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‘Mortal Kombat 11’ – The Secret to Success is all in the Lore

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A Brief History of Mortal Kombat

After Street Fighter laid the groundwork for the genre of fighting games, Mortal Kombat hit the scene, setting a high-water mark for graphics while pushing boundaries with its high levels of bloody violence, including, most notably, its Fatalities. No fighting game since has left such a legacy as much as the Mortal Kombat series. It sparked so much controversy for its depiction of extreme violence and gore that it led to the creation of the ESRB. The release of Mortal Kombat for home consoles by Acclaim Entertainment was one of the largest video game launches of all time, with a $10 million marketing campaign that dubbed the date “Mortal Monday.” By 1995, the Mortal Kombat franchise had become one of the biggest video game properties of all time with three hugely successful titles spread across arcade cabinets and home consoles along with a blockbuster movie.

Mortal Kombat 11

After eight installments, Midway Games filed for bankruptcy in 2009 leaving Ed Boon and the MK series without a home. Luckily for Boon, Warner Bros. stepped in and purchased most of Midway’s assets (including Mortal Kombat), and the series was rebooted in 2011 with the ninth entry in the franchise simply titled, Mortal Kombat. Somehow, Midway’s bankruptcy turned out to be a blessing for the series. It gave Ed Boon a clean slate and allowed him to reset the MK timeline with a story that involves Raiden, attempting to change the aftermath of the events of Armageddon. As Ed Boon, described it, the story revolved around an altered re-telling of the events of the first three Mortal Kombat games and despite some pushback from longtime fans not happy with the change, Mortal Kombat (2011) became the most successful title in the franchise’s history to date.

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Story Mode

Fighting games are not typically known for telling good stories, but Mortal Kombat is an exception to the norm. The Mortal Kombat story has been told in many different forms spanning twelve mainline games and three spin-offs (Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, Injustice: Gods Among Us, and Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks) and needless to say, there’s a lot going on under the surface. The series is steeped in lore, and the story has become pretty convoluted over the years with various realms, different gods, and a huge roster that features well over 80 characters and counting. I’m not going to even attempt to rehash the Mortal Kombat timeline. There’s simply too much to discuss and I’d be a fool to try and make sense of it all, but I can say that the secret ingredient to Mortal Kombat’s success year after year, is its rich story – and thankfully with Mortal Kombat (2011), Ed Boon was able to reboot the series and start fresh. More importantly, he and his team were not afraid to change up the formula.

Mortal Kombat 11 makes Avengers: Endgame look like child’s play.

Mortal-Kombat-11

Mortal Kombat 11 is the final chapter of the ongoing story brought about by 2011’s Mortal Kombat and takes place directly after Mortal Kombat X ended just after Cassie Cage defeated the evil and mysterious Elder God Shinnok. Raiden, in a surprising twist, turns from peaceful mentor to a now-corrupted God of thunder and alters the timeline which sends ripple effects throughout the MK universe. Now, years later, a new character named Kronika, Shinnok’s mother and the keeper of time, has decided to step in and correct things with one simple change. Her plan is simple: rewrite all of history by first getting rid of the existence of Raiden. The past and present collide when Kronika decides to create a timequake that sends the heroes and villains of the past into the present where they must now form new alliances and battle past versions of themselves while trying to either save or destroy the realms as we know it.

Hollywood, Take Notes

Told through twelve chapters, Mortal Kombat 11 delivers a balls-to-the-wall cinematic experience with roughly five hours of intense action set pieces that make Avengers: Endgame look like child’s play. It’s easily the best tale the series has ever told and delivers a hugely entertaining ride worthy of its monumental buildup while leaving the future of the franchise open to endless possibilities. NetherRealm has a knack for superb story modes yet despite the studio’s reputation of crafting great narratives, I never expected Mortal Kombat 11 to be this good. As the story unfolds, you feel like you are taking part in the creation of a schlocky, nostalgia-fuelled Hollywood summer blockbuster with each chapter featuring four or five playable fights and featuring an all-star cast of characters from different eras.

Mortal Kombat 11

And even though you spend more time watching the action unfold rather than participating, it helps that the fight sequences are gorgeously choreographed and downright ferocious. And as gorgeously choreographed action scenes go, the work here is that of high art with confident direction, stylish camera placement, and impressive effects to boot. From the explosive opening to the epic finale, Mortal Kombat 11 is an adrenaline-charged assault to the senses – a cacophony of martial arts, broken bones and guns blazing!

