‘Mortal Kombat X’ is brilliant and desperate

Within the last four years, NetherRealm Studios has become one of the most prolific fighting game developers in the industry. In 2011, they rebooted the “Mortal Kombat” franchise in a way that kept it campy, gory and accessible, while still adding enough nuance for competitive players to show their stuff. The impressive DC Comics-based “Injustice: Gods Among Us” followed suit, maintaining the cheese while making the experience great fun for newcomers and experts alike.

Now players arrive at “Mortal Kombat X,” the sequel to the rebooted “Mortal Kombat” also known as “MK9” — and while it’s fighting engine is better and more fun than ever, it makes some questionable decisions outside the combat that may put undue pressure on “Mortal Kombat” fans.

Like the reboot, “Mortal Kombat X” hearkens back to the series roots: two guys on a 2-D plane beating each other up as bloodily and gorily as possible. There are standard fighting game mechanics like a super-meter that fills up by hitting and getting hit, and the juggly combos and X-ray moves from “MK9” return.

However, the combat feels more “Injustice” than “Mortal Kombat,” with fighters able to interact with the environment in the background during the fight. For example, if there’s a barrel nearby in the background, a player can pick it up and throw it at the opponent. If there’s a fire pit nearby, it can be kicked down to knock embers in the opponent’s face. Hardcore “Mortal Kombat” fans can turn this feature off if they choose, but for those who leave it on, it’s another cool nuance to fights.

But once the fight is over, there are a number of elements that may bug fans. Microtransactions in “Mortal Kombat X” are rampant, and there are urges all throughout the game to buy stuff. Things that used to be easily unlocked in “MK9,” like concept art and alternate costumes, must now be either payed for separately with real money or unlocked by grinding missions or online fights.

None of these things necessarily give an edge to paying players, but it feels like a huge bummer to players who are used to unlocking things the old-fashioned way. There’s a great fighter here, but it feels buried under desperate attempts to part consumers with their money.

And that’s a shame, because without the microtransactions, “Mortal Kombat X” is probably the best “Mortal Kombat” game to date. The combat itself is the best NeverRealm has constructed yet, and if someone walks up to me and asks me what the best fighting game for beginners is, I’d say “Mortal Kombat X” without a doubt — well, maybe after mentioning “Divekick,” but that’s beside the point. Mechanically, it’s solid, and aside from the initial $60, players wanting the full “Mortal Kombat X” experience won’t have to spend another cent. But the pressure to spend another cent is always there, and that will ruin the experience for many players. It’s a fine game, but be ready to skip past a lot of annoyances to get there.