- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Here’s a look at a pair of recently released video games.

Mortal Kombat (Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, reviewed for PlayStation 3, rated M for mature, $59.99)  The game that launched a thousand congressional hearings (OK, I’m exaggerating) reboots to its roots with a side-scrolling fighter sure to satisfy a player’s bloodlust.

The franchise’s ninth iteration still features brutal, boneheaded combat dished out via a seemingly endless supply of combo moves.

However, it also includes a ridiculous amount of content to bathe a fan in the Kombat experience.

With active 3-D backdrops (just try to concentrate while a giant monster attacks a city) and 3-D character models set within a two-dimensional fighting space, players square off in timed matches with the use of legendary characters, including Johnny Cage, Raiden, Sub-Zero and Scorpion.

Besides the core versus matches, developers make sure Mortal Kombat fanatics get a healthy dose of the mythology through a three-hour story mode tied to the plots of the first three versions of the game

The dialogue and drama won’t win any awards (Looney Tunes seems absolutely Shakespearean in comparison) but it manages to give a player control of many of key characters as they stop the plans of the evil Shao Kahn.

Additionally, a Challenge Tower (with more than 300 tasks) offers tests that range from straight combat, two-vs.-one matches, stopping waves of zombies and even selecting the correct skull an eyeball might be hiding under. Coins collected for success can be spent in a part-graveyard and part-torture chamber. Unlucky victims suffer fatally if a player chooses them before they spit out a reward that might unlock game and character art or new fatalities.

Players also get rigorous training modes, including a way to practice fatalities that will turn beginners into veteran combatants within a few hours.

The generous package of Mortal Kombat immersion continues with tag-team matches and an eight-player online king-of-the-hill battle royalcq, just to name a few of the online and multiplayer options.

But let’s get to what every gamer wants to know and every parent fears: the bloody combat. The action delivers a choking level of Rob Zombie-movie grossness that usually only butchers and morticians are privy to.

Signature powers such as Scorpion’s ability to cause an enemy to burst into flames or Kung Lao’s razor-sharp hat toss are delivered within locations that might feature impaled heads and bodies or spigots of blood to walk through.

As for gratuitous, let’s look at the X-Ray power. Just fill up a meter, unleash a blow at the right moment and watch the camera hone into critical areas of the attack with animation peeling back the opponent’s skin and revealing the crushing damage to bone and vital organs.

Now, the highlights of any Mortal Kombat game are the vaulted fatalities  a way to finish off a dazed enemy using a gloriously graphic move by entering the correct sequence into the controller. The game does not disappoint: Sheeva rips the skin off a victim as he then slumps over into a muscular mass, Noob Saibot forges a clone that appears on the other side of a victim and in a tug of war rips him in half, and Reptile spits acid in the mouth of the unlucky warrior and then rips his stomach from his body, proudly displaying it for the world to see.

Although I’m more of a Tekken or Marvel vs. Capcom kind of guy, I can’t find fault with the depth and variety of the latest game.

It’s a bit too much for my stomach, but aficionados and amateurs both will embrace the tournament excesses of the latest Mortal Kombat.

Portal 2 (Valve, reviewed for Xbox 360, rated E10+ for players 10 and older, $59.99)  A nearly universally embraced first-person puzzle game returns for an even more potent experience for fans of Aperture Laboratories.

Continuing the adventures of female test subject Chell, the player becomes the sturdy survivor and attempts to escape a crumbling research facility.

Multiple robots with extreme attitudes will help and hinder a player’s progress through the nine-chapter adventure. (The human-hating bot GlaDOS is unforgettable.)

Of course, the wonderful magic trick of the action is back. The player uses a gunlike device to shoot a complementary pair of oval portals on specific walls, ceilings and floors to escape and manipulate environmental obstacles.

That might mean creating a portal on the main floor and shooting one in the wall high above in order to access a catwalk, or taking a huge free-fall dive and creating a portal at the last second on the ground below to fly through another portal and reach a seemingly unreachable tower.

The portal effect is impressive throughout and is a mind-expanding drug of the highest caliber, without the side effects.

The player also encounters combinations of lasers (Thermal Discouragement Beams) that must be guided into position with help from portals and mirrored boxes, pesky machine-gun turrets (cute little fellows) that must be deactivated, catapults, plenty of pressure areas that can be triggered with weighted boxes, and a rubbery blue liquid substance that can be used for bouncing.

Get past GlaDOS’ tests, and the funny really kicks in. The prerecorded voice of Aperture founder and CEO Cave Johnson helps guide the player through a new set of insane challenges.

As Johnson, actor J.K. Simmons (J. Jonah Jameson in the Spider-Man films and professor Nathaniel Burke in the Farmers Insurance Group commercials) is at his most understatedly absurd. In fact, he is so amusing that my frenetic goal of finishing the more complex puzzles was to get to another location to hear more of Johnson’s ridiculous warnings and tips.

In addition to the solo campaign, a pair of players can work together to solve puzzles through five test courses as they control a pair of lovable bipedal robots, ATLAS and P-body. That cooperative event is often as rich as the main story, as two friends or a parent and child must really stretch their noggins and imaginations to solve the challenges laid out by GlaDOS.

It is not often that a first-person shooter delivers such a satisfying package without leaving a player drenched in blood. Portal 2 is a rare and wonderful evolution in the history of gaming.

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