The series that created an age rating for video games is back for blood. After years of increasingly awful sequels culminating in the clunky “Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe,” the series has finally returned to its roots. NetherRealm Studios has brought back the hyper-violence and gore that made “Mortal Kombat” the favorite target of concerned parents everywhere. However, for the very first time, they actually managed to create a compelling game as well.

After an apocalyptic battle leaves the “Mortal Kombat” universe at the feet of the evil (and too cool for pants) Shao Kahn, the god of thunder sends visions of the apocalypse to his past self in an attempt to alter the timeline and prevent Armageddon. The story retells the events of the first three “Mortal Kombat” (“MK”) games. Unlike most fighting games, this one has a dedicated story mode that tells the whole tale from start to finish. It’s cheesy, poorly acted, and the characters lack any sort of meaningful characterization. Yet it’s oddly addictive, and most gamers will want to see it through to the end. It’s an earnest effort from the developers to reboot the franchise and get new gamers up to speed on the extensive “MK” lore. Though the ending is anticlimactic and most of the laughs unintentional, it’s still one of the best story modes featured in a fighting game to date. “Street Fighter” could learn a thing or two from it.

“Mortal Kombat” certainly picked up a few tricks from its long-time rival, with a return to 2-D gameplay and new and devastating super moves. You kick, punch, and chuck mystical fireballs at your enemy, just like in previous games. A new addition is the super meter located at the bottom of the screen. As you attack, you build meter that can be spent to escape from enemy combos or unleash an X-Ray Attack that can turn the tide of battle in an instant. Also, once you beat your opponent you can finish them off with a gory and over-the-top Fatality.

Another excellent addition is 4-player tag team versus. This feature makes “Mortal Kombat” the go-to game for casual fans looking to beat up on their buddies. You can also waste time with goofy, but fun mini games, a massive challenge mode, and even tackle the arcade mode cooperatively with a similarly bloodthirsty pal. Casual gamers will probably prefer “MK” over “Street Fighter 4” or “Marvel vs Capcom 3” due to all the extra features and modes jammed in. While “Street Fighter 4” is a slab of grade A Kobe beef all alone on the plate, “Mortal Kombat” is a cheeseburger with fries, a shake, and an apple pie.

All of the most memorable characters and arenas from the first three “MK” games have been brought to life in stunning, gory detail. The environments look fantastic and evoke a moody atmosphere that makes the game’s world come alive. Unfortunately, the characters themselves have very little personality. Half the cast is made up of ninjas, robot ninjas, or bikini-clad girl ninjas. You’ll find your friends referring to the characters as, “the red ninja” or “the one with the pants.”

They are also poorly animated, with the exception of the X-Ray moves and the infamous fatalities. Most of the characters look like they learned Kung Fu from Austin Powers. You’ll see Shaolin monks and hulking monsters throwing punches and slaps that would look more fitting in a pillow fight than in a duel to the death. “MK” still has a ways to go before it can claim victory over other games in the fighting genre, but this game is a big, bloody step in the right direction.

“Mortal Kombat” has always been a casual man’s fighting game. You would play it long enough to see all the fatalities and then once the shock value wore off, you’d move on to something else. With deeper gameplay than ever, gamers will find themselves coming back to this new “MK” for all the right reasons.