Mortal Kombat 11’s Tutorial Is An Excellent Intro To High-Level Play

Everybody knows how punching and kicking work, but do you know what Frame Advantage is? How about how to perform a Frame Trap? If you get knocked down, do you know which defensive “Getup” moves to use to counter your opponent’s likely follow-up attack? Work your way through Mortal Kombat 11’s exhaustive tutorials and you’ll know all that and more.

I’ve been playing fighting games since there have been fighting games, but never so intensely that I’ve worried about things like how many fractions of a second it takes for my moves to start, deal damage, and recover. These are the sorts of things I imagine professional-level fighting game players worry about on a regular basis. I play against the computer, which is not exactly a challenging opponent. As long as I can string together some basic combos and block half the time, I’m good.

I might be a little better now that I’ve worked my way through Mortal Kombat 11’s vigorous tutorial gauntlet. It starts off simple enough. Movement and attacking. Blocking and throwing. Special moves. Basic combos. These are all things I know, but completing tutorial lessons rewards coins used to unlock treasure chests containing skins, fatalities, and other goodies in the game’s Krypt mode, so I continue.

Next we have advanced offense and defense. Canceling special moves, jump-in attacks, reversals, and more blocking techniques help round a player out. If you’re playing against the computer, these advanced techniques will come in handy. If you’re playing against a human opponent worth their salt, they are doubtlessly using them against you.

Advertisement

Then comes the Frame Data section. This is where it gets really deep, at least from my limited perspective. Here we learn about how moves literally tick. Each move has a beginning, middle and end. The beginning, known as its start-up, is how long an attack takes to execute. The middle is when the move is active and doing damage. The end is recovery, how many frames until the player is free to move again once an attack lands.

The tutorial lays all of this information out in a way that makes complete sense. Now I understand that an attack with a shorter start-up has an advantage over an attack with a longer one. From there I learned about hit advantage, which is how many frames an attacker can land faster than a defender upon execution of a move. Or attacks that are unsafe on block, which is when the defender will recover before the attacker should a move be blocked, giving them a chance to attack back. Now all the data that appears in the game’s pause-menu move list makes sense.

Advertisement

Knowledge of Frame Data leads to the final tier of tutorials. These teach players to build effective combos, utilize advantages when they appear, and apply pressure with blocks and attacks to take control of a match. We also learn about zoning, which is knowing where a specific character’s positional advantages lie and techniques for keeping an opponent at the proper distance.

Advertisement

All of this imparted knowledge culminates in the character-specific tutorials. Players can take each kombatant out for a spin, learning not only their signature moves, but how those moves work and what advantages they give. Check out Sub-Zero’s tutorial below to see what I mean.

Mortal Kombat 11’s tutorials have taught me so much. A lot of it is stuff I should have learned sooner, as a fighting game fan, but the information has never been presented so compellingly. Now I have a stronger working knowledge of how the game works, plus a shit-ton of coins to spend in the Krypt. Go me.

Mortal Kombat 11 Has A Great Story Mode

Thanks to the temporal manipulations of a powerful new foe, past and present versions of iconic heroes and villains collide in Mortal Kombat 11’s story mode. It’s easily the most entertaining tale the series has ever told, and it leaves the future of the franchise open to exciting possibilities.

When we last left our heroes (or as close as people who viciously tear other people apart during fighting tournaments can be to heroes), they had the forces of evil on the run. Mortal Kombat X ended after Cassie Cage, daughter of actor Johnny Cage and special forces general Sonya Blade, had soundly defeated the villainous Shinnok. Thunder god Raiden, in a vicious turn, severed Shinnok’s head and delivered it to his minions, revenant (undead and evil) Liu Kang and Kitana, as a warning of their fate should they ever threaten Earthrealm again. And everyone lived happily ever after.

Only, of course, they didn’t. Mild spoilers ahead.

