None of the games have ever dedicated what might be considered large amounts of resources to accessibility, though Mortal Kombat X included interaction audio cues and its sequel implemented partial menu narration in addition to those.
I'd said at the end of my MK11 review that I'd hoped that accessibility would improve (including for fighting-based titles), though I wasn't sure what that improvement would look like with consoles like the Xbox Series X and PS5 still on the horizon.
Now, with Mortal Kombat 1 (hereafter simply referred to as MK1) being the most accessible entry yet, as evidenced by the pre-order beta, let's see just how the final product has turned out when you have absolutely no sight whatsoever.
Once the adhesive strips are removed, turn the box so it's on one of its square faces, then pull the outer sleeve upwards gently to get it free, usually a hand on each side should work. Now set the box down on its base with the smaller lid being uppermost.
Lift the lid at each of the short ends with a single hand and it should come away, revealing what looks to be an art print in a plastic holder.
Underneath this is foam, holding a steelbook in a cloth-style bag and the game disk in a standard case, as well as a code for the limited edition figure in-game skin, which we'll get into a little later.
Taking these out, as well as removing elements of the foam packaging then reveals the 16.5 inch tall Liu Kang statue, featuring a large square base with the MK1 logo on it and the deity himself with two dragons flanking him and winding from front to back of the statue.
The figure is well detailed, bringing to life a character I've never been able to fully appreciate before, especially relevant given it's a new design. The dragons also give a sense of the atmosphere and aesthetic in that they have numerous spikes and horns, as well as what look like large numbers of teeth as befits a universe beset by violence. All in all, a worthwhile purchase for the aspiring collector.
That large square base also means that the figure is guaranteed to stand up, which removes an issue I'd had with previous items from the company, who also produced the gold Scorpion statue seen with Mortal Kombat X.
As a reminder, the game comes on a disk rather than as a downloadable code. Though I was partly hoping for a digital code for convenience, I don't mind this either, it brings back nostalgic memories of installing Mortal Kombat X on my Xbox One 8 years ago now, (How time flies), and could also be an element of preservation in future, something that I've seen critics worrying about for a number of years with various long-running franchises.
Also included as a part of the package are various codes for items like skins, the Kombat Pack and premium currency, which I had to redeem via the store on my PS5 rather than being able to do so through the website for some strange reason. Given these were printed, I had to get sighted assistance to verify the codes were correct.
Though I used a guest account initially, I later repeated this process to see more of the menus, as you have to be signed into PSN to access parts of the game.
Launching the title, I was prompted to wait, then the game's own screen reader, in its characteristically monotonous voice, said "Mortal Kombat 1, press the cross button". I was pleased to see this after the frustrations of the beta where the narration would only work through the speaker of the PS5 controller, having this bug be solved was already a great beginning.
Doing as instructed, I was asked if I'd like to enable the screen reader, being put on disable to start with. This and other hints do not repeat, which could be a challenge for some with cognitive issues for example.
I did get a message that the game had failed to download the documents, but I also got a site to go to narrated if I wanted to view them, which was useful.
Next you set up your audio settings, defining what kind of setup you're using, as well as having the option to turn on/off controller speaker and enable audio description. You do have to listen for a lot of extra UI information to see if you can move up and down in a menu, but for this, given AD can be enabled here, it's arguably crucial as a gamer without sight.
Pressing confirm, this is followed by video settings, with the gamma brightness announced when you're on it as "50%" which is great as it gives you a reference value. Leaving any visual settings at default, I pressed confirm once again.
Now for the cool part, which I won't spoil other than saying that you are then presented with a sequence which, on first boot, may be unskippable that introduces you to the universe. This movie does play every subsequent time you launch the game, but is skippable thereafter via the circle or cross/confirm buttons.
After that's done, you are then informed about online communication and where to find settings to enable speech to text and keyboard to speech, with a press cross to continue prompt. Doing so finally brings you to the main menu.
Strangely enough, if you leave the game alone too long, it'll prompt you not only to press cross again (i.e. resetting you to the title screen), but as of this first test, my acceptance of the EULA and other legal documents did not seem to stick either, meaning I had to repeat it. I'd think this is because the servers were offline as of the time of that test, since when they were down for maintenance later this happened again.