Roster

Longtime fans will be pleased to see that Mortal Kombat 11’s eclectic roster includes an almost perfect selection of the series’ most iconic fighters. Scorpion, Raiden, Johnny Cage, Sonya Blade, and Liu Kang are all present and accounted for as well as their revenant versions from Mortal Kombat X. In total there are 25 playable characters including three new warriors Gera, Cetrion and the Kollector. With such a large cast (times two), it’s impressive that NetherRealm was able to find the time to give each character a chance in the spotlight— but they did. And in terms of cinematic cutscenes and voice acting, Mortal Kombat 11 raises the bar for fighting games. The facial animations look great and the performances rise to the occasion, with the one exception of the somewhat flat Ronda Rousey who voices the legendary Sonya Blade. Best of all, the writing adds depth to these characters and nowhere is this better exemplified than in the scenarios where our heroes and villains come face to face with versions of themselves. Not only are the character interactions between young and old selves a highlight, but they help flesh out these characters who have been mostly two-dimensional for over twenty years. Mortal Kombat 11 features plenty of clever gags and inside jokes as well, such as an older and wiser version of Johnny Cage trading blows with his younger and more arrogant self. Meanwhile, there are plenty of heartfelt moments including a few deaths and a complex relationship between a grieving Jax, his younger self and his daughter Jacqui Briggs, voiced wonderfully by Megalyn Echikunwoke.

Mortal Kombat 11

Closing Thoughts

Of course, this is a fighting game so don’t expect Oscar winning performances but Mortal Kombat 11 puts many Hollywood blockbusters to shame when it comes to telling a story on such an epic scale with so many beloved characters to follow. And whatever it lacks in narrative intelligence it makes up abundantly in visual moxie and compelling character interactions. The result is at times ridiculous but always entertaining especially in the climax which features almost every hero (and their doppelganger) charge into battle. Meanwhile series veteran, Liu Kang gets his ultimate shot at heroism in what is hands down one of the biggest moments in the franchise thus far. Seriously though, the climax features a jaw-dropping twist that extends the world-building beautifully, while assigning meaningful resonance to two of the most beloved characters (Raiden and Liu Kang) whom we followed for well over two decades.

Netherrealm Studios have once again proven they are the best storytellers in the genre. With Mortal Kombat 11, they created a virtual nesting doll of homages which will be appreciated by the most hardcore of fans, but still hold value for newcomers. More than anything, Mortal Kombat 11’s story campaign feels fresh and sets a blueprint for future games in the series to follow. There’s a lot of fun to be had with this latest entry, especially for those who have avidly followed the franchise since the beginning.

– Ricky D

Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and the NXpress Nintendo Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound On Sight, and host of several podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead podcasts, as well as the Sound On Sight and Sordid Cinema shows. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.

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‘Garden Story’ First Impressions: The Coziest of Adventures

Long-awaited Twitter darling Garden Story just released its first demo. Here’s what we learned after playing through it twice.

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Following the unfortunate (but understandable) delay of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, there’s been a distinct lack of chill, aesthetic games to fill the void. Garden Story’s charming environmental art and animation have earned it a dedicated social media following, but it wasn’t until Picogram released a demo just a couple days ago that anyone with a Steam account could actually experience the game for themselves. So, just how fun is this wholesome little RPG?

Setting the Scene

Garden Story’s demo centers around the newly-appointed village guardian Concord (a grape) and their first steps in rebuilding Autumn Town, a community ravaged by a sinister force known as “the Rot.” Chatting with villagers reveals a bit of insight into the situation at hand; it’s soon clear just how much the other townsfolk need the player’s support.

There are several clear parallels to old-school Legend of Zelda titles here, but Garden Story manages to set itself apart rather quickly. For one, this isn’t a solo adventure; the player sets out with Rana (a frog) and Fuji (a tomato) on a friendly quest to be as helpful to the surrounding community as possible. Seeing friends around and watching cute scripted cutscenes between the crew does a great job of instilling a sense of camaraderie and friendship.

In another pleasant twist, everything here is themed around building rather than destroying. Instead of traditional swords and bows, Concord repurposes his dowsing rod and scavenging pick into makeshift weapons. The combat itself calls to mind Stardew Valley; simple, minimal, and clearly not the main focus. There’s a pesky stamina bar that restricts the number of times Concord can attack and how far they can run, frequently forcing players to pause between barrages. In this way, encounters often come off as more of a necessary evil in Concord’s town rehabilitation journey than a main attraction.

Rebuilding a Community

So, how does one go about aiding the town? The method highlighted in the demo was by attending to a quest board with three different types of requests: Threat (combat), Repair (exploration), and Want (gathering). Each is accompanied by a task that plays an integral part in keeping Autumn Town safe and in good working order (e.g. clearing out Rot, finding sewer access so new resources can flow into town, and so on).

