The Mortal Kombat franchise is as beloved as it is persecuted. The controversy surrounding this series can only be described as No Russian on steroids. After all, it was such a massive phenomenon that the ESRB was established after a landslide of criticism that even involved the United States Congress. How did this impact Mortal Kombat? Well, it became one of gaming’s best-selling franchises, selling over 79 million copies worldwide across their 12 main titles and 16 spin-offs/remasters/compilations. Now it is time for a new beginning with Mortal Kombat 1.
While the series has taken some interesting turns — and by turns, I’m not talking about Motor Kombat, Mortal Kombat Armaggedon’s attempt at a racing mini-game — none were as extreme as the soft reboot that took place at the end of Mortal Kombat 11. You see, expanding a game’s lore and story is already a huge endeavor, but starting all over is another beast entirely. Not only do you have to innovate and bring forth a better story than before, but you also have to be respectful of the original story. It’s like crafting a story around absolute points like Sub-Zero and Scorpion’s rivalry, or Kenshi being blinded by an external force.
I am pleased to say that NetherRealm cares so much about this franchise that they have successfully delivered a well-crafted game that marks the beginning of a new era of Mortal Kombat. It may not be perfect, but it surely brings forth the best modern Mortal Kombat the franchise has ever seen. Here is our review of Mortal Kombat 1.
Could we start again, please?
Both Liu Kang and NetherRealm Studios shared the same difficult task: resetting the Mortal Kombat timeline. Mortal Kombat 1, in essence, tells a story about balance and predestination. Liu Kang, after becoming the Keeper of Time, built a new timeline where the good guys reign supreme, while the bad guys are pretty much pariahs — victims of their misery, which is Liu Kang’s will. This touches on the question of “What would happen if a character in history didn’t have the chance to do that thing?”
Well, not much changes, at least not in the extremes. Good guys remain good guys, while bad guys remain bad guys, only to a certain extent. After all, Shang Tsung keeps deceiving people and General Shao (formerly known as Shao Kahn) keeps being the merciless and violent bully we have seen in previous MK games. But just like the Joker said, all we need is a little push to go insane. And, well, all that these antagonists needed was a very brief talk with an entity that should not exist in Liu Kang’s timeline to turn Shang Tsung into the master sorcerer we know him as (with an interest in potions and human experimentation), General Shao into the bloodlust dictator, and Quan Chi into the necromancer jerk we have grown to despise.
What I can say is that, for 90% of its duration, it kept me invested. Moreover, it gave characters like Baraka, Reptile, and even Mileena a level of depth I haven’t seen before. It made me care about them and empathize with them. I mean, a trader infected with a disease called “Tarkat” that took away everything he owned and loved, including his family? I’m ready for Baraka’s Netflix series.
A few caveats
With that said — SPOILERS AHEAD — things start to fall apart at the last portion of the campaign. The twist that Shang Tsung from MK11 was the man behind all the bad guys looking to conquer the world was a really interesting point that could have been explored further. I accept the idea of two timelines coexisting at the same time after the consequences of Liu Kang and Shang Tsung at the end of MK11 (it even makes sense since you got to pick who to fight as), but I think how the story was managed moving past that point was a waste of potential and even a complete madhouse.
Tapping into the idea of predestination and “bad guys will always be bad guys” while making a momentary alliance with Shang Tsung and Quan Chi would have been great. Instead, just like any story or game in which the stakes are much higher than the protagonist and antagonist feud, our characters join forces just to later become enemies once again.
Finally, I don’t know about you guys, but is the Mortal Kombat-verse with an infinite number of timelines coexisting on top of each other necessary? Marvel is already dealing with the fallout of mismanaging the multiverse idea and DC, well, you know what’s up with DC. While it was fun to battle a Scorpion-Kung Lao hybrid or even a female Sub-Zero, I think it was a cheap way of planning the next game in the franchise. After all, now everything is possible! While I feel that NetherRealm will take care of their franchise, I hope we continue to get the quality storytelling we received for most of Mortal Kombat 1.
Yes, honey, you can be a Kombatant if you want to
Now, while I enjoy storytelling and character development, the most important thing in a game is how it feels to the player. I’m pleased to say that I, as a very lacking fighting video game player, have found that Mortal Kombat 1 is by far the best time I have ever had with a Mortal Kombat game. It is intuitive, it feels completely responsive, learning the combos and system mechanics is easy, and, most importantly, it is incredibly fun!
I know I have already talked a bunch about the story, but being able to jump from one character to the other was a complete joy. Of course, you won’t master and learn a character’s move set with just a couple of encounters, but the way the game is presented makes it easy to give you an idea of what character is made for your play style. I particularly loved Johnny Cage, Liu Kang, Scorpion, Li Mei, Sub-Zero, and Ashrah. While completely different from each other, they all made me feel like I wasn’t a complete moron.
