In 2011, Netherrealm Studios released a game called Mortal Kombat. There was already a game called Mortal Kombat, of course, which released in the arcades way back in 1992, but this newer Mortal Kombat, the ninth in the series, was meant as a reboot to the entire franchise. Bringing in fighting game experts to aid in the development, Netherrealm changed everything, creating a fighting game with depth and longevity. As such, the story needed to reciprocate this ordeal, so the story focused on doing everything over again; the world was lost, and it needed a new beginning.
Two sequels continued that storyline in Mortal Kombat X and Mortal Kombat 11, culminating in an inevitable ending that looked quite similar to the hopeless events which necessitated the 2011 storyline reboot in the first place. But one key thing changed for the new timeline in Mortal Kombat 1: it’s no longer Raiden’s song and dance as an elder god. Now, it’s all up to Liu Kang. Liu Kang takes Raiden’s place, leaving Raiden to simply be another mortal, trying to discover his place in this new universe.
A New Beginning
With Mortal Kombat 1, everything has changed. The characters that we have come to know and love have differences, sometimes minor, and sometimes quite major. The world and various realms have new power struggles based on new factors, and this all leads to an interesting story where we are constantly discovering the answer to the question, “What’s different in this new timeline?”
While the storyline is intriguing for its twists and turns regarding discovery and surprisingly refreshing character building, the fighting formula, thankfully, has not changed it’s foundation. Oh, there are plenty of twists in the fighting engine as well, but the foundation of Mortal Kombat is completely intact and then some. From tight, responsive controls to creative combos and, yes, fatalities, it is all what you would expect foundationally from a Mortal Kombat experience.
Upon booting up the game, the accessibility options are front and center. Items such as a screen reader, color blindness options, speech to text, and audio cues and feedback ensure a larger audience can enjoy the excellent Mortal Kombat 1 experience. As the recent Street Fighter 6 also included many of these options, it is fantastic to see these efforts welcome so many more gamers to the fighting game scene.
Of course, Mortal Kombat has always been a bit of an outlier in the fighting game genre. The games always put fun over form, and they experimented with all sorts of crazy modes before it was the cool thing to do. Bringing in truly competent depth and systems has helped Mortal Kombat’s image among fighting game purists and tournaments, and Mortal Kombat 1 continues to refine those systems while keeping the game appealing to solo players and newcomers, alike.
In fact, rebooting allows for a reimagining that paints the entire package. Characters have new takes on their moves that retain their function while adding fresh takes and quirks. Move inputs and combos are forgiving to perform, and it’s possible to feel like an action hero without having any previous experience with fighting games. The new beginning also means that the story, characters, and stages have a serene and even wholesome feel to them, creating a harsh juxtaposition against the dark and gritty previous timeline.
Let’s take a moment to stop and smell the stages. The first thing you will notice going into a match is the insanely impressive graphics, but what will take a few moments and matches to realize is just how breathtaking the art direction is throughout. Since we are starting anew, the world hasn’t seen all of the destruction and chaos that led the world to the brink of Armageddon before the restart. As such, the stages are filled with life and joy, teeming with bright colors and whimsical effects. We will fully dive into the graphical and sound design a bit later, but this is a Mortal Kombat world that I would love to take a walk in.
Tale As Old As Time
When starting the Story Mode, you will love getting to know these characters, either for the first time or all over again. And witnessing the innocence of it all will help you invest in each character’s story in a more intimate way than the past. This all helps the major story elements to hit, and, although parts of the story can feel rushed due to all of the beats packed into it, this story represents Netherrealm’s finest work. When it’s all over, you’ll have a smile on your face and, perhaps, a desire to see it all again.
A La Mode
Story Mode is just one of many modes of play. There is also a Versus Mode, allowing for local or online play. The online portion has fantastic net code with options to play public or private Versus matches, or King of the Hill matches, where a room of up to 8 players waits their turn while watching two players play in winner-stays format. Sadly, there is no way to host a King of the Hill room where you and your friends can join up in the same room with strangers; it’s a very strange oversight that hopefully gets addressed very soon. There is also a ranked mode called “Kombat League” that functions by matching you against opponents with a similar record and allotting league points as you progress through the ranks.
