Following the apocalyptic events of Mortal Kombat 11 and its story-based expansion, Mortal Kombat 1 represents a new era for the franchise’s characters. While the video game series aims to do the same, the more I played Mortal Kombat 1, the more familiar the latest entry, but that’s far from a bad thing.
Mortal Kombat 1 takes the tight gameplay of its predecessors to the next level. Every punch, kick, throw and special move is impressive in the dances of death that its characters participate in. Once you get a few matches under your belt with your character of choice, the gameplay really starts to sing as you learn how to stack combos, specials, and this entry’s newest addition, the Kameo Fighters.
After choosing your fighter, you choose a secondary character to back you up. These Kameo fighters have different moves that can attack your opponent, protect you from incoming attacks, or disrupt the flow of battle. I like to use an aggressive strategy with Sub-Zero, getting in their face with a varied plan of attack, only to have the Scorpion out of danger with his spear as a cameo fighter. I had a lot of fun experimenting with different strategies and Kameo combinations to maximize this new mechanic.
The main roster features a variety of franchise favorites, many of whom bring unique styles and tactics. Bruisers like General Shao and Geras can trouble players who have trouble maintaining distance, but I prefer more agile characters like Kitana and Lee Mei. Add in series icons like Liu Kang, Mileena, and Johnny Cage, with excellent iterations in their character designs and move sets, and it’s one of the series’ strongest starting rosters. It’s just a shame that Shang Tsung, one of the main characters in the story, is locked behind pre-order DLC.
The story of Mortal Kombat 1 plays like a movie. Netherrealm excels at weaving fights into the narrative rather than adding existing jarring moments to set up fights. The story’s production values are among the elite in the games industry, with state-of-the-art facial animations and some of the best cutscene fight choreography ever seen in the medium. I had a blast following the narrative of Liu Kang’s attempts to keep the new timeline in order, though – despite being extremely fun – the conclusion was confusing.
Once you’ve completed the hours-long story, an abundance of single-player content awaits. Invasions mode lets you embark on quests across realms, completing various challenges for a ton of in-game rewards. These creative tests range from straightforward fights and difficult multi-level boss battles to obstacle-dodging survival trials and test-your-might encounters. While I love this mode and hope to deliver nine hours of single-player content every six weeks, the formula has worn on me a bit as I’ve progressed. Still, I liked to end my nights playing through a dozen or so nodes to see what challenges awaited me and what cosmetic customization items I could earn to equip my fighters.
On the more traditional front, Mortal Kombat 1 brings back single-player arcade-style towers and a small suite of online modes. While King of the Hill has a lot of downtime when you’re looking at strangers, I loved putting my skills to the test in fifth-ranked matches in an online combat league. Story and raids are always my go-to modes, but getting to know another player over a series of three to five matches builds unparalleled tension and provides some of my most memorable moments with Mortal Kombat 1.
When the first Mortal Kombat debuted over 30 years ago, the series quickly became known for its trademark blood, gore, and violence. Thanks to Mortal Kombat 1’s lethal punches, brutalities, and lethality, the series has long since moved on, though it’s still at the forefront, rightly known for its one-of-a-kind approach. Player content and incredibly tight combat mechanics. Making strides in both areas, the Mortal Kombat 1 genre moves the series forward to continue an already terrific year.