I’m a simple man. I like my arcade joysticks rigid, my buttons concave, and my fighting games streaked with bodily fluids. So I jumped at the chance to go hands-on with the Mortal Kombat: Tournament Edition fight stick at the Game Developers Conference. Designed as a tribute to the gory glory days of 1990s-era arcade fighters, this authentic American-style fight stick will ship with Mortal Kombat: Tournament Edition on April 19th for a cool $149.99.
This stick feels like the real deal — no surprise given that developer NetherRealm Studios helped design the cabinets for the classic arcade Mortal Kombat games. Connected via a USB cable, the unit is big and burly with a sturdy, substantial feel and some serious heft. A thick memory foam pad cushions the bottom of the unit, enabling comfortable knee-top play (though it’ll work just fine propped on a coffee table, too). A sliding metal latch enables the top to flip open, revealing a neat internal wiring array as well as a capacious cavity that will accommodate games, accessories, and anything else you manage to cram in there. No severed body parts, please.
Mortal Kombat arcade veterans will immediately recognize the baseball-bat-shaped joystick and concave buttons — an iconic American design that Ars Technica gaming editor Ben Kuchera has cleverly dubbed the “superhero” (“because it’s a bat and a cave”). The stick itself has a tighter, springier feel compared to the looser action of ball-topped Japanese-style sticks that are widely available on the PS3. Joystick design preference can be a touchy topic with serious fighting fans: Some players will always prefer the raised buttons and looser feel of the Japanese-inspired fighting sticks, while others will appreciate the distinctive feel of this American-style stick. Like many things in life, it ultimately comes down to personal preference.
With the fight stick resting comfortably on my knees, I tried out an updated version of Mortal Kombat that included a plethora of characters you won’t find in the PlayStation Plus demo. I played as Jax, the metal-armed military brawler; Sektor and Cyrax, the twin cyborg ninjas that annihilate foes with plasma nets and guided missiles; Kano, the wily thug who licks his knives clean between fights; and Baraka, the ghoulish mutant with lethal arm blades. I also tried out the newly revealed Challenge Tower, a single-player mode that pits the player against a gauntlet of increasingly bizarre and difficult challenges in order to earn currency to unlock secrets and new content.
I played the game in the PS3-exclusive stereoscopic 3D mode, which plants the characters in the foreground and adds layers of sprawling depth to the colorful backgrounds. Mortal Kombat’s 3D implementation is clever because it the characters are rendered in 2D, which means that the action is playable whether you’re wearing 3D glasses or not. For more details on the 3D mode, catch up on my preview of the PlayStation Plus demo.
What I didn’t see was the Big Bad himself, final boss and tournament overlord Shao Kahn. “Shao Kahn is ridiculous,” Creative Director Ed Boon told me at GDC. “We knew he had to be hard,” he said, revealing that his difficulty pushed the studio’s battle-hardened game testers to the brink. “Shao Kahn’s gotta be somebody you’re afraid of, he’s gotta have that crazy fear presence from the old games.” Shao Kahn’s famous rumbling taunts have also made the cut, and there are more than ever by Boon’s estimation. “He’s got all the old taunts, and a bunch of news ones too.” Feel the wrath of Shao Kahn!
Also missing in action was Kratos, the PS3-exclusive character who needs no introduction. Next week, we’ll be checking in with the team of Sony Santa Monica Studios, creators of God of War, for their thoughts on working with NetherRealm Studios to bring Kratos to life in the arena and how Mortal Kombat served as a major influence for their game development careers.
Until then, let us know what you think of the demo! Who’s your favorite character so far? What’s your best juggle combo? Let us know in the comments!