Several gaming news sites have recently released the first footage of NeverRealm Studios’ upcoming PS Vita port of Mortal Kombat.  The rather poor looking footage shows off some of Mortal Kombat’s gameplay, including 150 new challenges and various motion controls used in the game’s challenge tower mode.

At a glance, the demo featured graphics largely reminiscent of its console big brothers; albeit without persistent blood splatter or global lighting.  Upon further inspection, particularly during the up close and personal fatalities, Mortal Kombat on the Vita loses its semblance to the current gen systems and instead appears more akin to the last generation and the Nintendo 3DS.

It’s expected for the PS Vita to have downgraded graphics from its bigger sibling, the PS3, considering it reportedly has half the pixel fill rate and a much slower, albeit still relatively speedy CPU.  The PS3 drives the differential wedge in performance even further with its ability to use the Cell processor for post processing and shading effects – a feature that has allowed it to keep up with the Xbox 360 which has considerably more raw performance potential. Polygon and fill rate counts aside, the PS Vita should be able to support most if not all the shaders and lighting techniques used in home consoles by virtue of the now industry standard shader model 3 support and a multi-core CPU.

Why then is Mortal Kombat on the Vita using hardly any of these DX9 functions?  Instead of the gorgeous skin shaders complete with specular highlights and global lighting in the console version , the Vita appears to be using  fixed function non programmable shaders similar to those used on the PS2, Nintendo Wii, and most recently the Nintendo 3DS.

Fixed function shaders can look pretty good, even imitating the look of real programmable shaders as is demonstrated by Nintendo’s gorgeous Super Mario Galaxy on the Wii and Capcom’s Super Street Fighter IV on the 3DS.  The vita doesn’t need to utilize these shaders; just look at how great Uncharted: Golden Abyss looks.  Of course that title is developed under supervision of Sony and with the aim of making their hardware look damn good, in effect putting pretty much every other demonstrated Vita game to shame aesthetically.

The problem of nearly nonexistent shaders in Mortal Kombat is further compounded by the much lower polygon count, lack of lighting effects or permanent blood, and much lower texture quality.  If anything positive can be said about the game’s visual presentation, it’s that the backgrounds have retained much of their quality from the home version; each stage is an animated vista with captivating atmosphere to boot. It’s just a shame that the primary focal point of a fighting game – the characters – hasn’t been fully realized.

With all said and done it is important to point out that…it isn’t all said and done. The game has a few months before release for NetherRealm Studios to tighten up the graphics engine and fix some of these visual shortcomings; though in all likelihood, and especially considering the game has been in development since 2010, the preview shown is fairly close to the retail product.

The most important thing is of course the gameplay. And judging from the demonstrated footage, Mortal Kombat sure plays the part, even if it doesn’t quite look it yet.

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