A lot of fighting games have tutorial modes, but few are as elaborate and helpful as the one that comes with the recently released Mortal Kombat 11. As our lead editor Garrett Martin wrote, “it blows up so much of the mystery around fighting games.” Instead of simply telling a player what moves and combos they can perform in the game, it breaks down the steps into easy to digest chunks and gives the player a comprehensive visual demonstration, highlighting the button sequences on an inset diagram of the controller to show how they are performed. It provides the most approachable point of entry for beginners of any fighting game I’ve ever played, turning the guesswork and button spamming of the past into deliberate, calculated strategy.
However I can’t help but deeply appreciate one key part of the tutorial: the audio. It has added a whole new dimension to the learning process. As the tutorial moves through each section of Mortal Kombat 11 basics, from blocking to special combos, it has a small lower-left inset of the controller that highlights each button in sequence. It can also go into a view mode that allows for additional practice where the moves are also given an additional audio cue to accompany the button highlight. It’s a huge game changer. While the tutorial’s visual demonstrations are good at showing the player how to complete a combo, they’re really not much more than an animated version of the static moveset illustrations you’d see in a manual. The satisfying little “ping!” that accompanies each move in the demo mode is more effective. Beyond showing the sequence of a combo, it demonstrates exactly how far the moves should be spaced apart in order to be successfully performed. I’m having a much easier time learning the combos in Mortal Kombat 11 based on what I can hear, rather than what I can see.
For me, I think the helpfulness of the audio cues boils down to my particular learning style and sensory perception filters, a factor that can vary from person to person based on cognitive and neurological function and the various environmental factors affecting them individually. I would liken it to the difference between reading sheet music, versus hearing a piece of music. I find it hard to grasp the timing of a Mortal Kombat 11 combo visually, but when I hear it, it makes perfect sense. The audio cues help cut through the muddiness by giving a sense of pacing to the sequence, like finding the beat to a combo.
The astounding efficiency of this one small improvement is a good reminder that accessibility in games is not limited to or defined by difficulty modes. An accommodation for different learning styles in and of itself is an accessibility feature. For me, reading a string of button combos, as I have with so many other games like Dragonball FighterZ, Street Fighter or Soulcalibur, was never really going to work. With this feature, I can finally strip down a combo and perform each of its parts on purpose instead of button spamming and hoping for the best.
I plan to go back to the tutorial and continue to perfect Mortal Kombat 11 moves, which is a novelty for me despite my interest in fighting games (like Garrett, I’ve had a tendency to rush through the tutorial to learn the basics and then play through the story mode until hitting a wall and quitting three quarters of the way through).There’s a lot of potential here to reach and recruit a new audience, which is important in terms of how intimidating the skill demands surrounding the genre can be. I hope other developers will learn from this example.
Holly Green is the assistant editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.