Mortal Kombat 1 (Xbox Series X) REVIEW – There Can Only Be 1
September 19, 2023
Warner Bros Interactive
PC, PS5, XBXS, NS
It takes a lot of guts to reboot a series for a second time, especially when it’s only been about 12 years since the last one, but Mortal Kombat 1 is supposed to be the beginning of a New Era for the franchise. Whether or not this era actually classifies as “New”, considering it features no debuting characters and still features familiar locations like Earthrealm, Outworld and more, is worthy of an article all of its own, but the fact remains that Mortal Kombat 1 is a strong debut for a reignited MK.
The large majority of Mortal Kombat 1’s success can be attributed to the overall improvements to its gameplay, which is a massive step up from Mortal Kombat 11. The gameplay in MK1’s predecessor was still fun, but there was less freedom for combo expression. While there’s still standard combo strings in Mortal Kombat 1, like there always was, the introduction of air combos for every character adds an extra dimension beyond basic juggle combos and the like.
However, it’s the introduction of Kameos that really elevates the action of Mortal Kombat 1 beyond its predecessors. Along with picking your main character, you also choose a Kameo Fighter who you can call in as an assist during the match. Each Kameo fighter has three to four unique moves and abilities, and what’s really impressive is how wide ranging these abilities are.
There’s your standard mix of assist moves like Sub-Zero or Frost freezing and hindering your opponent, Stryker throwing out grenades or Kung Lao using his hat as a projectile to deal damage from across the screen, but then there’s the more unique moves that showcase the game’s originality. Kung Lao’s teleport can be used as an assist to move you across the screen, Motaro uses a shield, Shujinko copies an opponent’s moves and Stryker literally appears from the side of the screen to arrest your foe, stunning them for a few seconds.
These assists could easily have been simple beams or fireballs that you could use to extend combos and nothing else, but there’s a lot more on offer here if you’re willing to look for it, especially if you’re a long time fan of the series. The amount of love and references that have been shown to iconic characters is plain to see, especially for those from the often maligned PS2 and original Xbox “3D” era.
The only real issue with the Kameo system that some players might fall into is knowing which main roster fighters and Kameo fighters synergise well with each other, as the tutorial on offer only gives players a basic overview of mechanics. If you want any more information, you’re going to have to dive into the practice mode to find it, and that’s fine for a good chunk of Mortal Kombat 1 players who love all things fighting games, but more casual players might find themselves avoiding the Kameo button entirely.
Speaking of casual players, MK1 continues the long-running NetherRealm Studios tradition of giving single player gamers enough content to justify purchasing a fighting game, with the always enjoyable Story Mode making a return. The narrative this time around isn’t perfect, as it almost immediately defaults into alternate timeline shenanigans once again, but the blockbuster scale combined with some excellent and refreshed characteristics helps keep the mode enjoyable. Shang Tsung especially is brilliant this time around, leaning fully into camp and flamboyant villainy with great enthusiasm, which is more than can be said for Megan Fox’s acting as Nitara.
Again, while Mortal Kombat 1 might not be a wholly original take on the franchise, it does feel like both a love letter and a redemption arc for that PS2 era of MK games, with characters and visual aesthetics from that time period making a triumphant return here. Characters like Li Mei, Ashrah and Havik feel like they’ve always belonged next to recognisable killers like Johnny Cage, Raiden and Liu Kang, while the Wu Shi Academy design, with the statues holding up a training ring over a pond, is lifted straight from Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, only with a fresh coat of beautiful looking paint. For fans who have stuck with the series for literal console generations, Mortal Kombat 1 ticks a lot of the right boxes.
However, the crown jewel of the single player modes is Invasions, a tabletop inspired RPG of sorts that’ll be updated and changed every season. Players explore miniaturised versions of arenas from the main game, landing on nodes and completing encounters that might have powered up opponents, strange modifiers and more.
Those familiar with the Towers of Time mode from MK11 will be immediately familiar with Invasions, though the gimmick of exploring a map adds a moreish structure that the Towers might have lacked. It’s easier to get sucked in exploring a huge map than completing several disjointed towers, though those who preferred the Towers of Time style of gameplay are still catered for in the Gateway Portal area.
While the idea of limited seasonal content and battle pass-like systems in fighting games isn’t great, and it’s one of the only issues that Street Fighter 6 has, Mortal Kombat 1 bucks the trend by instead tying all of the seasonal content into Invasions, which offers actual content in the form of new maps to explore and new rewards to earn. Sure, it’s still a bit of a grind, but at least the new seasons should offer new modifiers and content. Some new minigames would also go down a treat. Test Your Might and the Survive minigame of avoiding the same wall of projectiles do become stale after a while.
There’s a couple of flaws that do dampen Mortal Kombat 1 somewhat, with the main one being the removal of pinning moves to the screen in single-player mode, but these are small issues that can be updated over time. Whether you’re a veteran fighting game player or a complete newcomer to the genre, Mortal Kombat 1 is an incredibly enjoyable package.
A copy of Mortal Kombat 1 was purchased by the reviewer.
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Mortal Kombat 1’s New Era might be a bit too familiar, but the core gameplay and range of modes on offer here is undeniable.
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