In 2023, Mortal Kombat will turn 31. Over the course of its first three decades, the fighting game brand has adopted various strategies. With the release of MK: Deadly Alliance on consoles in 2002, 2D arcade gameplay made way for 3D fighting, which was followed by a return to 2D in 2011 with a new plot. Fire God Liu Kang is responsible for the most recent change, which transitions from Mortal Kombat 11’s catastrophic conclusion to a revitalized Mortal Kombat 1. Mortal Kombat 1 nevertheless lays a solid basis for MK’s most recent era, even though the subsequent soft reboot doesn’t feel as groundbreaking as Mortal Kombat (2011).
Mortal Kombat 1 maintains the basic charms of an engaging cast combined with cathartic violence. The game’s roster is made up entirely of previous characters who have had their roles and fighting rewritten because it has a universal reset. Even though some of them are notably obscure, like the playable Ashrah and the Kameo Fighter Darrius, they are given the same respect as Mortal Kombat stalwarts. Much of what MK1 does is “familiar, but expanded,” so both seasoned players and beginners should feel right at home even if nothing they meet feels innovative.
The primary event, as usual, is a cinematic story mode that preserves the atmosphere of MK1. Anyone who has recently played a Mortal Kombat or Injustice game is aware of what to expect. The Mortal Kombat tournament is the focus of the story, which is set around the time the first Mortal Kombat game would occur in Liu Kang’s new planet while a bigger mystery grows in the distance. Despite the fact that there are numerous instances where a fight breaks out merely to give a character some gameplay time, juggling as many combatants as it does is astounding.
The ongoing storyline of Mortal Kombat is once again left in an intriguing position, which should leave fans speculating about what will happen next. Particularly intriguing, if perplexing, is the way the finale is handled. Although the main Kameo Fighter lineup from MK1 is rarely used, a few story-only Kameos are a reasonable exchange. Overall, the Mortal Kombat 1 narrative mode is a solid 6-hour adventure that will please fans, although future games might want to stray from the solely cinematic approach before boredom sets in.
Thankfully, Mortal Kombat 1 has a ton more to offer after the credits have rolled. The new Invasions mode, which replaces Mortal Kombat 11’s seasonal Living Towers and the 3D adventure version of the Krypt, is the other major single-player draw. Many people will be devastated by the loss of the latter, but Invasions delivers a replayable experience that is more varied than what MK11’s endgame ultimately consisted of. Similar to old Krypts, Invasions is where players can unlock a large amount of stuff, such as outfits, different currencies, and other items. It has a lot more going on than it would indicate, though.
Invasions resemble the World of Light from Super Smash Bros. Ultimate with MK’s Test Your Luck mode added. Players join one of several tile-based boards replicating MK1’s stages after a cutscene introducing the current season’s plot has finished, with each place giving a unique challenge and reward. Encounters can involve opponents who repeatedly use the same move, strange fighting situations, attacks from characters who aren’t playable, and even entire towers and minigames. Players will level up, equip their fighters, occasionally find hidden passageways, and gain levels throughout. Anyone who was dissatisfied with MK1’s brief story mode should find more satisfaction in Invasions.
After that, a complete tutorial mode and the usual selection of entertaining, non-canon character endings are available in the Arcade Towers. By engaging in combat and completing a variety of rotating missions, players will continuously accumulate Seasonal Kredits, Koins, and Character Mastery, all of which are used to unlock additional bonuses and cosmetics outside of Invasions. Mortal Kombat 1 contains a ton of features and unlockables to try, and the player will always feel like they are being rewarded for something, despite the fact that its menus frequently look to be little. Although the three currencies (one of which is a premium currency) and Mastery points may sound frightening, MK11’s shortcomings allowed for their unobtrusiveness.
A comparable condensed but satisfying experience is waiting for a player who decides to compete online after getting tired of the offline suite. The online triad of ranked, casual, and lobby matches, as well as the promise of crossplay in the future, are all present in Mortal Kombat 1. It also has good rollback netcode, matchmaking, and the usual online trio. The online functionality of Mortal Kombat 1 wasn’t attempted to be reinvented, but it does enough to make sure that nothing interferes with gameplay.
Although Mortal Kombat has always had good fighting, its ’80s kung-fu movie look and excessive quantities of gore were its main draws. Both are prominently featured in MK1, and numerous visceral finishes are available because of the unlocking Brutalities and Kameo Fighter Fatalities. For more dedicated players, though, the Kameo Fighters will be the stars of the show. They have added a second roster of characters who help the playable characters in place of MKX and MK11’s Variations. Kameo Fighters are comparable to Variations that the entire cast shares, and even their minor contributions greatly contribute to the character of MK1. Players who mismanage them will undoubtedly notice their disappearance because they also play into Breakers and a revised throw mechanism.
The playable characters themselves reflect the versatility Kameos offers and all of them feel stronger than ever because their skills aren’t split up across Variations. The play styles of fighters range from simple but effective (like Scorpion and Sub-Zero) to extremely complex (like the air-focused Nitara or the Kameo-manipulating Sindel). Because of how similarly balanced kameos are, complementing combinations can be disastrous. When powerful mobility choices are combined with optimized setups with both teammates, it gives MK1 an astounding level of depth.
But there are two sides to this coin. Special move lists expanded but the quantity of pre-made combo strings dropped in the name of competitive viability. The handful that are left have clearer uses and really greatly increase MK1’s combo potential, but casual gamers will be perplexed as to why mashing doesn’t produce as many eye-catching strings as it once did. In order to give MK1’s combo paths a unique flavor, new aerial strings were also introduced, however, as always, only skilled players would be able to use them. High-level and low-level players will always see Mortal Kombat differently, although the mechanics of Mortal Kombat 1 seem to favor the former. Only time will tell if the Invasions, consistent unlocks, and a large number of Fatalities are sufficient to satisfy both audiences.
Speaking about accommodating diverse players, Mortal Kombat 1 has the best accessibility features to date. Street Fighter 6’s optional auditory cues for the gameplay are included in MK1, however instead of color commentators to guide visually impaired players through the game, MK1 uses a menu narration. If desired, more complex choices are also accessible, such as turning off “Test Your Might” mashing sequences or using different special move inputs.
Mortal Kombat has always placed a strong emphasis on presentation, and MK1 doesn’t let up in this area. The younger-looking cast of Mortal Kombat 1 was painstakingly designed with a lifelike appearance, and the game’s wide range of clean and harsh environments allows it to display an outstanding color pallet. Though it still falls short of other fighting game titles, Mortal Kombat’s music is more memorable and varied than normal. With the exception of Megan Fox’s Nitara’s odd tendency to sound like Ronda Rousey’s Sonya in MK11, voice acting is excellent as always. General sound design also contributes, since audio enhances attacks’ haptic and visual effects, leaving a nice impression even when combined with one of MK’s more ungainly animations.
Mortal Kombat 1 is a strong overall package that innovates while paying homage to even the most obscure elements of its brand. Having said that, everything in MK1, from the gameplay to the story, is a strict development of MK11. The adjacent Street Fighter 6 severely contrasts Mortal Kombat 1 by claiming the custom fighters and open world Konquest mode Mortal Kombat left behind. Mortal Kombat 1 doesn’t add much new to the fighting game genre. Mortal Kombat 1 should keep its fanbase happy till the next Mortal Kombat starts, even though Liu Kang’s new chronology offers great promise.