Mortal Kombat 1 was always going to be an ambitious undertaking. Touted as a reset of sorts, fans naturally felt the fear kreeping in, but fear not, fans of gore and death, because this is far from a katastrophe or kalamity – OK, I’m going to stop this now. This is very much the Mortal Kombat you very much know and love, refined and spiced up for 2023.
The old adage ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ certainly applies to Mortal Kombat 1, which doesn’t change an awful lot about the overarching experience, giving you more of what made the last few iterations of Mortal Kombat so well received. The most significant change, and probably the only one that matters, is with the fighting mechanics.
Where Mortal Kombat 11 had character variations, Mortal Kombat 1 introduces the Kameo system. This let’s you add a back up fight from a separate roster to assist with a limited rendition of their move set. Now I’m no mathematician, but that makes for a metric ton of combinations, making trying to learn matchups just that bit harder. It means hundreds of hours can be spent trying to figure which kameo best combos with your main, and pros are going to have a field day.
Kameos don’t just get called in for combos, and they are also able to perform their own Brutalities and even their own Fatalities, a lot of which are call backs to older MK games. Jax, for instance, grows into a giant and proceeds to step on the unwilling opponent, just like he did in MK3.
They also have other uses, from absorbing a hit for you if you’re caught while out in the field, and providing the ability to combo break an opponent’s long strings if they get a bit much. It costs all your meter, but it’s worth it if you’re on the brink of losing.
There’s a ton of depth to the Kameo system and dare I say it, this might be the best that MK has felt to play, yet. The down side to this, is that the casual fighters might lose interest after a while – unlike Street Fighter 6, there isn’t a ‘modern’ control mode to appeal to the more entry level fighters out there.
That said, this still plays like Mortal Kombat, and fans of the series will be used to those systems so really, this outing shouldn’t be any different apart from adding an extra layer in the combo systems. You still have the training mode to help get up to speed, as well.
The training mode in Mortal Kombat 1 is fairly decent, giving all the options you’d expect from a modern day fighter to maximise what you can do. You can toggle the frame data which is general vital information, record the training dummy to do certain moves to practise against, and there’s a whole bunch of tutorials which dig into the nitty gritty of how to play the game. This starts right at the base level, going up through things like spacing, how to apply pressure to your opponent and even some combo trials.
One slight oddity here is that a lot of the characters have six or so trials while others only have one. Maybe they will add more at a later date, but it does seem strangely limited.
As is tradition with the newer MK games, a story mode is included, straddling the divide between a series reboot and a continuation of MK11. Liu Kang has restarted the universe and then spent the next few aeons in his role as Fire God Liu Kang.
Netherrealm Studios do not let down and have once again made a fun thrill ride of a story to blast though. There are fifteen chapters in total, each giving you control of a specific character. Towards the end, things start to get a little out of hand as the climax reaches Avengers: Endgame levels of silliness, but to be honest, I wasn’t complaining. Mortal Kombat has always been a touch on the silly side, despite the gore upping the age rating on the box. I would say the story’s ending and final fight are a bit limp though, a step back from the best that NetherRealm has produced in their recent games, but the overall experience was enjoyable.
Once you’re done with the story, you have Invasion mode to look forward to… or maybe not.
With each game, NetherRealm has always come up with different ways to explore and unlock more content. Invasion mode sees you pick a character and kameo combination and explore various realms, moving around on an interactive map, stopping at nodes and in most cases, fighting someone and earning XP or one of the many currencies in game. Sometimes things will get mixed up with a Tower here or a ‘Test Your Might’ there, but really, you are just doing fights over and over.
You can also equip Talismans and Relics to further assist you during fights as some get pretty ludicrous the further you get in, adding extra gimmicks to matches to make fights harder. Meanwhile, certain parts of the map are locked off and require keys which normally mean tediously backtracking through the nodes again just to get the unlockable you weren’t able to earlier.
It’s all fine, but this is nothing groundbreaking and the previous games Towers and Krypt from MK11 did the unlocking shtick a lot better.
Unlockables are not just tied to Invasions mode, with the bulk of the important stuff like Brutalities and Fatalities tied to actual character progression. This is great for those who just focus on one or two characters, but for those that like to see all the blood and gore on offer, it’s not the nicest way to gate the cool stuff. In MK11’s Krypt, you could find and unlock everything there, and while it was RNG, you would eventually get everything. This new system swings completely in the opposite direction, while some middle ground system would likely feel better.
There are also four different types of Kurrency. You have regular Koins also earned through gameplay in certain modes which you can spend at the shrine to get rewards and cosmetic items. You have Dragon Krystals which can be earned through gameplay or purchased through the store and are used to buy cosmetics, none of which affect the gameplay, thankfully. There’s Invasion mode’s Krowns which are earned and spent only within Invasions to buy items from the store and upgrade Talismans. Finally Seasonal Kredits are are earned through Invasions and online, resetting every season and only lets you purchase items from the seasonal store – I don’t mind this so much as it will keep things fresh and incentivise consistent play.
If Invasions doesn’t float your boat, then there’s always the classic arcade towers where you can fight through a bunch of enemies and see each character’s respective endings.
And then, there’s online, which so far has been a fairly smooth experience, the only laggy games come from opponents on a Wi-Fi connection. The online modes are currently a little sparse, with regular ranked, unranked and king of the hill being the only options, although Warrior Shrine is another unknown mode coming soon.
Graphically, it’s the best looking MK to date and visually striking on all fronts. From the highly detailed faces to each drop of blood that’s spilled, NetherRealm has outdone themselves here and have really set a standard for good looking fighters.