As Mortal Kombat 11 opens, newly-promoted commanding officer Cassie Cage leads Earthrealm’s special forces on a raid of Shinnok’s Bone Temple, aiming to put an end to the revenant threat once and for all. The mission is a success and the temple is destroyed, but Cassie’s mother, Sonya, winds up sacrificing herself so her squad can escape.

As revenant Liu Kang and Kitana ponder their fate in front of the ruins of their evil lair, a new challenger appears.

Advertisement

She is the goddess Kronika, the Keeper of Time. With a wave of her hand, she rebuilds Shinnok’s temple, demonstrating the vast power at her disposal. Kronika has beef with Raiden, whose constant interference has ruined the balance she seeks to maintain in the universe. Also, Kronika is Shinnok’s mom, and Raiden reducing her son to a powerless yet everliving severed head rubbed her the wrong way. She plans to roll back history and reboot the universe, with a few major changes. The most significant change? No more Raiden.

Kronika’s plot begins with a timequake. Harnessing the power of the sands of time, she merges portions of the past with the present. A sandstorm erupts at special forces HQ, where Cassie, Johnny Cage and Jacqui Briggs are recovering from their tragic mission. From swirling dust emerge younger versions of Johnny, Sonya Blade and Jacqui’s father, Jax. Modern-day Raiden, also present, dissolves into nothingness.

Advertisement

Meanwhile, in Outworld, leader Kotal Kahn is holding an execution, only to have it rudely interrupted by the arrival of a vast number of young Mortal Kombatants. Former Outworld leader Shao Kahn arrives, and he’s not happy about no longer being in power.

Then comes a younger, less brutal version of Raiden, along with living versions of Liu Kang, Kitana, Jade and Kung Lao. According to the Thunder God, the group were in the middle of the tournament from 2011’s Mortal Kombat, with Kung Lao having just defeated the sorcerers Shang Tsung and Quan Chi.

Advertisement

And so the stage is set for one of the most exciting and entertaining Mortal Kombat stories ever. Through 12 chapters, each featuring four or five actual fights, characters from throughout the series’ history are given a chance to shine. Characters that never quite got their due, like Shao Kahn’s “adopted” daughter, Kitana, come into their own in spectacular fashion. The series’ original hero, Liu Kang, gets another shot at heroism.

The voice acting is almost uniformly outstanding. The facial animations are just as good as they were in Netherrealm’s previous game, Injustice 2. Best of all, the writing adds depth and character to individuals who previously came across as nothing more than vessels for attitude and fighting moves.

Advertisement

By far the greatest example of this is the contrast between young Johnny Cage and his older, wiser version. In Mortal Kombat X it was hard to see just how much the young, brash and self-centered Cage had grown. In Mortal Kombat 11 we get to see the two side by side, and it is night and day. Older Cage knows love and loss. He’s a father and a husband.

Younger Johnny is none of that. So when, during a sweet moment during the story, old Johnny looks a young Sonya wistfully, remembering his recently-departed wife, his counterpart comments, “As younger you, I solemnly swear to tap that at my earliest convenience.”

Advertisement

Of course, that leads to a fight, and never before has one guy kicking his own ass felt so satisfying.

Younger Johnny: “Dad always said, ‘hungry people eat lunch, humble people serve it.’”

Older Johnny: “Dad was an asshole, and Hollywood made us an even bigger one.”

Advertisement

Mortal Kombat 11’s story mode is filled with wonderful little moments like that. Sonya Blade facing off against not one but two Kanos. Young, living Liu Jang and Kung Lao teaming up like some sort of Shaolin Monk buddy cop show. Kotal Kahn’s brutal, unforgiving leadership of Outworld softened by the return of his beloved Jade. There are “aws.” There are gasps. There are cheers and even, on a few occasions, sniffles. It’s a lot more emotional engagement than I ever expected from a Mortal Kombat story.