Beyond these modes, there is a Learn mode, complete with an excellent Tutorial, along with a Practice mode for both fighting and performing Fatalities. There is a “Kollection” where you may view artwork and movies, and listen to the phenomenal music, and there is a Shrine. As you earn “koins” by playing in the various modes, you will spend them in the Shrine. It is quite basic, granting a random reward for the cost of 1,000 koins each, and these rewards include artwork and character outfits and accessories. But as I first looked at the Shrine, I noticed a glaring omission: there is no Krypt in Mortal Kombat 1.
For those that do not know, the Krypt was a mode where you would explore an eerie map of some sort, spending koins for rewards while discovering puzzles and secrets. Now, before you sulk in sadness for an hour like I did after noticing its absence, let me tell you why you should instead be excited. See, Mortal Kombat 1 is sneaky, because it DOES include a Krypt of sorts. Only, it is not called the Krypt. It is, instead, a different kind of mode that blends parts of the Krypt with parts of the Konquest mode from MK Deception (an adventure mode that felt like a role-playing game within Mortal Kombat), and it stirs them up in a cauldron until the solution becomes a surprisingly great seasonal journey mode.
Invade My Heart
Invasions is the name given to this mode, and it is not at all like the Invasions that occurred in Mortal Kombat X. This new Invasions mode has you exploring a board game-style map with many different spaces, and each space has different possibilities, including enemies, mini-games, treasure chests, shops, and more. You choose your character, each leveling up with points that you can place in different categories to make your warrior stronger and better. Each character is assigned one or two elements from a list of ten different elements, and certain characters will hold advantages over others due to this.
During your journey, you will find talismans and relics that you can equip. Talismans grant special powers and abilities, and these can be upgraded at forges. Relics grant passive statistics, such as resistances to elements. Also, you will come across a plethora of items, like keys to unlock doors and chests, potions that grant buffs and other benefits, and components to further upgrade your talismans.
Throughout each Invasions map, you will also encounter mini-bosses, which are much stronger than the normal enemies that you will face. And, then, there is an end boss at the end of each map. These foes are truly impressive, usually having several iterations that you must defeat in order to progress, and they always have incredible rewards for overcoming them.
Once you get through the story aspect of the seasonal Invasions maps, there is still a lot to do. There are secrets sprinkled throughout each map, including Secret Fights, puzzles that lead to great treasure, and hidden portals to some rare loot and engagements. And beyond all of that, there is a map that hosts many daily, weekly, and seasonal towers, and these are not only fun but sometimes absolutely bonkers as they lead to even more treasure and currency.
Each season of Invasions has a theme, and by playing the mode, you will earn currency specific to the season. By going to the store in the main menu, you can spend this earned currency for all sorts of cosmetics for the characters. Netherrealm did a great job with the outfits in Mortal Kombat 1, not only for the selectable characters, but throughout the story and stages as well. As such, you are sure to find outfits and accessories that you will adore, and I am looking forward to all that is in store for this and future seasons.
Tale Of The Tape
Now that the many modes of play have been addressed, let us finally address the most important aspect: the gameplay. None of this matters if the gameplay is not on point. So, without further ado, let’s get into it all.
With Mortal Kombat 1, creativity rules the day. It is pervasive throughout the gameplay in the character move sets, the fatalities, and the new “Kameo” system. When you select your character, you will also select a Kameo character to accompany you. This Kameo acts like an assist-style character in games like Marvel Vs. Capcom and Dragon Ball FighterZ where you can tag them in for a quick move or action. You cannot swap them in fully, however. They are more like an extra move set on top of your character of choice. This opens up a number of creative options as there is a very large number of character and kameo combinations to experiment with.
The action itself is faster overall than in the previous game, Mortal Kombat 11. Since MK11 slowed things down quite a bit from Mortal Kombat X’s faster experience, a number of players voiced their disapproval, though the deliberate pacing of MK11 wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Mortal Kombat 1 blends the speed and tactics of the two games perfectly, allowing for a creative flow in matches that I haven’t felt since way back in MK2. Combos often have a lot of utility, and special moves attack from all sorts of interesting angles, allowing the player to assess a number of options at any given time. The ability to call in a Kameo move further keeps players busy with things to assess throughout the match.
