Mortal Kombat 9 represents everything that's awful about video games. It's trashy, it's corny, it's gory, it's sexist, it's racist — and it's deceptively addictive.
The story gets a hard reboot. Raiden sends a message back in time to himself at the start of the first Mortal Kombat, and the rest of the game follows the plots of Mortal Kombats 1-3, now with alterations by Raiden. But who cares? Mortal Kombat is about kombat, not story.
In my first one-on-one versus battle, I played as Sonya, with my opponent as Noob. In this game, Sonya wears her tiniest outfit yet: a wide-open black vest with no bra — which seems risky, since her boobs are bigger than her head. Midway through the battle, my opponent had filled his special-attack bar, so he launched his X-Ray attack. As Noob punched Sonya in the stomach, the game zoomed in to display her x-rayed skeleton. My partner and I exclaimed in surprise and horror as we watched Sonya's vertebrae snapping in slow motion. Then the camera zoomed out as Noob kicked Sonya's stomach and she bent over and vomited yellow-green sludge everywhere. I got my revenge in Sonya's own X-Ray special: she wrapped her legs around Noob's neck and flipped his head into the ground while the x-ray showed his skull splitting open. There was blood. Lots and lots of blood.
The eroticism of the gore alarms more than the gore itself. Sonya and the other women suffer "battle damage" rips on their clothes; none of the men's clothing gets ripped. Several attacks come with a side of eroticism: Johnny Cage performs a perfect split and punches his opponent's pelvic region; Kano throws his enemies to their knees and throttles their heads in front of his crotch. Most of the fighters represent some sort of racial caricature. Nightwolf the Native American warrior leads the pack. (Did Nightwolf seem quaint in 1995? He sure doesn't now.) The entire game is an alienating reminder that if you're not a white, heterosexual male, it's not "for" you. Or perhaps the intended message is, "Violence is sexy"? Either way, I'm uncomfortable.
If you can ignore Sonya's clothes-busting boobs and Nightwolf's inability to use contractions in his speech, you'll start having fun. The game isn't as complex as Street Fighter or Tekken, but it'll still charm fighting-game fans with its intuitive controls and new power meter. The novice-friendly training mode teaches you everything from basics to breakers to specials, and a mode called the Challenge Tower provides 300 drills ranked easy to hard. Many of the moves will give you a nostalgic smile, like Scorpion's classic "Get over here!" chain grapple. Most important, you don't have to buy a fight stick. As opposed to Marvel vs. Capcom 3, playing this game on a normal controller — even for several hours at a stretch — won't make your fingers ache.
But for all MK9's charms, it's tough to ignore the game's creative missteps, from the stupidity of the female characters (Ajax gets his arms ripped off while Sonya stands in the background like a powerless ditz) to the fact that all the black characters die early on in the story mode. (This is an alternate history! Couldn't they have kept one of them around this time?) Learning a fighting game requires that you play it over and over. I'd love to spend more time with Sonya, but I'm not willing to do that unless she puts on a bra. It hurts my chest just to watch her.