Not only that, but I felt that I was improving my fighting skills. And that’s saying a lot! That is until I ventured myself into Versus mode and faced fellow human kombatants. While the experience was flawless, so was my amount of defeats. Anyway, back to training. And yes, training mode does make a difference. It even shows you how to connect moves and combos, which is a great deal in Mortal Kombat 1.
The Kameo takeover
With the introduction of Kameo fighters, kombat possibilities are expanded considerably. It is a whole lot of different possibilities that are now open to us. Each of these Kameo fighters will attack, stun, and make your enemies explode. Even some will teleport you out of the way of your foe’s punches. But where these Kameos shine is when using them to connect combos, which is a big part of Mortal Kombat. So long, multiple meters and complex battle mechanics. Now it is all about skill, and Kameos are here to capitalize on your ability to kombat. If you are lacking, you may not even summon your Kameo at all. If you are skillful, then mastering your Kameo summons will lead you to victory in ways you never thought possible.
Toasty modes, put on gloves
Two of the other main game modes are Invasions and Towers. The first one is an RPG-like adventure in which you explore a Mario Party-like board in which each space, or node, may contain a specific fight with certain parameters and settings. It is a seasonal mode, meaning that it may or may not change after the first Mortal Kombat 1 season ends, depending on how much support the developers are willing to give to MK1. Towers, on the other hand, is the classic game mode we all have enjoyed with other classic entries in the franchise. You fight against enemies until you defeat the final foe, unveiling a character ending, full of that delicious lore we all crave.
Invasions is a really fun addition to the game. While hardcore Mortal Kombat players will not care much about all the custom scenarios and modifiers during these encounters, if you are looking for an alternate experience from the base game, then Invasions is the way to go. Ultimately, this is a fun game in which you will invest your time attempting to unlock all collectibles possible. It is also the perfect mode for leveling up each of your characters. In turn, you will get new skins, moves, and varied color palettes. This mode can get overly complex at later stages, but if you take it as a separate thing, then you are up for hours of fun.
What can you say about Towers? It is the classic and ultimate single-player experience. With 23 characters to choose from, you will feel compelled to finish this mode with every single one. Why? Well, to discover the destiny and further lore for each of your characters. I personally like the creation of the Shirai Ryu after completing Towers with Scorpion. You can choose Endless Mode to keep fighting enemies with no end whatsoever. You can even add a layer of difficulty with Survivor, making you share the same health between fights. It is a perfect mode for those players wanting to further master their kombat abilities with a specific character.
It’s gruesome, it’s horrifying, and I love it
What can I say about the graphics? They are as crispy and detailed as always. In a game that is often singled out as the guts, blood, dismemberment, and gore show, the characters and their subsequent Fatalities must be well represented on the screen. Mortal Kombat not only plays great but also shows mastery in choreography, animation, character design, and art. Not only that, but the amount of unlockables and cosmetics is outstanding. It provides a constant feeling of accomplishment by rewarding the player’s efforts after conquering certain modes and fights.
The cinematics and camera angles during Fatalities make this the most movie-like Mortal Kombat game of all time. The differences between MK11 and MK1 in this regard are almost night and day. Of course, it is not a considerable jump as the one between MK9 and MKX. However, you can see a huge improvement in lighting, cinematography, outfit, and overall design. I could see a compilation of the cutscenes and think this is an animated Mortal Kombat movie. Maybe it is and the fighting is just an excuse to watch it. Interesting.
The game’s performance was impeccable except for some moments during my playthrough. I experienced frame drops, a screen freeze, and a very difficult time trying to launch the game. I spent a while trying to make the game run. Ultimately, I had to force the game into compatibility mode. Since this is a very particular case, I will not make such a fuss about it. However, many other players are having similar issues. Hopefully, NetherRealm will address these issues with a future update. Especially now that the game is live on all platforms.
Ultimately, Mortal Kombat 1 delivers a lot and promises even more for the future of the franchise. I believe this is the perfect entry-level Mortal Kombat game. Its focus on combos and the Kameo fighter mechanic makes it so. Moreover, the start of a new series of events for future entries in the franchise makes picking up MK1 even more exciting.
While the story may fall into the same vicious circles that have led other giant entertainment franchises to oblivion, the character development, the game modes, and the way the game plays fully compensate for what could be described as a brief but intense Gaming Sins fest. Let us just hope NetherRealm continues to support this game, does not fall into the trap of micro-transactions, and embraces and nurtures the player-first focus they have demonstrated on the release of Mortal Kombat 1. It is, in my opinion, the prime Mortal Kombat experience.