Aside from fulfilling requests, there are a few interesting hooks to incentivize hitting every shiny thing you come across regardless. The more different types of items are scavenged, and the more catalogues are filled by being updated with new materials, the more literature becomes available to give little bits of insight into Garden Story’s world and history. Then, in another parallel to Stardew Valley, any leftover resources can be sold in the pursuit of buying tool upgrades.

While the full game will feature four locations to explore and tend to, there was still plenty to do in Autumn Town itself by the end of the demo. Rana mentioned that villagers will post new requests daily, and the demo even featured a mini side quest (called “favors”) that led me to obtain a brand-new tool. Between daily requests, favor fulfillment, and dungeons spread across four different regions, it’s looking like there will be a good bit of content here for those who really want to hang around Garden Story’s world for as long as possible.

Ambient Appeal

Though it remains to be seen just how enticing its complete gameplay loop and accompanying systems are, Picogram’s latest is already delivering on its core appeal: being a cozy, relaxing experience. The color palette is soft, the lighting is moody, and the soundtrack is right up there with the Animal Crossing series as having some of the most mellow, loopable tunes around.

In fact, it’s the sound design in particular that gives Garden Story such an intimate feel. From the sound of a page turning when entering and exiting buildings to the gentle gurgles of a bubbling brook in the forest, it’s clear that composer Grahm Nesbitt poured a ton of love into making this one feel just right. Here’s hoping the full game more than delivers on all the potential shown here.

Garden Story is slated to release in Spring of 2020 and is available to wishlist on Steam.

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How Asynchronous Online in ‘Death Stranding’ Brings Players Together

Hideo Kojima’s latest game creates a sense of community by aiding other players on the same perilous journey.

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Death Stranding

Video games have always been fascinated with the idea of player interactivity as a means of crafting a power fantasy. The player typically goes on a hero’s journey, eventually culminating in them being the one and only savior of the world inside the game. Typically associated with single-player games, MMOs also crafted that same narrative but with the conceit that everyone is going on this journey. Often the acknowledgments of other players are in multiplayer-specific features such as PvP and Raids. Destiny is a great example of a series that takes players on the same journey and makes no promise that the story is different between players by even allowing them to engage in playing story missions together. It all feeds into the larger narrative of Guardians fighting together to save the Light. A game that handles this very similar and perhaps more successfully is Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding.

While lacking any direct player-to-player interaction, Kojima’s latest game is drenched in the conceit that community is crucial to triumph over adversity. You can read many articles about the game’s ideas of community from fellow writers on the site. What hasn’t quite gotten the attention it deserves is how revolutionary Death Stranding feels in terms of utilizing asynchronous online to greatly affect the game itself. Games like Dark Souls and other FromSoftware titles have included the ability to leave notes (which Death Stranding also offers) that help (or trick) players as they venture throughout the world on their own. How those notes’ effects are manifested are often on a much smaller scale – helpful at times but often to warn players of an impending way they might die. They don’t have a large impact on the player, only a temporary means of cheating death. 

Where Death Stranding becomes something greater in scale is in what it lets other players do to other peoples’ single-player experiences. In the game, you play as Sam Porter Bridges who is tasked with reconnecting America from coast-to-coast. At first, the game thrusts Sam into its narrative, taking the reluctant, isolated character and forcing him to eventually realize the importance of hope and connections in dire times. As Sam starts bringing more and more people onto the Chiral network (which allows instantaneous communication and the transferring of 3D-printable goods), so too does the game open up and reveal its ultimate goal: to bring players together.

Death Stranding

This doesn’t mean players will ever talk to other players, and the game very much avoids any real negative actions that can be performed on players. In fact, someone could play the game without ever actively engaging with online features. Instead, the game will passively hand out “likes” to other players whose ladders are used or roads are driven. If one wanted to fight the game’s narrative and instead keep Sam isolated and away from the community that the Chiral network provides, they could definitely do that – no matter how antithetical it would be to do so. Death Stranding even offers an offline mode that would nullify all of that and keep the experience solely on the player’s impact on the world and no one else’s. 

Yet there’s a reason the online mode is the default mode. It was near the end of Episode 3 (which also happens to be when the game unloads almost all of its mechanics onto the player) when I finally realized the impact I was having on other people’s games. I had spent an entire day playing the game, but focusing largely on delivering premium deliveries – these are optional challenges that essentially boil down to carrying more cargo, damaging cargo less, or getting to your destination in a set amount of time. Death Stranding doesn’t ever tell you the best way to get somewhere. Instead, it places a wide array of tools in front of you and assuming the Chiral network is set up in an area, it can provide a rough guide on places to avoid or infrastructure already built. However, one of the key pieces of infrastructure missing for my playthrough was roads. My efforts immediately became focused on building a network of roads that made their way all throughout one of the larger areas in the game.

