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Everything you need to know before playing as Johnny Cage in MK11

Since Ed Boon and his developer NetherRealm Studios officially revitalized Mortal Kombat, a series Boon co-created back in the '90s, MK and the Injustice series have become staples in the fighting game community. Known for their brutal, hard-hitting brand of combat, these two series have put NetherRealm on the map and have continually made for smart, fun, sometimes hilarious stories for nearly a decade.

With the release of Mortal Kombat 11, there's little doubt that the new iteration will continue the legacy Boon created so many years ago. One of the key representations of that legacy, rooted in comedy and a vast display of ridiculousness, is Johnny Cage. The actor-turned-martial arts expert has been part of the MK series since its inception, and he continues to be vital to the story that NetherRealm has written. As you likely know from a recent reveal video, Cage is back in full force and he's ready to help defend Earthrealm while adding some new moves to his arsenal. So let's take a look at everything you need to know before playing as Johnny Cage in MK11.

From Hollywood actor to defender of Earth

As a fan favorite and one of the seven original Mortal Kombat characters, it's no surprise that Johnny Cage is back for MK11. But how did he get to his current status, as a de facto defender of Earth? Not so many years ago, Cage was little more than a struggling action movie star with a penchant for doing his own stunts. Well, after entering the Mortal Kombat Tournament to prove his proficiency as a martial artist, he and future wife Sonya Blade formed a pivotal alliance to help defend Earthrealm against enemies from the Outworld and Netherrealm.

Years later, Cage and Blade divorced, but not before they had a daughter, Cassie Cage. Despite the divorce, the two remained on good terms and continued to work together, leading a special forces team tasked with protecting Earthrealm. After the team defeated Shinnok and trapped the Elder God in an amulet — a flashback that opened MKX — the story jumped forward, revealing two new enemies: Quan Chi and D'Vorah. Together, they planned to free Shinnok, which comes to fruition later in X. Cage was captured and nearly killed by D'Vorah, but Cassie rescued him and also defeated Shinnok. With the Cage family reunited and its bond strengthened, the team was successfully able to defend Earthrealm from its enemies once more.

Johnny Cage: the "Amplified" version

When using Johnny Cage — or any other character for that matter — you'll have opportunities to trigger Amplify moves. These moves, introduced for Mortal Kombat 11, are essentially powered-up versions of special attacks that utilize the in-game meters. When your meter bars are full, you can unleash Cage's Amplify attack, basically an EX move from past games. In a video that NetherRealm showed off recently, the developers illustrated an example using Cage and his, well, genital uppercut attack. The regular version is just a single hit to the bathing suit area, while the amped-up version sends an opponent airborne and allows you to turn it into a combo.

Originally, NetherRealm's design for these attacks was a bit more complicated. The initial version, shown off during the January reveal, forced players to memorize unique commands for each different amplified attack. This caused some backlash, because it added more memorization to an already lengthy move list. Boon and the dev team have since simplified this, allowing you to trigger the moves with just the "Interact" button — by default, the right bumper on controllers.

Introducing: Fatal Blows

If you're a fighting game fan, you've likely encountered stronger, more-skilled opponents throughout the years. With your back against the wall, and your character's life bar dwindling ever so quickly, you likely wished for some kind of escape — a last-ditch effort to help snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. In Mortal Kombat 11, you'll get that wish. During the game's reveal, NetherRealm outlined a new type of move known as a Fatal Blow. This move, which essentially replaced the X-Ray moves from past MK games, is a one-time use special that you can activate only after your health dips below 30%.

For Johnny Cage, his Fatal Blow is a reminder to fans that, despite his slightly more serious demeanor, NetherRealm hasn't taken all the comedy out of the character. Cage's bone-crushing combo ends with him pulling out a familiar-looking gold statue, cracking it over his opponent's skull, and then jamming the remnants of it into the torso. The Academy definitely didn't have that in mind when it designed the prestigious award.

A new fatality

It wouldn't be a true Mortal Kombat experience without gruesome, gratuitous Fatalities. The finisher has been a staple of the MK series for 15 years and a feature beloved by fans. So it should come as no surprise that NetherRealm's latest in the series is continuing on with the Fatality tradition with some new entries in the over-the-top finishing move collection.

During the character video for Johnny Cage, the team showed off a new Fatality, one with a nod to a specific glitch found in an earlier entry. Cage's finisher involves him taking three attempts at an uppercut to decapitate an opponent — a camera production "cuts" in between takes. Long-time fans surely caught that this was an homage to the triple-decapitating uppercut, which was a Mortal Kombat 2 glitch. After finally severing the head of his opponent, Cage brings out an action figure of himself to help celebrate the victory.

Cage: young vs old

MK11's story is driven by a time-travel narrative, one focused on bringing together past and present versions of popular characters, including Johnny Cage. After Shinnok's defeat in MKX, Kronika — a new antagonist revealed as the Keeper of Time  — vows to balance the force of good and evil by rewriting the current timeline. She can do so thanks to her powers of time manipulation, which allow her to transport individuals from throughout history to the present. This is how players will meet both the young and older versions of Cage.

Kronika's powers surely threaten Earthrealm and everything Cage and his family fought to protect in X, but it's not yet clear how the two versions of the former action movie star will interact throughout the new story. Surely, the younger, cockier Johnny will bring some strong moments of comic relief, but will he have a hand in stopping Kronika? Or, will he stand with her and fight against his older self? Only time will tell.

The new dual-meter system

Another new addition to the series alongside Amplify and Fatal Blow moves is the dual-meter system. Replacing the single EX meter from MKX, NetherRealm has designed two meters — one for offense and one for defense. Each meter has two bars that fill up on their own throughout the match, so you no longer need to take damage in order to replenish them. For the offensive meter, players can spend them on the Amplified special moves, as explained above. These moves can do extra damage, add opportunities for combos, or even grant frame advantage over your opponent. The defensive meter is spent on any defensive special moves, as well as combo escapes, dodges, and rolls.

There's plenty of strategy involved in this dual-meter system, whether you're playing as Johnny Cage or one of the other 25-plus characters. The meter bars replenish at rates dependent on what you last utilized them for. For example, if a player exhausts both offensive bars on one of Cage's air combos, those will refill relatively slowly. However, spending a single bar on a smaller move, like a projectile, will allow the meter to fill up faster. This design forces players to give a good amount of thought when it comes to burning these meters, and that should lead to better matches and less button-mashing.