I won’t spoil the official ending of Mortal Kombat 11’s story mode, but I will say that it leaves the franchise in a place where absolutely anything could happen in Mortal Kombat 12. As the final chapter finished and the credits rolled, I was more excited for the future of the franchise than I’ve been in ages. From 2011’s Mortal Kombat and its two sequels and the Injustice games, Netherrealm Studios has become the best storytellers in the fighting game scene. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

The Keys To A Good Mortal Kombat Fatality: Rhythm And Humor

Mortal Kombat 11’s art director Steve Beran has seen a lot of fatalities, given that he’s worked on the series since the ‘90s. His favorite in the new game involves “bloodsicles,” where the character Skarlet stabs an opponent over and over with spikes made from their own frozen blood. Then she pops an eyeball out the back of their head.

“You think it’s over, but the final push with the eyeball at the end is just [chef kiss sound],” Beran told Kotaku.

In some ways, the Mortal Kombat series’ fatalities are a relic of a bygone era—a blood-spattered artifact of pure ‘90s edginess. The series, however improbably, remains a fixture of the fighting game scene decades later, and fatalities, like everything else, have changed with the times.

Yesterday, developer Netherrealm threw a big, bloody bash in Los Angeles to debut Mortal Kombat 11, which will be released for PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PC on April 23.

Advertisement

While Netherrealm wanted the event to showcase all of the changes it’s made to this latest version of the game, it was inevitable that MK11‘s higher-than-ever-fidelity take on viscera-mutilating ultraviolence grabbed everyone’s eyeballs. (Sometimes literally.) I laughed at the sheer ludicrousness of it; others, like Kotaku’s Mike Fahey, understandably had some trouble stomaching it all. Speaking during an interview after the reveal, Beran said that the team’s goal is to keep the fatalities funny—just not too funny.

“To some degree, there’s a filter we have,” he told Kotaku. “More often than not, we never do anything that’s terribly sad. I don’t think it’s ever intentional. I think we’ve just done it so long that they tend to be more funny than anything.”

Advertisement

But funny doesn’t mean slapstick. “Mortal Kombat has always had a sense of humor, but there’s a line where things become corny,” Beran said. One fatality move from 1995’s Mortal Kombat 3 that was too corny was the character Kabal inflating his opponent’s heads and popping them. “They were like balloons,” he said. “That’s way too silly for something we’d do now. It’s too Scooby Doo—not Scooby Doo necessarily, but Bugs Bunny.”

The key to a great fatality, Beran said, isn’t extreme grossness, but rhythm. “If there’s too much of a drag between beats, it’s like ‘Let’s tighten that up,’” he said. “It could look cool, but if there’s not this dah, dah, dah, we adjust it to make it feel right.”

If they like the rhythm, the proposed fatality gets sent off to creative director Ed Boon, one of the creators of the original 1992 Mortal Kombat and still involved with the series. “Ed’s involved in every single fatality,” Beran said. “He usually adds something to it.”

Advertisement

Making horrific death come to life in-game is another process entirely. Beran put special emphasis on effects, noting that the game’s chunky stew of spilled blood and torn flesh dredges up reactions from the pits of people’s stomachs thanks to hours of testing.

“We do a lot of testing of, like, how liquid will land on carpet, how it’ll react on dirt,” he said. “And we do tests and talk about them like ‘Does that look how you’d think it would look?’… If I get blood on my shirt, it’s gonna get dark, so it needs to react appropriately. Our tech artists dig into that and make it look very real.”

“The fatality process is awesome,” Beran said. “It’s some of the most fun work.”

Fatalities come at the end of a match of Mortal Kombat, because it’s hard to keep fighting after you’re dead. In the middle of a Mortal Kombat 11 match, you can also pull off similarly brutal moves called “crushing blows” and “fatal blows.” These also tend to produce bone-crunching, organ-smoothie-making results, which are sometimes amplified by X-ray zoom-in effects to drive the point home. Those force the team to examine ultra-violence in different lights. It’s one thing to put an elaborate, cringe-inducing sequence in which somebody’s skull becomes a cracked bowl for a sloppy helping of brain soup once a match is over. It’s another to risk interrupting a match’s rhythm with one in the middle. Crushing blows, as it turns out, are the development team’s response to that very issue with a similar feature called X-ray blows from 2015’s Mortal Kombat X.

