Mortal Kombat 11 on Switch is a bloody good time


Fatality…Switch Wins

Mortal Kombat 11‘s Switch version was shrouded in mystery for the longest time. Announced alongside the game late last year, WB Games and NetherRealm waited until just a week before launch to publicly show any footage of the port. A PAX East demo was super impressive, but strict guidelines for footage didn’t allow anyone the chance to show it off, which led to a lot of rumors of the port being a rushed hack job.

Well, launch day is here and I can safely say that Mortal Kombat 11 on Switch is the real deal. I’ve only played a few hours of the retail version, but I’ve come away mighty impressed with what was achieved on Nintendo’s console. This certainly isn’t the definitive way to play the latest MK entry, but it’s going to be a real treat to pop this sucker out literally anywhere and eviscerate your opponents in public. So much for schoolyard rumors, eh?

MK 11 Switch Fatality Screen

Starting things off, do not expect Mortal Kombat 11 on Switch to even compare visually with the other versions. This is a close approximation of the full game, but a lot of detail is missing. The lighting is incredibly pared-down, backgrounds look barren, and the texture filtering is kind of ugly. Playing it in docked mode, you’re going to get something approaching 720p, though a dynamic resolution scaler is in effect. The reason for that scaler is so MK11 can maintain 60 FPS gameplay, which it honestly does.

While fatalities and fatal blows will drop the framerate to 30 FPS (something that happens in every version of MK11, mind you), the main game runs pretty flawlessly. The only reason I was dropping inputs or commands was that I don’t have a Switch Pro Controller. The Joy-Con are really not a suitable replacement for a dedicated d-pad, but it’s certainly possible to come to grips with them. I managed a double meter burn combo with Scorpion online against an opponent, so it can be done.

There are all manner of different control options, though, so you can pick the one that suits you the most. You can swap commands to whichever button you like, switch over to a Pro Controller, modify your Joy-Con to have a proper d-pad, or play with a single Joy-Con and rethink your life. The choice is yours, which is wonderful.

Content-wise, MK11 retains everything on Switch, with the only downside being that the retail release demands a hefty day-one patch. I’m not sure how large the cartridge is, but I believe WB Games opted for an 8 GB card. The download will consume around 16.1 GB, which is basically half of the Switch’s internal storage. While you can actually play the game without downloading anything, you’re going to be limited to half the roster (with a single variation), half the stages, and only offline versus or practice if you do so. The quality of the sound effects and visuals also take a hit, leading me to believe the higher-quality assets are part of the download. It’s serviceable, but I definitely wouldn’t call it ideal. Everything could have fit on a 32 GB card, so for consumers, there’s not much reason for this decision at all.

As for when you do have the full game downloaded, things improve a bit. The sound effects stop being grainy and the visuals look a little smoother. This isn’t going to be the difference between HD and SD, but it does look a tiny bit nicer once the full game is there. Portable play, as well, really benefits from the download as it is super blurry running straight from the cart.

I should mention that portable play also retains that 60 FPS lock. You can see some hiccups when performing flashier moves, but even the handheld experience runs quite well. It’s truly a miracle to see MK11 on Switch with little compromise, apart from visuals.

Mortal Kombat 11 Switch

Where things start to get a bit muddled is with the online requirements. Even if you don’t intend to take the fight online, Mortal Kombat 11 requires a connection to WB’s servers to save progress. You can still play mostly everything offline, but your unlocks will not be registered until you can authenticate them. I suppose it’s not the worst thing since you can put the Switch into sleep mode, but that definitely puts a damper on the experience.

The only thing you’ll be barred from playing offline is the “Tower of Time” mode, but that is dependent on online connections to mix up parameters and what not. If you intend to play this on a train ride or long flight, you can at least make progress and then rest your console until you get to a Wi-Fi connection. Whether or not you think that is acceptable is up to you, but I certainly don’t care for it.

As for how the online plays, I’m quite surprised at the consistency of it. You’re never going to get 100% lag-free gameplay in any fighter, but Mortal Kombat 11 is a massive improvement over the efforts Nintendo does with its own titles. I’m not sure if the same netcode is taken from the other console versions, but fights feel smooth when the connection is good. Your moves will come out with minimal delay, specials can be properly meter burned, and stringing hits together doesn’t feel like a crapshoot. I can see myself hopping in bed, jumping online, and throwing down for a few before going to sleep.

Mortal Kombat 11 Switch

Story mode, too, delivers a great experience. Cutscenes are obviously compressed, but retain much of their detail from the other versions. Since they are all FMVs, the transitions between gameplay and cutscene can be jarring, but the switch is usually seamless. A few hiccups occur after battles, but they typically don’t manifest for very long. You’ll just get some skipped audio and frame pauses, which is something that even the PC ports of past Mortal Kombat games suffered from.

Finally, the Krypt mode is here and it easily suffers the most. I wouldn’t call it unplayable, but this is the only portion of MK11 on Switch where you can feel the limitations of Nintendo’s platform. The game shoots for 60 FPS, but it rarely maintains it and the loss of visual quality is just staggering. This almost looks like a PS2-era game, at times, and the draw distance is beyond ugly. Opening chests regularly incur framerate drops and even general movement feels sluggish.

The thing with that mode, though, is that it isn’t an action-based game type. While there is some combat to be had, you’re mostly exploring Shang Tsung’s island and unlocking chests. This isn’t something that demands fluidity and I could easily see people exploring the Krypt to unlock things on the go…that is, if you could actually keep them offline. Still, it’s the only sour part of the package that is really made worse by the exceptional grind that NetherRealm put into MK11.

Mortal Kombat 11 Switch

As Destructoid’s Chris Moyse points out in his review, there are a ton of roadblocks to you unlocking things. The incredibly unfair tower battles, the multiple currencies to accumulate, the crafting system that basically does nothing: Getting the skins you want is made purposely difficult and I don’t like it. I just want to dress Scorpion in a pink gui. Why can’t I simply unlock that with gold? Well, I could by opening my wallet, but I’m not going to feed the corporate machine that thrives on the weak-willed.

So apart from design flaws inherent to Mortal Kombat 11, itself, the Switch version is quite desirable. Like I said, this is not the definitive port of the game, but it provides a very acceptable experience that is just as playable as other versions. The 60 FPS lock is truly magical, making it easy to ignore the highly downgraded visuals. You’re not losing playability, which is the most important part of a fighting game.

If you were looking forward to the physical edition, then I’m sorry to say that it’s kind of a bust. At least you can play something with just the cart, but it’s a real missed opportunity to include the full thing. You’ll have to make your peace with that, though, because most everything else about this port is good.

[This impressions piece is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the author.]