If it hasn't been perfectly clear with Mortal Kombat's new surge of popularity, 1990s nostalgia is back in full force. So when the supernaturally sadistic Spawn was announced as a Mortal Kombat 11 guest fighter—the poster boy for edgy superheroes of the era known for spikes, chains, guns, blood, and gore—I was not surprised at all. And after spending some time with him, I got exactly what I was expecting from Todd McFarlane's creation.
From the Comic Panels Straight to Mortal Kombat
Right off the bat, it is clear that NetherRealm Studios has nailed the look and sound of this character. Every single attempt to realize Spawn in video games has always been limited in one way or another, and to get everything just right is a daunting task. And a character known for an entire grab bag of supernatural powers—like mentally controlling chains, flight, teleportation, and multiple flavors of energy blasts—is always going to be hard to balance. But in the case of Spawn, his video game outings amount to a boring SNES platformer, an ugly-looking brawler on the PS1, and a mediocre third-person shooter on the PS2 where his cape was swapped out for a generic axe. All of them attempt to portray Spawn authentically, but mostly amount to cashing in on the license with undercooked derivative material.
Yet, here he is in Mortal Kombat, giant red flowing cape wrapping around him and moving on its own, pulling multiple guns out of nowhere like a homicidal Elmer Fudd, slinging necroplasm blasts, and delivering caustic venomous barbs to the rest of the game's cast with Keith David's rich, deep voice. There's also references and callbacks to the character's comic book series peppered throughout his unlockable intros, costumes, and dialogue, all perfectly realized in its stylized gothic, overly busy visual design.
Spawn's Brutal Playstyle
The first thing that stuck out to me while playing as Spawn is how big his control game is. A lot of his krushing blows and special attacks all revolve around either parrying, mix-ups, or capitalizing on missteps by your opponent. One of his specials is an anti-air projectile, a rare sight in this game. Add the reach a lot of his chain-based attacks gives him, and this fighter has some impressive mid-range game. But that's not all there is to this character; Netherrealm knows how to make multifaceted fighters, and Spawn is no different. He can be equipped with several charging attacks, allowing for pressure and beatdown potential, including a gap-closing glide ability. He also has two buff abilities: One of them takes off requirements for doing krushing blows, allowing you to chain multiple tide-turning strikes into a stunning reverse, but the buff reduces the damage these krushing blows deliver. The second one is potentially a game changer since it lets you use Spawn's fatal blow while at any amount of health as long as the buff is active. Like before, it's a lot weaker if it's used this way, but if you use the buff then activate the fatal blow while below 30 percent health, it's even more powerful than normal. What was originally MK11's big comeback mechanic can now be a tool for total stomps or more easily thrown into combos and juggles by Spawn.
This versatility does help hide his otherwise simplistic combo game. Once you settle on two or three bread-and-butter strings, chances are you won't be using much else, and there isn't really a lot of potential with his special attacks which focus more on pushing away than setting up juggles. This has always been a notable issue for Mortal Kombat games in the past, but with Spawn it is at its most noticeable. But when you can have those combos be free krushing blows that can potentially take off half your opponent's health bar, who needs finesse?
All in all, Spawn is a great addition to the Mortal Kombat 11 roster and a longtime coming for fans of Image Comics' most-enduring protagonist. And with the Season Pass complete, it does allow for match-ups most people would never think possible. The Terminator blowing off the Joker's head or Spawn ripping apart Liu Kang with his spiked chains just seemed like madness, and yet here we are in 2020. Sometimes it's good to be in the future.