Mortal Kombat 1 Review

Mortal Kombat is turning 31 in 2023, with each of its past three decades associated with a different approach to the fighting game franchise. 2D arcade gameplay gave way to 3D fighting on consoles with 2002’s MK: Deadly Alliance, and then a return to 2D in 2011 with a rebooted story. The latest shift comes courtesy of Fire God Liu Kang, segueing from Mortal Kombat 11‘s apocalyptic ending into a refreshed Mortal Kombat 1. The resulting soft reboot doesn’t feel as revolutionary as Mortal Kombat (2011), but Mortal Kombat 1 still builds a strong foundation for MK‘s newest era.

The main appeals of a compelling cast mixed with cathartic violence are alive and well in Mortal Kombat 1. As it features a universal reset, the game’s roster solely consists of old characters with altered roles and fighting styles. Some of these, like the playable Ashrah and the Kameo Fighter Darrius, are noticeably obscure, but they are treated with the same respect as Mortal Kombat mainstays. “Familiar, but expanded” describes much of what MK1 does, so both veterans and newcomers should feel right at home even if nothing they encounter feels novel.

Like always, the main event is a cinematic story mode that gives MK1‘s setting that same treatment. Anyone who’s played the past few Mortal Kombat or Injustice games knows what they’re getting into here. Set around when the original Mortal Kombat game would take place in Liu Kang’s new world, the plot revolves around the Mortal Kombat tournament, while a larger mystery mounts in the background. Juggling as many fighters as it does is impressive, even if there are plenty of moments where a scuffle happens just to get a character some gameplay time.

Once again, Mortal Kombat‘s running plot is left in an interesting state that should spark fan speculation over what will happen next. The way the ending is handled is particularly interesting, if obtuse. Use of MK1’s main Kameo Fighter roster is rare, but several story-exclusive Kameos serve as a fair trade. On the whole, Mortal Kombat 1‘s story mode is a decent 6-hour romp that will satisfy fans, but future titles may want to deviate from the purely cinematic approach before any fatigue settles in.

Fortunately, Mortal Kombat 1 has plenty more to do after its credits roll. The other main single-player attraction is the new Invasions mode, replacing Mortal Kombat 11’s seasonal Living Towers and the 3D adventure iteration of the Krypt. Many will be saddened by the latter’s loss, but Invasions offers a more varied replayable experience than what MK11‘s endgame eventually boiled down to. Like classic Krypts, Invasions is where players will unlock a significant amount of content, including costume pieces, multiple currencies, and other things. However, it’s got a lot more going on than that would suggest.

Invasions feel like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate‘s World of Light enhanced by MK‘s own Test Your Luck mode. Once the current season’s plot is introduced via a cutscene, players enter one of several tile-based boards resembling MK1’s stages, with spaces offering different challenges and rewards. Encounters include opponents spamming specific moves, bizarre fighting conditions and attacks from unplayable characters, and even entire Towers and minigames. All the while, players will gain levels and equipment for their fighters, and sometimes uncover secret paths. Anyone disappointed by MK1‘s short story mode should find more fulfillment from Invasions.

After that, the Arcade Towers are available with the standard assortment of fun, non-canon character endings, as well as a thorough tutorial mode. Players will continuously gain Seasonal Kredits, Koins, and Character Mastery by fighting and completing various rotating quests, all of which go into unlocking even more bonuses and cosmetics outside of Invasions. Despite its menus often appearing compact, Mortal Kombat 1 has lots of features and unlockables to try, and the player will always feel like they’re being rewarded for something. The three currencies (one that is premium) and Mastery points may seem intimidating, but lessons were learned from MK11 to make them unobtrusive.

When a player has had enough of the offline suite and decides to compete online, a similarly concise-but-solid experience awaits them. Mortal Kombat 1 features solid rollback netcode, matchmaking, the typical online trio of ranked, casual, and lobby matches, as well as the promise of crossplay down the line. There was no attempt to reinvent Mortal Kombat 1’s online features like some of its other aspects were, but it does enough to ensure that nothing gets in the way of gameplay.