The game doesn’t ever make you build roads. It tells you the option is there but it doesn’t force your hand. Often tools will be introduced, like zip lines and floating carriers, but the game never demands that they’re used. Of course, engaging with those tools will make your life easier. There are easy ways to start building infrastructure in Death Stranding: ropes and ladders can help to scale mountains or plummet depths. Those will remain in the world for other players to use and will even appear on their maps as they hook up areas to the Chiral network. So, someone who plays the game earlier than someone else could lay down ropes and ladders, and depending on when the other person starts playing, they will find those once they have progressed to a point where they are traversing that area. Where the game becomes even grander in its sense of community is the realization that the more players commit to building roads or setting up zip lines, the more other players benefit.

Death Stranding

The reality is that ladders and ropes are temporary – they cannot be rebuilt, they can only be replaced. The game’s Timefall – a weather phenomenon that acts as rain but ages anything it comes into contact with – can reset an entire map after a while if there is nothing more substantial placed on the map. So in my game, I decided that whenever I could build a road, I committed to doing so. This could mean going to multiple waystations and collecting materials that have amassed over time from deliveries, or going out in the world and finding these materials like Chiral crystals. At a certain point, I would load up a truck with multiple deliveries that were on or near the roads I had built, as well as with as many metal and ceramic materials I could load into the truck before it reached capacity. As I delivered packages, I’d replace them with more deliveries and more materials from each waystation. Eventually, I’d find myself at a point where a road was not built yet and would then build that road.

Community stands as the strongest component of Death Stranding .

In contrast to a game like Dark Souls, actions in the world such as providing notes on the ground or helping another player with a boss battle is helping them cheat death. The community that is being built is not one that has any lasting effect on the world in the game. No Man’s Sky may let players interact with each other and further their knowledge of the universe within the game, but often that help is relegated to an isolated planet. It’s a more contained impact. Hideo Kojima created a game where players don’t just build infrastructures for themselves, they can intentionally or inadvertently assist other players throughout their games. This leads to players like myself creating strand contracts with other players who have built things I liked in the game. A strand contract is a powerful feature because it means more of that players’ roads or other items built for the world will show up more frequently in my game.

Every Action in Death Stranding Creates Hope

One of the perks of building so many roads is you also get a lot of likes, whether passively given because someone used the road or actively provided by a player because they not only used the road but were appreciative that someone built it. It’s hard not to feel important in someone else’s life when you’ve made their experience less cumbersome because they no longer have to drive over rocky terrain or through enemy territory but instead can take a highway to their destination. What’s better is that more substantial developments like bridges and roads can be repaired by other players and even upgraded. So while I laid the initial roads down, I actually haven’t spent any materials repairing them. Instead, notifications come in and tell me players have repaired roads I’ve built. There’s no real reason to do that unless the infrastructure built was necessary to their journey through the game – making it easier but also providing the same feeling of helping out a larger community. 

Community stands as the strongest component of Death Stranding – a game that doesn’t even try to be subtle in its intentions. Traversing Kojima’s version of post-apocalyptic America is harrowing on your own. With just your two feet and a package to deliver when the entire world itself is trying to stop you from doing so, America isn’t just divided – it’s hostile. Where Death Stranding shines brightest is when it offers a helping hand. Players aid one another to achieve the same unified goal: save the country. All of this is under the assumption that the country can be saved, but there is no denying that seeing someone else’s rope hanging off a steep cliff, or a Timefall shelter where it rains Timefall on a constant basis, is one of the most satisfying feelings. In Death Stranding, it isn’t enough to know that you’re making progress, but that everyone is willing to assist others to reach the same end goal. It’s a game where every action creates hope and is built upon the idea that we are at our best when we work together.

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Game Reviews

‘Woven’ Review: Comfortably Soft and Lumpy

Despite those blurry visuals and stilted gameplay, there’s something endearing about this innocent elephant’s adventure.

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With a sincere warmth and fuzziness that conjures up dreamy recollections of 3D games gone by, Alterego GamesWoven mostly overcomes its blurry visuals and technical jankery to somehow create a pleasant, old-fashioned experience. Those excited by modern gaming probably won’t give this lovable hand-me-down a second look, and perhaps they shouldn’t; extremely simple actions and soothing narration support a fairy tale quality that’s probably best suited to younger players. However, anyone willing to look past the well-worn exterior in search of a relaxing break from stressful button pushing may squeeze more fun out of this familiar stuffed toy than they might originally expect.

