Back when the game was first announced, if you told me that “family” was going to be one of the key themes of Mortal Kombat X, I’d have looked at you like you had two heads. This was the franchise that 7-year-old me lied to his parents about the level of violence in order to get the game for home consoles. This was a series built on the decapitated heads and severed limbs brought about by countless arcade players with nimble-enough fingers to pull off some impossible Fatalities. I never thought something as wholesome as “family” could fit into Mortal Kombat.
But leave it to the developers at NetherRealm Studios to turn even this concept on its head. At GDC 2015, I learned that Johnny Cage would return as a playable character in Mortal Kombat X, and I briefly got to go hands-on with him in the first chapter of the game’s story mode.
I’ve always enjoyed playing as Johnny Cage, but part of his charm as a character has always come from his interactions with his beloved Sonya Blade, since she acts as a grounding force for Johnny’s over-the-top bravado. To my delight, she was present throughout many of his cutscenes, too. It’s always nice to see one of gaming’s earliest power couples reunited (and doesn’t CageBlade sound infinitely more badass than Brangelina?). Throw daughter Cassie into the mix, and you’ve got the whole Cage bloodline present and accounted for here.
As the story begins, Shinnok, the fallen Elder God and master of the Netherrealm, tries to invade Earthrealm. Among Shinnok’s army of winged, fire-breathing demons are the reanimated, undead bodies of Sindel, Kabal, Stryker, Jax, and others controlled by Shinnok’s necromancer disciple, Quan Chi. As the world goes to hell around them, Johnny, Sonya, and Kenshi take a helicopter toward Raiden’s temple (where Shinnok is focusing his attack) in the hopes of possibly ending this war at the source—but, as you can imagine, things don’t go according to plan.
Mortal Kombat X’s story mode plays out similarly to Injustice: Gods Among Us. You’ll control a character for several fights that clump together as a chapter; that moves the story forward, and you’ll then take over as another character on the roster. This way, players can become familiar with multiple fighters if they’re new to the series, as well as experience the story from multiple points of view.
In Johnny’s case, his chapter consisted of four fights before I switched characters—or I would have, but the demo ended before I found out who would pilot Chapter Two. Johnny’s signature moves like the Shadow Kick and Green Flame were present and accounted for, and I even got to try out some environmental hazards, such as jumping off a wrecked car to close the distance on a far-away Scorpion and deliver a jump kick.
The game looked like one of the best new-gen titles yet, with each level providing an exquisite amount of detail. Whether it was Raiden’s temple or a destroyed city street surrounded by crumbling buildings, Mortal Kombat X looks nothing short of gorgeous. How it plays might be another story, however.
For example, I was a little taken aback that Johnny Cage felt slower than I remembered. I adapted by the end of the demo and delivered some solid combos by the time the chapter was over, but I don’t know if Johnny’s just gotten slower due to his age or whether the game as a whole is a half-step off, since I only got to play as him in the demo. Of course, it’s also difficult to judge based on only four fights.
Aside from this, it felt really good bashing people’s faces in, and I couldn’t help but get more amped up for the final game, where I can mess around with some Fatalities and Brutalities. Since we had only a limited amount of time, however, I only pulled off an X-ray maneuver.
In regards to the little bit I saw of the actual story, I’m also curious to see where all that goes. Kenshi and Jax were confirmed as appearing in-game during my playtime (Kenshi in cutscenes, Jax as one of Johnny’s opponents), and their kids are playable characters, too. There’s also Kung Lin being related to Kung Lao somehow, and even Scorpion has a fatherly relationship with Kenshi’s son, since he trained him. From what I saw, there seems to be a stronger emphasis on character relationships in the story here than in any previous Mortal Kombat game.
I imagine I’ll get some sort of payoff once I get to play the entire story mode come review time, but for now, this theme of “family” in Mortal Kombat X’s story is an intriguing one. It could serve as a welcome continued evolution of the series, or it might end up as an overplayed premise that makes the experience more cheesy than cool. As someone who’s been a fan since that very first chapter back in 1992, though, I think giving these longstanding characters more depth can only be a good thing.