In the early 90s, Midway Games charged pinball machine designer Ed Boon and artist John Tobias with producing a multiplayer fighting game within less than a year. Several months later, the first Mortal Kombat cabinets hit arcades worldwide, and the rest, as it’s so often said, is history. In the three decades that’ve come and gone since the original game’s release, the Mortal Kombat series has undergone many drastic changes, including not one but two in-continuity reboots of the franchise’s ongoing narrative.
As the first entry in the series’ new continuity, Mortal Kombat 1 is a game with a lot riding on its shoulders. Fortunately, the developers over at NetherRealm Studios have a good track record for crafting awesome fighting games, and that talent is on display in almost every aspect of Mortal Kombatt 1. With a deep and addictive combat system, rich customization options, and an engaging story that will appeal to veteran combatants and new challengers alike, Mortal Kombat 1 is a fantastic fighting game that honors its predecessor’s legacy while forging a bold new path forward for the franchise.
The Story: ROUND 1, FIGHT!!!
Mortal Kombat 1‘s story picks up some time after the ending of Mortal Kombat 11, in which the series’ continuity was once again reset after Liu Kang ascended to godhood and saved all of reality from the time-bending Titaness Kronika. While Liu Kang has done his best to ensure this new timeline unfolds peacefully and that formally villainous characters like Shang Tsun and Melinna are given a chance to lead better lives, mysterious forces are conspiring to undermine the peace he’s worked so hard to create by manipulating people and events to sow chaos across the realms.
With the future of the realms again in peril, Liu Kang assembles a team of mighty champions to combat this unknown evil and prevent the mutually destructive cycle of inter-dimensional conflict that consumed the previous timelines from starting again. The narrative of Mortal Kombat 1 isn’t particularly groundbreaking since it’s essentially a rehash of the “fighters with conflicting personalities and motives unite to save the world from peril” plotline featured in previous Mortal Kombat games. However, it does shake things up by allowing many of the series’ more one-note characters to take on new roles within the rebooted timeline, all while asking compelling questions about free will and destiny.
The Gameplay: GET OVER HERE!!!
At its most fundamental level, Mortal Kombat 1’s gameplay is the same as that of almost every Mortal Kombat game that preceded it. Two players face off against each other in one-on-one combat, utilizing simple attacks and more powerful special moves performed through intricate button combos to whittle their opponent’s health bars to zero. Once your foe’s bar is empty, you can perform one of the series’ infamous Fatalities and bring the bout to a decisive and visceral end.
Rather than waste their time trying to fix what wasn’t broken, Mortal Kombat 1’s developers focused on refining the series’ gameplay formula to a fine edge. Almost all of the additions that NetherRealm Studios made to the series’ long-standing combat system, like the Energy Meter and interactable environment, are back and just as fun to learn and master as they were in previous titles, ensuring that players won’t have to rely on blind button-mashing or repetitive combos to claim victory. However, while Mortal Kombat 1’s gameplay will feel familiar to Mortal Kombat veterans, it does feature one notable change: Kameo fighters.
Before starting every round, players can choose from one of sixteen Kameo fighters who act like the support characters in Pokkén Tournament and the Naruto: Ninja Storm games, jumping in to add a bit of extra power to your attacks, grabs, and counters with the push of a button. This single edition adds a new layer of depth to Mortal Kombat 1’s gameplay, allowing players to pair their fighter-of-choice with Kameo fighters who complement their playstyle. With that said, I was disappointed to see the likes of Sonya Blade and Goro reduced to glorified extras, and I suspect that many Mortal Kombat players will feel the same way when they find out they can’t play as their favorite characters.
The Customization: TEST YOUR MIGHT!!!
Mortal Kombat 1’s roster includes many of the franchise’s most popular characters, and they can all be customized to suit your liking. Every character in the game has a plethora of alternate color palates, costumes, taunts, and Fatalities that can be mixed and matched in any way the player wishes. The sheer variety of clothing items, gestures, and brutal executions in the game ensures that one version of a character can be completely different from another. As someone who has played more than his fair share of games that allow you to customize your character, I found Mortal Kombat 1’s customization options surprisingly fun to mess around with, and it kept me busy for longer than I care to admit.
Audio and Visuals: TOASTY!!!
Cutting-edge graphics and solid sound design have been integral to the Mortal Kombat series’ appeal since the beginning. Thankfully, I can confidently say that Mortal Kombat 1 doesn’t disappoint in the audiovisual department. X-ray specials and Fatalities are more detailed than ever, and the crisp sound of shattering bones and spilling blood ensures that landing a hard-hitting combo attack on your enemy is satisfying every time you pull it off.
While the game’s special moves are a sight to behold, NetherRealm Studio’s artists poured just as much effort into the game’s level design. Every stage is rich with character, and minor details like bystanders backing away as the fight between you and your opponents shifts in their direction made me feel like I was part of a living, breathing environment. The game’s character designs are just as great, telling players everything they need to know about their personalities through their expressions and movements.
While the lack of ambition in the game’s narrative and the inability to play as certain characters keep the game from achieving true greatness, Mortal Kombat 1 is still a top-tier fighting game. The depth of the game’s combat provides less-experienced players with enough skills to succeed while rewarding those willing to take the time and effort to learn the system’s intricacies, and the sheer number of unlockable accessories ensures that you have a reason to keep playing. Mortal Kombat 1 may not land every punch it throws, but it does manage to chart a bold new course for the franchise.
- This article was updated on September 14th, 2023