Mortal Kombat was never as deep of a fighting experience as other fighting games. But that doesn’t mean that it needs that now. By eschewing advanced meter management and system-breaking character traits, it leaves a more even field of play in which everyone understands the rules at stake. Every character has one three-segmented special meter to manage, granting enhanced special moves that add armor or utility and allowing for kombo breakers. Plus, each character has a Fatal Blow that can only be used when their health bar is low, but it can do massive damage to the opponent should it connect.
The special meter and Fatal Blow usage are the only meter management that need to be accounted for, keeping the action in Mortal Kombat 1 a simpler affair than other fighters, but it also keeps the focus constantly on the action. Instead of managing meters, you will be assessing the situation of the match, pitting your skill solely against your opponent. As such, matches often become games of cat and mouse, with players trading roles as they look for openings to mount their attacks.
While there is a new “up block” move, allowing you to gain frame advantage over your opponent should you predict or see an overhead coming, most of what is new in the fighting system comes from the characters themselves. Longtime Mortal Kombat fans may recognize many of the characters on the roster, along with some of their special moves and function, but the roster is all redesigned with interesting new approaches that will need to be learned and experimented with to draw out each character’s full potential.
All About Aesthetics
Though the fighting game system is impressive in its balance and creative approach, what really blew me away was the art direction, music, and sound design. Yes, none of these is integral in making a fighting game; with a fighting game, it’s all about the fighting system and gameplay. But Netherrealm’s previous efforts already set a certain expectation for greatness regarding that. This new timeline in Mortal Kombat 1, however, gave credence to art direction that truly impresses in every way.
The character designs look spectacular with facial deformation that is expressive in cut scenes and within the battles. The animations, also, are engaging with a lot of personal flair, bringing out the individuality of each character. And the stages, which are thankfully plentiful, are also all appealing. Every single one of them is my favorite stage, and that is a testament to the heart and passion poured into them.
Then there is the sound design. Each blow, crunch, yelp, gurgle, spell effect, and all else sounds impressive and distinct. And the music represents some of the best music ever in a Mortal Kombat game. It feels very much like Mortal Kombat but with a new horizon, and it is all on point with various bits of syncopation and choral interludes. Adding to the quality is the exceptional voice acting which, apart from one notable exception that we’ll get to in just a moment, has the perfect amount of character, whimsy, and heart.
A Wrinkle In Time
As mentioned, not everything is flawless in Mortal Kombat 1. The oversight in not including public lobbies for King of the Hill where your friends can join you with strangers is a strange one. As it is now, you can join a King of the Hill match with strangers, or you can set up a private room for your friends, but there is no combination of the two. Hopefully this is fixed, but it’s a clear minus at the moment.
What cannot be fixed, however, is the voice acting from Megan Fox. She plays a selectable character named Nitara who has a minor role in the story. As such, her performance isn’t enough to be a major concern, but it is simply relegated to “so bad it’s funny” territory. But instead of funny, it’s absolutely horrible. The issue is that the performance has no heart, sounding phoned in instead of tuned in, as if Megan thought this was some new Power Rangers villain, though her performance lacks the charm from those shows. Whenever Nitara is on the screen, prepare to Test Your Might as you endure the pain.
Also, there were some strange bugs regarding challenge numbers and move descriptions not displaying the correct information, and some subtitles showed placeholder development information or other strange anomalies instead of the actual lines, but these were extremely rare. The game performed very smoothly across all of the modes. Apart from some minor quibbles, Mortal Kombat 1 is quite polished and has come to play.
The totality of the Mortal Kombat 1 suite is truly impressive, though it does seem like there was a tad more effort put toward the single player crowd over the multiplayer. When looking at recent fighters like Guilty Gear Strive and, especially, Street Fighter 6, the multiplayer aspects of Mortal Kombat 1 seem very bare boned. It is serviceable, and I will certainly spend a decent amount of time online, but I will spend FAR more hours offline reliving the incredible Story Mode and relishing every minute of every season in the surprising and game-changingly astounding Invasions Mode.
Bringing It Home
There are few fighting games where the first word I would use to describe them would be “fun” over all other descriptors. But Netherrealm Studios tends to make these sorts of experiences. They are not the deepest fighters, and they aren’t the most complex. But they do not have to be. No other fighting game series has the mass appeal impact that Mortal Kombat does, and no other fighter has the unique feel that is only provided by each Mortal Kombat experience. In a time where fighting games are experiencing such an incredible resurgence, no other fighter has emerged quite so victoriously as Mortal Kombat 1.
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