Mortal Kombat 1 represents a new era for the fighting game series. However, it also marks the first time in a while that a new Mortal Kombat title has been released where worthy competitors have been present. Games like Guilty Gear Strive and Street Fighter 6 have raised the bar for fighting games significantly since Mortal Kombat 11 released, and it’s on Mortal Kombat 1 to keep up.
Lets get it out the way first, this is the best Mortal Kombat game since Mortal Kombat (2011). Mortal Kombat X took things too far with the three character styles and bringing back Mortal Kombat 3’s terrible run system. Meanwhile, Mortal Kombat 11 went too far in the other direction by making a slower game where zoners like Jacqui ruled online, while still locking moves behind different sets of gear.
This time the game features a cast of 23 fighters, which is the smallest the series has had in the rebooted era, although this is made up for by the inclusion of 15 Kameo fighters. These work like Assists in Marvel Vs Capcom, where you can call these fighters in to perform moves, which can extend your combos or get you out of a jam.
While we love that this game has finally brought back some of the more esoteric characters from the series’ history like Reiko, Havik, and Ashrah, there are no newcomers in Mortal Kombat 1, resulting in a roster that is mostly made up of the usual suspects.
The Fatalities return in all their gooey glory. While we think the series also went a bit far with these in past titles (just look at Kenshi’s puppet fatality from Mortal Kombat X), Mortal Kombat 1 takes things back to the goofy tone of the original entries. While there are some that are hard to watch (Reiko’s are both gnarly) the Fatalities are a lot sillier this time – like General Shao’s helicopter or any of Johnny Cage’s – which is an extremely welcome return.
Mortal Kombat has been in a weird place with its story for a while; following on from the success of Mortal Kombat (2011) the series has struggled to hit the right mark with its plot, introducing new elements like the Kombat Kids and some time-bending freaks for Mortal Kombat X and Mortal Kombat 11. Now, three entries later, and Mortal Kombat 1 has decided to start over once again — at least that’s what it wants you to think.
After the ending of Mortal Kombat 11, Liu Kang has rewritten history and created a new universe where everything is fine. Thanks to Liu Kang’s intervention, Shang Tsung is a lowly snake oil salesman with no power in this timeline. That is until an unknown entity sets him on course to become his old self. Despite the name, Mortal Kombat 1 is absolutely a sequel to Mortal Kombat 11 rather than a full reboot like Mortal Kombat (2011).
The story begins by casting Raiden and Kung Lao as the heroes of the story; both protagonists are super fun to watch and their banter is charming, so it’s a shame they just disappear for large chunks of the experience. The same goes for Johnny Cage who shifts between feeling like he should be a great Will Arnett character, to being around to spout tired references. He also disappears in the third act.
Story mode is the same as it’s been since Mortal Kombat (2011) where you go through a number of chapters each focusing on a different playable character. However, it falls into all of the same issues that past stories have had. A lot of the plot has to rely on the characters in it making dumb decisions (we need to capture this person, we have a clear shot at them so let's attack the person they’re with and let them run off). Still, it’s probably our favourite one of the NetherRealm Studios story modes, especially since it goes completely off the rails in the final act with the final chapter being especially wild.
It should be noted, though, if you didn't like the dial-a-combo gameplay paired with the super stiff animations of the earlier games, you probably won't change your mind here. In addition, the developer's still struggling to make a proper grappler, with Reiko joining the likes of Bane and Swamp Thing in the low tiers.
Online multiplayer is basic, and although King of the Hill returns, that’s largely all that's available outside of normal Ranked and Casual matches. The netcode seems solid from what we played, but there really isn’t much to say outside of that.
The new mode Invasions is a pseudo RPG mode in which you’ll level up your characters and try to conquer a map. This mode sees you move your character around a board getting in scraps, while occasionally being given minigames like Test Your Might, as well as peppering in challenge towers (like you would see in Arcade mode) and boss fights with powered up characters. You can unlock some new gear for your character along the way which is purely cosmetic. The mode is poised to change with new boards and scenarios every season as the game’s life continues, but in its current iteration it’s a bit of a grind, and just a bit boring as you don’t need to put in much effort to best the NPCs.
The base tutorial is fantastic. It’s a very good way of teaching the game to newcomers, giving you an in-depth insight into every single mechanic available in the game, even down to the ones you’re unlikely to even use unless you’re a total pro player (which we unfortunately are not).
But for as good as the tutorial is, Mortal Kombat 1 really lacks when it comes to character specific options. While we didn’t want to keep making comparisons to Street Fighter 6 during this review, this is one area where Mortal Kombat 1 feels extremely dated. Where Street Fighter 6 offered in-depth character guides which would give you game plans and specific use cases as well as the normal combo trials, all that Mortal Kombat 1 does to teach you character specifics is seven combos each in the Lessons mode. Considering the sheer amount of variables due to the Kameos, it makes closing in on a main character a far more arduous task than it is in Street Fighter 6.
Like we said in the beginning, Mortal Kombat 1 is the best and most refreshing entry in the series since Mortal Kombat (2011), but it falls directly into the same traps as those prior entries. The core fighting is great thanks to the excellent Kameo Fighter system and increased pace (as well as ditching the styles and gear-specific moves), and the return of PS2-era fighters is fantastic. But sadly, the selection of modes and character-specific training options feel extremely dated – especially compared to Street Fighter 6.