It's also worth noting that the speech rate cannot be adjusted and the voice is of a lower quality than the game itself, thus making it a rather tedious experience to go through menus and the like at times, not least because elements like the character select screen also stated "player 1" or "player 2" during navigation in these initial tests.
I did have to do a double take when I heard the word "Learn" pronounced similarly to "Lorn" by the TTS, though given the tooltips read as well it wasn't too hard to figure out what was being said eventually. It wasn't the only mispronunciation though, as Cyrax, pronounced as "sigh-wracks", was said as "ki-wracks" instead, to name just one unusual example.
When trying to enter story mode, the game detected that I hadn't done anything else and prompted to load up the basic tutorial. At this point, simply closing the game and the guest account, I left it until my first live stream later that day to dive into the game fully.
Think of the sections like Campaign, VS, Kustomise etc as tabs and the left/right options allow you to select within those tabs. These "tabs" are actually known as categories in the navigation prompts, but this is an unorthodox menu system to say the least on an initial viewing. At least the narration is very useful in easing frustration, though again you have to take a good while of listening to understand when you can move up and down as well as left and right, which could be negated via adjustable speech rate.
Opening the Kombat Kard with the touchpad also didn't read anything, though given the explanation that follows, it might make a little more sense as to why this is the case.
During development of the accessibility features, the focus was on the basics, meaning elements like practice menus, move lists and tutorials were covered so that gamers without sight could "lab", a common term used to describe training in a fighting game
As you'll see a little later, most of this came to fruition, with a couple of bugs that I hope will be resolved soon.
But before we get into that, let's look at arguably the big draw for some, the story!
One small but noticeable problem is the lack of chapter or checkpoint markers of any kind, crucial if you want to find a good place to stop instead of just playing right the way through from start to finish. I'm not sure if these could be added somehow, even just with an optional sound cue, but it would certainly make it less anxiety inducing to know exactly when a new section of the story has just started without having to guess and be on the edge of your seat the whole time.
All that said though, though I was concerned that chapters didn't read when looking back through the menus, this was updated so that chapter titles narrated as you scrolled through, even if the story completion didn't, though not all chapter titles read during my testing.
Just know that if you want to go through the game like a sighted player would with this element active, you can and any results of that minigame are also audio described.
If you do find yourself wanting to catch up on the recent games, the stories for Mortal Kombat 9 and X are available on the #TranscribingGames site, with Mortal Kombat 11 currently being formatted in a similar manner.
The sounds used also take some learning but with a little practice I felt relatively comfortable, save for the times the system refreshed post-fight and played multiple sounds in rapid succession as a sort of overlap instead of the standard pattern. You have to go to settings>accessibility and scroll up until you say an item that mentions navigation. There is a long-form textual explanation of how the sounds work and the order they're in, though this could be presented better with either a dynamic tutorial in-game or even a method of controlling the volume of each sound.
When I got to using talismans, another component of the tutorial, I was told to "tilt, in any direction". Trying to tilt the controller (given I knew it had gyro functionality) seemed like it would be futile and indeed it was. After trying what felt like everything under the sun, I discovered that you have to tilt the right analogue stick to use your talisman. Having the crucial part of the prompt not read (i.e. right stick) was frustrating, but again, hopefully this is resolved at some point soon to create a more seamless experience.
I also realised that I could figure out what was in the room I'd entered in this grid-formatted game mode via Optical Character Recognition (OCR) as a substitute for the current lack of narration. Though far from ideal, I have hope that these and other areas which we'll come onto shortly can be made fully accessible, given patches have apparently already addressed accessibility options as a component prior to the game's full release on September 19th, 2023.
For reference, the combos required to complete the tutorials are:
even stranger was the bug I found towards the end of the basic lessons, in that font-related code started reading as well (as if showing what words were being highlighted). I hadn't seen this issue before in the game, but it did surprise me.