Advertisement

“Some players thought X-rays were too long,” Beran said. Crushing blows, he said, are faster, “a good punctuation that makes you grimace and then gets you back into the fight very quickly.”

In a series as nonchalant about flying eyeballs, ripped-off faces, and torn-open mouths as Mortal Kombat, you’d figure there wouldn’t be anything that’s off-limits. And you’d be right—for the most part.

Advertisement

“It’s weird finding the barometer of what is too much,” said Beran. “Some of the most tangible seem to be [like] the Baraka one where the victim is getting spiked through their hand. That’s more cringeworthy to me than someone getting their head smashed. It just seems more realistic. I don’t think that crosses a line, but it gets more of a reaction than something that’s more cartoony.”

One thing that’s definitely off the table is a mode in which mid-match acts of limb-smashing, face-perforating violence create lasting damage that affects the character’s’ ability to fight. It “sounds like a neat idea,” Beran said, “but then when it feels like you’re just beating up a wounded thing, it doesn’t feel as competitive anymore.”

Given that Beran has worked on these sorts of scenes for decades, I wondered if there was anything that grosses him out anymore—if he views gnarly, nearly-photo-realistic violence differently than other people might. He doesn’t really think of it on those terms anymore. “I hate to keep saying this, but I think it’s more just the beats to me,” he said. “It’s not so much what’s happening. It’s more just the animations.”

Advertisement

But fatalities are far from the only thing that the Mortal Kombat team obsesses over. Beran stressed, too, that Mortal Kombat’s art team spends countless hours obsessing over materials, trying to get the details of everything from metal and leather to dirt and glass just right. “Metal looks like metal. Leather looks like leather,” he said. Back in the day, the team pursued realistic detail to set Mortal Kombat apart from more stylized competitors like Street Fighter. Even though the look and feel of Mortal Kombat 11 is very different than, say, Mortal Kombat II the underlying spirit is similar.

“It’s almost full circle,” said Beran. “Even when it was low-res, we’d hire real actors and videotape them and capture their moves. Now I think it’s just on a bigger scale… It’s very common now, but at the time, it was pretty groundbreaking—especially to have huge characters on the screen, that was unheard of. Back then, we tried to make it realistic, and I think we just stuck to that.”

Advertisement

Mortal Kombat is also known for its story, another important focus for this team. “People have grown up with Mortal Kombat,” Beran said. “They know the story and have a general idea of the conflict between characters. Not to sound cocky about it, but I don’t think any other fighting game does a story mode like we do. It’s a full-length movie in the game.” An ambitious undertaking for a series that used to prominently feature several palette swaps of the same ninja as central characters.

“Ever since MK vs DC, even though it was our first dabbling into it, I think we got better and better and better at it,” he said. “This story, I couldn’t be more proud of. Just visually and storytelling-wise, I think people are gonna be really pleased.”

And if that’s not your thing, well, there’ll still be brains getting forcibly scooped out of people’s heads. Something for everyone.

Mortal Kombat 11 Announced, Launching Globally April 23

Tonight at the 2018 Game Awards, Netherrealm Studios head Ed Boon took the stage to announce the winner of the best sports or racing game award, but sgave us a trailer for Mortal Kombat XI instead—complete with an April 23 global launch date.

Not a lot of details were given during the clever twist reveal, aside from a January 17 date for a community reveal. Fans can preorder the game on console and PC starting tomorrow (including Nintendo Switch), with bonuses including Shao Kahn access and beta access. There is, however, some more info in the YouTube description of the trailer.

The all new Custom Character Variations give you unprecedented control to customize the fighters and make them your own. The new graphics engine showcasing every skull-shattering, eye-popping moment, brings you so close to the fight you can feel it. And featuring a roster of new and returning Klassic Fighters, Mortal Kombat’s best in class cinematic story mode continues the epic saga over 25 years in the making.