Developer Shiver has ported Mortal Kombat 11 to the Nintendo Switch, managing to fit the gore-laden carnage into a portable form. While all the general combat system makes a solid transition to handheld, both newfound issues and the impeding in-game economy hold back this specific version back.
The fighting of MK11 is, as we noted in our review, some of NetherRealm’s best. But in the move to the Nintendo Switch hardware, some concessions have been made to run on the hardware’s weaker specs.
Since Mortal Kombat 11, like most fighting games, has moves that start and stop in fractions of a second, 60 frames per second is the benchmark to clear for not just fidelity but raw balance and feasibility. Even in handheld, the game happily spins along at 60 fps, only mildly hiccuping during transitions to cutscene moments like fatalities or into story mode vignettes.
The trade-off is a marked decrease in visuals, especially resolutions, lighting, and textures. Anti-aliasing is low, so characters (notably their hair) look pixelated and sometimes oddly shiny. X-ray shots seem to lack in the bone-crunching department, and overall the characters appear less detailed. Fatalities look a little cartoonier. This downgrade doesn’t affect gameplay, as it’s still easy to see Scorpion’s spear or Sub-Zero’s ice ball.
One of the main draws of Mortal Kombat 11 — its story mode — makes the leap well enough. Cutscenes are comparable in quality to their console counterpart, though the transition into fights is all the more jarring with the Switch’s muddier in-game graphics, creating a noticeable difference between “gameplay” and “movie,” as opposed to seamless segues.
The visual drop-off is most noticeable with the Krypt, which has a hazy fog cast over it to lower the draw distance and textures that look like they haven’t fully loaded. This results in the removal of one of the Krypt’s best moments: In other versions, opening a certain door leads to the player walking out and seeing the pit arena from the original Mortal Kombat, with Shang Tsung’s island cast in the moonlit background and fighters duking it out on a distant bridge. In the Switch version, a sheet of fog hides all of that.
The downgrades are understandable and honestly acceptable given the end result. Having this combat on the go, at a framerate that’s the same as my console version, is pretty fantastic. While single Joy-Con controls leave a bit to be desired (lack of buttons forces either the block or interact button to clicking in the stick), I’m rarely in a situation where it’s my only controller option. The portability of the Switch version lets me lab out combos in bed or spar with friends on planes, and the only hitch is Scorpion doesn’t look quite as pristine. That is a trade-off I’m comfortable making.
What really holds this version back compared to others is what’s always held back the game, only amplified by the Switch. Many of MK11’s modes require an internet connection, either for a sync with the servers or a constant, steady one for some modes. This effectively negates a good chunk of single-player content for traveling fighters.
Both the Towers of Time and the Krypt demand a constant link to the internet, while klassic towers won’t dole out rewards without a connection. Even kustomization options are made “temporary” when unconnected, and tutorial rewards only sync once the Switch is reconnected. This effectively limits your single-player time to either the story mode or versus battles.
The Switch version emphasizes the issues inherent with Mortal Kombat 11’s economy, not in the grind but the way it is worked and crammed into every nook and cranny of the game. The result is a game that still boasts an incredible story mode and joyous combat, in exchange for a litany of modes that will only work provided you can find some Wi-Fi, seemingly at odds with the very appeal of a Switch version.
If the only console you own capable of playing Mortal Kombat 11 is the Switch, and you’re OK with all the limitations noted above, the game is still absolutely worth your time. There are obvious but understandable concessions made to keep the game in line, mechanically, with its console and computer counterparts, resulting in a game that feels like MK11 even if it doesn’t look as good. There are also practical use cases for this, especially for the competitive-oriented player who wants the ability to practice on the road.
But outside specific situations, there is very little to no reason to opt for this version of Mortal Kombat 11 over the others. What could have been an otherwise solid port of a modern fighting game to handheld is marred by issues unrelated to fidelity, but rather a demanding set of economic systems whose frustrations are amplified by mandatory online connectivity.
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