In my first set I fought a Smoke player and won a single round out of 3 whole matches and in my second, I faced a Sub-Zero player and could not find a way to mute my opponent's loud microphone in-game. As a result, I was unable to fight well under the frustrating conditions. Other sets later on fared no better and I also felt that at times lag got in the way as well, sadly, though that's unfortunately par for the course particularly with a game that is more strict on timing than its previous iterations.
MK1 suffers from an interesting issue in that, even with release check turned off (as had to be done in previous games, thankfully accessible now due to the narrated settings menu), it not only feels slow, yet impactful, but also extremely strict. For one example, when enhancing special moves, you could press the enhance button in MK11 at a fair range of points to get the altered version of the move to appear. However, in MK1, this system seems to have been removed in favour of hitting the enhance button before you even hit the move's associated face button input, thereby forcing players to commit to moves that they might not wish to, all just for a chance at greater levels of damage or armour.
That's not to say the system is "bad", just that it will likely take far longer for most to get used to compared to the easy pick-up and play nature of the majority of previous entries.
Speaking of which:
Though there seem to be limitations at present (I couldn't find out how to make my opponent attack me to see if a move I was trying to use was a parry for example), combined with the narrated move lists it was a very solid beginning to this game's lifecycle.
However, one element of move list narration that I didn't cover previously is that the screen reader will announce the inputs as "left directional button" for left on the DPad, "Up directional button" for up on the DPad etc, as well as "triangle button", "cross button" or "circle button" for the respective face buttons. This could be confusing to newcomers to controller-based gaming, but also makes moves take much longer to read than they might do with sight. Moreover, most long-time fans of series like this would be used to "traditional notation" that being "B" for back, "f" for forward and "1, "2", "3", or "4" for square, triangle, cross/X or circle respectively.
Currently, the game doesn't support this at all, though it does switch directions depending on which side you're on within the move list. It would be a very useful addition to the title and could help those reading combos online better understand the inputs instead of having to translate everything.
< h2> The Xbox Version If anyone's wondering as to how different versions of the game might work with the in-game narration or setup procedure, thanks to the kind folks at WB providing me a code, I can confirm that the only alteration in the experience is the prompts that are given which correctly reference the buttons of their respective platform. Other than this, in my testing, I could find no differences save for a change profile option in the main menu which is common in Xbox games in one form or another. This also includes the bugs referenced above with the tutorial, hence my listing the combos needed required to get through that part of the process, as well as the font voicingissue.
There were a few interesting snags I ran into with achievements as well. After running through story mode and skipping all the cutscenes, I discovered that though I'd earned my rewards for completing story mode, I had not in fact earned the achievements associated with being half-way through and finishing the campaign. Moreover, launching invasions did not put me at the start of the mode as I might've expected given there's no cross-platform play (as of the time of writing). Instead, it put me part way through the tutorial which was surprising as to the best of my research I couldn't find information on cross-save support either.
This is a solid version of the game in spite of the above and it's merely a matter of what platform you want to get the game on in the first instance that will dictate your purchasing decision, not any accessibility differences between these two platform iterations of the same product.
Returning to how I started this review, reflecting on the experience of Mortal Kombat 11 and its Aftermath expansion, I believe we've reached the point that I'd hoped MK11 would be at when it launched, given that arguably most if not all the necessary elements existed even then to make this kind of thing possible. That being said, the positive deluge of options and accessibility elements make this, in spite of its flaws, the most playable fighting game I'm likely to dive into for a significant period of time.
If you're a gamer without sight who wants to dive in to Mortal Kombat but doesn't have the patience or time to dedicate to using Optical Character Recognition or reading story transcripts for the older games, now is as good a time as any to run headlong into battle, learn with everyone else and start spraying virtual videogame viscera all over the place just like a sighted player, especially with the apparent willingness of the teams working on it to make sure everything works as intended, which might take time but should form into a fully-fledged experience sooner rather than later.
Even though there are a few caveats, with things not always reading or doing so inaccurately, I have high hopes that those problematic elements will be fixed as soon as they can be so that the entire experience can be enjoyed without the need for external aid.
I'd argue that after years of waiting, the new era of fighting game accessibility is here, finally and it'll be interesting to see where other fighting games go from here with the bar now firmly set at a higher standard than we've seen.
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