fan-service, and I’m glad he came back, if only to balance out how straight-faced some of the other characters come across.
What I really appreciate about XL’s new characters are all the dorky details. Not only do they add a lot of interesting styles of play, but they bring back some of the tone and details that make love the series. I’m not sure exactly what direction Mortal Kombat will be going in the future, but the new XL characters give me some hope that things will stay wacky no matter how