At the same time, there's a still a hint of the old clunkiness that always made the franchise a lesser fighter in the eyes of Street Fighter purists. Basic moves feel hefty and solid when they connect - particularly the uppercuts, which are still among the best in the business - but it's still not uncommon to see moves connecting or missing when it feels like the opposite should be true.
And yet strangely, I personally feel that Mortal Kombat benefits from this occasional scrappiness. There has always been a strange B-Movie quality to the game, both in terms of the way it plays, and the bizarre inter-dimensional Enter the Dragon plot. This latest game absolutely revels in its own kitsch style, and nowhere more than in the surprisingly great story mode. A stock time-travelling device is used to take us back to the plot of the second game, and from here the campaign takes us on a guided tour of the major moments in the series' lengthy history, with a few revisions here and there for good measure. You'll learn why Scorpion hates Sub-Zero, see how Jax lost his arms, and spend some quality time in the company of Hollywood tosspot Johnny Cage.
The Unreal Engine doesn't hold up as well in cutscenes as it does elsewhere, but by using in-game models NetherRealm is able to transition straight from video into live play. The voice acting isn't too bad either, although it's the superlative sound effects that make you feel like your playing through a forgotten chopsocky flick. At any rate, Story Mode is a million times better than all of the Mortal Kombat films put together.
Playing through the story will take you a good eight hours or so, but there's certainly no shortage of content elsewhere. Aside from the standard Ladders and the new Tag Team matches (which make for lengthy, exhausting battles), the real gem is the 300-stage Challenge Tower. Here the core gameplay is endlessly tweaked and fiddled with, presenting you with minigames, handicap matches, and bizarre scenarios where you battle zombies, or where Scorpion tries to stop Mileena from giving him a cuddly toy.
There's a huge amount of variety here, and several of the modifiers also make their way over to the Test Your Luck matches, which are best enjoyed with another player. Here a number of reels are spun prior to the start of the scrap, resulting in a number of match-altering effects. Depending on the results, you might find yourself magnetically stuck to the floor, targeted by random missiles, or without both of your arms. Using the maximum number of reels combinations can lead to fights that are barely playable by conventional standards, but the results are often hilarious. There's something likeable about NetherRealm's willingness to fool about with its own systems, and it's hard to see more serious games ever following suit.
It's just as well that there's so much to enjoy in terms of offline play, because at the moment there are question marks over the game's online capabilities. I can't be too judgemental on this front at this stage, as most of the people I've played will have been based in the USA, but it's still concerning that I haven't been able to get a lag-free game. Some American users have uttered similar complaints, although naturally there are also plenty of people who say that everything is fine, and that complainers are simply trolls. Only time will tell who's right, but let's hope that things will improve once the game is out in Europe. In terms of what's on offer, there are 1v1 and tag team matches, plus a winner-stays-on King of the Hill mode. Bizarrely, the Xbox 360 version of this finds your LIVE Avatars watching and gesticulating at each match from the sidelines, but thankfully there's an option to go full-screen instead.
Regardless of how the netcode eventually performs, it's inevitable that Mortal Kombat will always be more fun to play against a local opponent - someone by your side who can laugh with, jeer at, and punch in the crotch when they knock you into The Deadpool. It lacks finesse on occasion, but it also rarely offers anything less than an extremely fun fight - even if it's not always a fair one. There's a small mountain of hidden content to unlock and discover, and if you're even a vague fan of the original games you'll appreciate the nostalgia factor too.
Indeed, this new game feels like such a thorough piece of fan service, it's difficult to see how NetherRealm Studios will ever be able to follow it up, as it feels like there's little left to do. Still, for now that doesn't matter. Mortal Kombat feels like the return of an old friend - a thoroughly unhinged friend, but one we're delighted to have back.