Woven tasks players with taking control of a meandering patchwork elephant named Stuffy, and guiding him through a sparsely populated knitted world that seems to have met an untimely demise. Because Stuffy has cotton for brains, he is assisted on this journey by a much smarter metal firefly named Glitch (a reference to his role in this story?), who floats alongside the curious-but-clumsy plush toy and provides hints as to how he can use his various abilities. Together, this odd couple will traverse open plains blanketed with colorful yarn grass, maneuver around impassable felt trees and plants, and hopefully discover the secret of where Stuffy’s clueless kin have all gone.

Along the way, the duo will walk great distances (often without much event), solve the occasional environmental puzzle, and generally just keep on keepin’ on.Woven is mostly straightforward in its campaign, merely about getting from point A to B by whatever means the path requires. Most often this involves finding new blueprints that allow players to change Stuffy’s design from an elephant into a wide variety of other animal shapes, each with a set of abilities that come with a new set of arms, legs, and a head. For instance, while the stocky (and adorable) bear can push plush boulders and perform a mighty stomp, the goat and frog can both use their legs to hop, while the kitty cat is able to push buttons on rusted consoles that activate dormant machinery.

However, these abilities are usually only able to activate when context-sensitive prompts from Glitch appear, so don’t expect some sort of platforming freedom. Woven handles a bit clumsily in that regard and others; strolling is definitely the order of the day, as long as Stuffy doesn’t get hung up on the geometry.

But these actions do help provide variety; a tropical bird of some sort (toucan, maybe?) can sing certain notes, while a pelican-thing can fly (sort of) over land and shallow water with great speed. And so, it often becomes necessary in Woven to alter Stuffy’s look with a total reweave. These designs can be applied at various sewing machine-like stations scattered about, which go a step further than just swapping Stuffy the deer for Stuffy the ape. Each blueprint is comprised of five parts, allowing for players to create a Frankenstein Stuffy made up of all the best abilities the player has on hand (or cushioned paw). By mixing certain sets, Stuffy will soon be able to scale mountainside crags, cross piranha-filled rivers, and pick up industrial cogs without the need to make a pit stop and bust out new needle and thread.

Some truly hilarious (or horrifying, depending on your sensibilities) aberrations can be created; seeing Stuffy hobble on hooves as he flaps a wing on one side and swings a muscular gorilla arm on the other, all with the head of a squirrel, is freakishly entertaining. In addition, for those who like to wander off the beaten path, there are a plethora of knitting patterns to discover, tucked away in both obvious and devious locations (and denizens). These cosmetic enhancements can also be applied at the sewing stations, essentially giving players seemingly endless amounts of customization. And these aesthetic changes even get in on the puzzle act every once in a while, especially when a pesky cobra shows up.

But outside the odd ‘connect the power line’ or ‘raise and lower platforms’ objectives, Woven doesn’t throw much at players that even young children shouldn’t be able to handle — and that seems to be the aim. Stuffy’s adventure lives or dies on its wholesome and serene vibe, which players either buy into or they don’t. There’s no combat here, very little to actually do outside hunting down those patterns, illuminating some painted caves, and activating some of Glitch’s ‘memories’ contained by machines hidden in the soft folds. Ongoing narration is pleasant to the ears, often conveying old-fashioned morals and cutesy jokes, but there’s no more story than in a classic fable.

And make no mistake — though the world is certainly bright and cheerful, it’s also quite fuzzy around the edges. The tactile nature of the cloth textures is lessened greatly by the low definition (at least on the Switch version), eliciting memories of the Wii-era. An increased crispness would have really made the world of Woven pop off the screen, perhaps luring in a larger audience who have become accustomed to such. There is still plenty of charm, but it feels like a missed chance at that true magical feeling the game seems to be shooting for.

Other stumbles come when certain worlds try to open up a bit more, which might lead a younger audience to get frustrated by the lack of direction (especially when they keep getting hung up on that geometry!); Woven definitely works better when it’s casually guiding players along, letting gamers of all ages envelop themselves in the easygoing atmosphere instead of requiring tedious backtracking. There’s just something nice about sitting back and relaxing to hummable music, watching the roly-poly amble of a stuffed kangaroo.

Woven will not be for everyone; those who play for challenge or eye candy won’t find either here. And yet, despite those blurry visuals and stilted gameplay, there’s something endearing about this innocent elephant’s adventure. Woven certainly has its share of lumpiness, but somehow remains cozy regardless.

‘Woven’ is available on PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Switch (Reviewed on Switch).

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