Mortal Kombat‘s fighting has always been solid, but the main attraction was its ’80s kung-fu flick aesthetic and copious amounts of gore. Both are on full display in MK1, and there are plenty of visceral finishers thanks to unlockable Brutalities and Kameo Fighter Fatalities. However, for more serious players, the Kameo Fighters themselves will steal the show. They have replaced MKX and MK11’s Variations with a second roster of characters that assist the playable ones. Kameo Fighters are akin to Variations shared by the entire cast, and even their small contributions add a lot to MK1‘s identity. They also factor into Breakers and a redesigned throw system, so players who mismanage them will definitely feel their absence.

The variety offered by Kameos is mirrored in the playable characters themselves, all of which feel stronger than ever thanks to their abilities not being divided among Variations. Fighters’ play styles range from straightforward, like the simple-but-strong Scorpion and Sub-Zero, to much more technical, like the air-focused Nitara or the Kameo-manipulating Sindel. Kameos are balanced similarly, and complementary pairings can be devastating. Optimized set-ups with both teammates can pile pressure on opponents, and combining that with strong mobility options lends MK1 an impressive amount of depth.

This is a double-edged sword, however. In the name of competitive viability, special move lists grew while the number of pre-canned combo strings shrank. The few remaining have clearer utilities and actually expand MK1’s combo potential considerably, but casual players will be left wondering why mashing isn’t producing as many flashy strings as before. New aerial strings were also added to make MK1‘s combo paths feel unique but, again, only advanced players will take advantage of them. Mortal Kombat will always look different in the hands of high and low-level players, but Mortal Kombat 1‘s mechanics feel tilted in the former’s favor. Only time will tell if Invasions, a steady flow of unlockables, and plentiful Fatalities are enough to serve both audiences.

Speaking of catering to different players, Mortal Kombat 1‘s accessibility features are the best in the series. Featuring similar optional gameplay sound cues to Street Fighter 6, MK1 has traded Street Fighter’s color commentators for a descriptive menu narrator that will help visually-impaired players reach gameplay themselves. Advanced options like disabling “Test Your Might” mashing sequences or alternate special move inputs are also available if desired.

Presentation is always at the forefront of Mortal Kombat, and MK1 is not slacking in this department. Mortal Kombat 1’s younger-looking cast was carefully modeled with a lifelike aesthetic, and the game’s broad mixture of clean and gritty settings allows it to show off an impressive color palette. Music, often Mortal Kombat’s weak point, is also more memorable and diverse than usual, even if it still falls short of other fighting game franchises. Voice acting is exemplary like always, apart from Megan Fox’s Nitara unfortunately falling flat like MK11‘s Ronda Rousey-voiced Sonya. General sound design also pulls its weight, with audio accompanying attacks’ visual and haptic effects to leave a satisfying impact — even when it’s coupled with one of MK‘s more awkward animations.

All together, Mortal Kombat 1 is an impressive package, changing things up while showing reverence for even the most obscure parts of its franchise. With that said, nothing in MK1, from gameplay to narrative, is any more than a strict evolution of MK11. Mortal Kombat 1 contributes little new to the fighting game space, and the nearby Street Fighter 6 harshly contrasts it by claiming the custom fighters and open world Konquest mode Mortal Kombat left behind. Still, Liu Kang’s new timeline shows great promise, and Mortal Kombat 1 should keep its community satisfied until the next Mortal Kombat begins.

Mortal Kombat 1

The 12th mainline entry in Warner Bros’ franchise, Mortal Kombat 1 is set to be a soft reboot. Along with staples like a single-player campaign and online multiplayer, the 2023 game will also introduce Kameo Fighters.

Mortal Kombat 1 launches September 19 on PC, PS5, Switch, and Xbox Series X/S. Game Rant was provided a PlayStation 5 code for this review.

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