It's bizarre to think that it's been 13 years since the likes of Scorpion, Kung Lao and Raiden spilled blood on a Nintendo platform with 2006's Mortal Kombat: Armageddon on Wii, but that absence has enabled NetherRealm Studios to finally bring the quality of its combat model to the level that reflects its devotion to slapstick gore. That drought in gloriously over-the-top western violence has finally been quenched with the suitably bombastic arrival of Mortal Kombat 11 on Nintendo Switch.
And you can really see just how far the Chicago, IL based studio has come since Armageddon. Thanks to the overhaul of its fighting mechanics in MK9, the welcome improvements (and new characters) introduced in MKX and the more accessible nature of the Injustice games, MK11 immediately feels like a fighter in the rudest of health. Character models - both in cutscenes and in battle - have never looked or moved better thanks to the improvements made in Injustice 2. The story mode - a staple of the series in recent years - is its most rewarding yet, packed with Easter eggs and nonstop nods to its own decades long canon. Everything has been tweaked or adjusted to make this the most improved entry yet.
The first thing you'll notice is the slower pace of each battle. The ability to run has been completely removed and the speed of your walk has been reduced considerably. For anyone that's been playing MK for years - especially the previous two entries - this transition will take the longest to adapt to, but it's an important adjustment that plays into the more technical nature of M11's input system and reduces those combo rushes that can often be over-spammed online. You'll still need to learn the precise inputs of your chosen main, but once you've mastered the ins and outs of their moveset, that measured pace enables you to really string together some lethally creative combos.
The re-introduction of Krushing Blows (an updated version of the X-Ray moves from previous entries) provide a satisfying way to inflict considerable damage on your opponent (with an obligatory look at how much skull or spine you're shattering), but it's Fatal Blows that add the most significant change. Activated when your health drops dangerously low, these special attacks work a lot like the Super Moves from the Injustice series, with character-specific violence that takes a whopping 35% health off the bar. The only caveat is you only get one per match (not per round), so when a match comes down to two players on a sliver of health between them and their Fatal Blows still ready to play, those closing moments become like never before.
Alongside the Story mode there's the Klassic Towers (a staple of the series, where you battle through a series of enemies before facing off against new time-bending villain, Kronika) and the new Towers of Time, which offers a similar setup only with certain stipulations (such as fighting opponents with double their health or dodging a constant stream of projectiles). The random nature of Towers of Time means that you're either going to get a really fun mixture of challenge, or a rage-inducing exercise in anger mismanagement. There's also The Krypt, which enables you to spend the in-game gold you naturally earn through play by exploring the island home of Shang Tsung, opening chests and increasing your collection of customisation items. The mode has been around since Deadly Alliance, and while it's initially fun to run around in third-person, the imbalanced quality of the loot dropped within makes it feel substantially less enjoyable.
When NetherRealm announced it was working on a port for Nintendo Switch, it made it clear a locked target of 60fps was firmly in its sights. Drop below this figure and the speed, input accuracy and tactical nuance needed to excel at a fighting game - especially at a pro tournament level where MK11 is no doubt positioning itself - are dashed against the rocks of mediocrity and frustration. And while MK11 has had to undergo some visual downgrades to make this happen, that 60fps target holds true, even when you're pulling off more elaborate moves such as Krushing Blows (something that affected previous instalments released on PS Vita).
While the Joy-Cons aren't that well suited to the dexterity required for a fighting game in 2019 (we found the Pro Controller, not surprisingly, the best option outside of a proper fight stick), you can instantly feel just how accurate and empowering MK11 feels. The pace of play may have been purposefully slowed down, but whether you're fighting against the AI, battling locally or taking your thirst for violence online, this Switch port rarely stumbles when it comes to performance.
The visual changes made are similar to those applied to other triple-A fare that have held performance above all others on Switch, such as the impressive debut of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. For those playing on PS4, Xbox One and PC, the transition between cutscenes and pre-fight intros are seamless, but you'll really notice the shift on Switch. Dynamic lighting is significantly reduced, the resolution on character models and background elements are noticeably dialled back and there's that all too familiar mixture of blurring and jagged edges. It's not so noticeable on masked characters, but it's much more obvious when playing with the likes of Cassie Cage or Jacqui Briggs.
Even the animated menus themselves possess a layer of blurring, but loading times between modes and each battle are usually quite brief so it's another sacrifice that's more than acceptable to keep performance at the forefront. It's important to remember that, bar these aforementioned cosmetic reductions, Mortal Kombat 11 is the full package of a game you can play anywhere else. Every mode and feature - all the way from character customisation to the seamless transition between rounds - is present and correct on Nintendo hardware. The days of truncated ports are, thankfully, long behind us.
MK11 is certainly the best MK of the modern era, but it's no flawless victory. The character customisation suite is bizarrely stripped down and unintuitive when compared with the armour loot system used in Injustice 2. In that game, you could potentially enhance the look and stats of your character after every fight, providing a tangible benefit to extended play. In MK11, you can earn new skins, augments, intros and other items by playing through the Story mode, via the Klassic Towers or Towers of Time, or by opening chests in The Krypt, but the rate at which you unlock certain gear is so random that you're almost always rewarded with items for a character you don't use.
Customisation has been positioned as a central part of MK11, with augments working in tandem with the multiple fighting style variants introduced in MKX, but the sheer amount of grind required to earn everything naturally is astoundingly imbalanced. NetherRealm has promised to adjust the drop of better loot in Towers of Time and The Krypt, but with an astonishingly high number of cosmetics and items locked behind microtransactions, that ugly avarice for additional expenditure is there. And while the 25-strong roster is indicative of recent entries, the lack of some fan favourites (seriously, no Cyrax, Sektor or Reptile?) seems a bizarre omission. Further characters will be added in DLC, but with some of these likely to be licensed appearances (think Hellboy and the TMNT in Injustice 2) don't bank on all of your missing faves making it to the tournament.
Mortal Kombat 11 is the best Mortal Kombat since MK2, a bold and bombastic entry that boasts a fighting model that finally matches the slapstick theatrics of gory Fatalities. It's further proof that MK, much like Street Fighter, has just as much relevance today as it did in the '90s thanks to the way its evolved while retaining its core identity. On Switch, it's a performance-first experience that nails 60fps, and boasts every mode and mechanic from other versions, only with a noticeable downgrade in the aesthetics department. The heavy-handed application of microtransactions makes customisation far less appealing than it should, but if NetherRealm can redress the balance, MK11 could be a contender for the best fighter on Nintendo Switch.