I’ve grown up with the Mortal Kombat series. Mortal Kombat 9 was the first fighting game I actually learned combos in. Mortal Kombat X is the first one I won a tournament for. Once I went into the training room for Mortal Kombat 1, I realized that this would be the next game that steals hundreds of hours from my life. (Yes, I purposefully didn’t mention Mortal Kombat 11.)
Mortal Kombat 1 does everything we’ve been wanting fighting games to do for a long time. And it does it all nearly flawlessly. NetherRealm’s latest takes notes from every success and failure of the series thus far and creates something new, yet very familiar. This is the first time in decades we’ve seen so much love shown to characters, storylines, and stages. That love also shows up in the form of a new single-player adventure mode, Invasion, which is similar to Konquest in Deadly Alliance and Armageddon.
The solo experiences are satisfying, but for competitive types like me, training mode and online are where it's at. With the new Kameo fighters giving access to assist attacks, this feels like the most expansive MK of the rebooted era. There’s so much to experiment with and find, making a simple fighter into a fun math problem to constantly puzzle over. But it doesn’t quite add up to a flawless victory.
Kombat for a New Era
Mortal Kombat 1 has a lot to live up to. After the watered-down Mortal Kombat 11 left hardcore fans unsatisfied, we were all praying that this title would deliver on the fighting front. And thank the Elder Gods, NetherRealm succeeded.
The launch roster has 23 characters to choose from and 14 Kameo assists to compliment them. It brings back the block button and the dial-a-kombo system, which are combos that don’t have to be timed input-wise. If you’re not familiar with the series, it feel a bit stiff compared to other genre staples, but for MK diehards it feels like a dream. Battles feel smoother than ever, inputs feel very responsive, and movement options like wave dashing make matches remarkably satisfying.
This game is basically a tag fighter, like Marvel vs. Capcom, but without the ability to completely switch characters. The Kameo system allows you to pick from a variety of sidekicks who will assist you with an attack, shield, or teleport at the press of a button. It’s your job to find your main and decide which Kameo fits them best. For example, Baraka is great for applying pressure and pressure and staying in the opponent’s face to fish for big damage. Since Cyrax has a multi-hitting tornado attack, a bomb, and a net, these two are a match made in Heaven — or Hell, if you’re on the other end of it.
Along with air combos and the return of smooth wave dashing, the Kameo system makes Mortal Kombat 1 feel like the Marvel vs. Capcom 3 sequel we’ve been waiting on for so long. There are so many character combos and assists to try that I’ve barely played online — I’ve been more preoccupied trying the hundreds of pairings at my disposal.
Mileage May Vary
We can’t talk about Mortal Kombat without talking about the single-player content. As always, a story mode walks you through the tale of the new realms. I was pleasantly surprised to see characters like Reptile and Baraka, who hadn’t gotten the spotlight before, get intriguing storylines and time to shine. In addition to the familiar of setup of Liu Kang gathering competitors for the Mortal Kombat tournament, the story mostly revolves around the new roles that everyone plays, like old-universe Sub Zero now being Scorpion, and his brother Bi-Han remaining Sub Zero instead of becoming Noob Saibot. It’s an intriguing, enjoyable campaign that has a lot to offer longtime fans of the series.
However, those warm feelings faded away once I hit the tail end of the story. Suddenly a multiverse problem is thrown into the mix and I was rushed into a grand finale that felt neither fitting nor earned. Impeccable visual and sound design — along with countless Leonardo DiCaprio point-inducing callbacks — made the journey worth it overall, though.
The brand-new Invasion mode mixes MK brawls with Mario Party minigames, the progression of Soul Calibur 2’s Weapon Master, and the character customization of an roleplaying game. Sounds cool on paper — but it quickly becomes a repetitive slog. Walking around the world map and fighting samey battles with goofy effects thrown in, can be a bit underwhelming, but it’s a decent distraction for those moments when you just want to turn off your brain and mash some buttons.
Mortal Kombat 1 is a love letter to everyone that’s grown up with the series, while still inviting newcomers to join the fight. Its a ‘best of MK’ compilation — that brings a few of the series’ missteps along for the ride. But it wouldn’t be Mortal Kombat without a bit of jank, right?
Mortal Kombat 1 is out now for PlayStation, Xbox, Switch, and PC. Inverse reviewed the Xbox version.
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