‘Mortal Kombat 1’ Review – The Past Meets the Future in the Franchise’s Best Video Game in a Decade


When I booted up Mortal Kombat 1, I had no idea what was in store for me. In the months leading up to release, developer Netherrealm Studios had been positioning the game as a massive reinvention of the Mortal Kombat franchise with the introduction of the game’s new timeline reset and the “Kameo” system that allows players to bring in an additional fighter to use for assistance during combat. There was a very real fear that the series was moving too far away from everything that made the more recent entries in the franchise so great.

What I truly didn’t expect from Mortal Kombat 1, however, was the best damn entry in the franchise since 2011, and a game that leans more into the series’ roots than you might realize.

A Return to Form

Let’s be real, Mortal Kombat X and Mortal Kombat 11 were bogged down by unsatisfying mechanics that distracted from the core combat. X and 11 asked players to learn multiple variations and gear systems for fighters that resulted in changes that ranged from minimal to drastic. Those games felt like they were running a meta game that focused on character builds and synergy similar to RPGs and less like a proper fighting game. Mortal Kombat 1 strips away all of this and presents only one version of every fighter and its main roster. For example, if you learn Sub-Zero, this will be the toolkit you use in tournaments or encounter in matches online; there’s a focus on skill rather than builds or selectable specials. 

Where the main variation in combat comes from is the game’s brand-new “Kameo” system that will ask players to bring in an additional fighter from an entirely separate roster of fighters. You can call this fighter in at any point of the fight using a single button press and can modify the move they do by inputting a direction when summoning them. I had an absolute blast experimenting with the Kameo fighters and discovering new ways to extend my combos, be it Sonya Blade throwing out a wave of energy or Sektor launching homing missiles at the opponent. 

Mortal Kombat 1 also ditches interactive stages, instead focusing on the hand-to-hand combat. Final Blows and Fatalities also return in glorious gory fashion. Fatal Blows receive a neat attention to detail as they actually incorporate the player’s Kameo fighter which means Fatal Blows are far less repetitive in this game due to the near limitless combinations. Fatalities are reworked from Mortal Kombat 11 and feature easier combination inputs. The game also features Kameo fatalities; I implore players to explore these as some of the game’s best are tied to certain Kameos.

The gear system does return but has been entirely reworked to be cosmetic only. Each fighter has one customizable item such as a face mask or a weapon, and is able to swap palettes that completely change the color and outfit that they wear. For example, I was able to unlock a fur-lined coat for Johnny Cage that made him look more like a movie star at a Hollywood premiere than a Mortal Kombat fighter. With rewards regularly dropping from the various modes including Story mode and the new Invasion mode, I can’t wait to see what wild looks and combinations people come up with while remaining balanced to the core combat.

A New Era of Mortal Kombat

The story in Mortal Kombat 1 is an absolute joy to experience. After the multiverse nonsense of Mortal Kombat 11, this game attempts to have a clean reset of the often convoluted Mortal Kombat timeline. But rather than being beholden to most of the canon like the 2011 reboot, Mortal Kombat 1 takes huge risks with power dynamic shifts.

This time around, Fire God Liu Kang is in charge of the fate of the realm instead of Raiden. He chooses to take a more hands-off approach to keeping peace in the realms and has altered the fate of nearly every single character in the Mortal Kombat universe. The main conflict arises in the form of a certain Mortal Kombat 11 character returning with knowledge of the changes Liu Kang made, and they attempt to restore the origins of the characters we know and love.

Make no mistake you don’t need to play Mortal Kombat 11 to understand what’s going on in Mortal Kombat 1, but players who have will be narratively rewarded. What I love the most about the story is the misleading title that implies it’s yet another reimagining of the original Mortal Kombat, but in actuality is a brutally violent reimagining of the PS2-era games such as Deadly Alliance and Deception. This provides a much needed revitalization of the lore of Mortal Kombat and allows players to get to know characters we haven’t seen since the mid-2000s.

It’s also extremely fascinating to see characters we know and love have all new origins and backstories. From Kenshi being a ruthless Yakuza member to Raiden being the human champion of Earthrealm, I was engrossed with the story from beginning to end to see what surprises were in store. As a long time fan, I felt as if I was discovering a whole new world of Mortal Kombat.

But Wait, There’s More!

In addition to standard online and story modes, the game also features an arcade mode and a new replacement to the Krypt called “Invasions.” This mode takes the form of a playable RPG-lite board game where players are tasked to explore various Mortal Kombat environments and clear their boards of invaders from other realities. While exploring and overcoming opponents, players will be rewarded with new gear items and palettes that provide a great deal of cosmetic customization. To help with chances of success, players will level up and equip their fighters with relics and other items that will give them new benefits that range from stat boots to all new abilities such as throwing out fire balls.

Invasions is a massive improvement over the previous game’s Krypt, feeling less random and cryptic in how to overcome obstacles. I also appreciated that rewards in this mode are entirely cosmetic, providing players with a way to unlock skins but not feel obligated to as they provide no stat benefits like the previous game. The environments are also just a love letter to the entire franchise as a whole filled with easter eggs, characters, and references that even the biggest Mortal Kombat fans will enjoy. With Netherrealm promising to seasonally update the Invasions mode, I can’t wait to see what surprises and themes are in store for us. 

Invasions is also entirely player controlled. The timed towers of Mortal Kombat 11 that offered gear rewards relied too much on cheap tactics and a focus on setting character A.I. that ultimately led me to feeling like I was watching the game more than playing it. With Invasions, I find myself trying characters I would’ve not played as much in an effort to counter elemental boosted opponents and other obstacle challenges. 

Truth be told, Invasions reminds me a lot of the older Konquest modes from Deadly Alliance and Deception, which adds even more to the reimagining of the PS2 era of Mortal Kombat. Consider me a very big fan of all the content Mortal Kombat 1 has to offer.

Performance on the PS5 ran at a rock-solid 60 frames per second and the animations look insanely smooth in motion, definitely improved from the beta. Mortal Kombat 1 also employs Mortal Kombat 11’s exceptional rollback netcode, providing excellent online play; I never ran into any issues with online matches. If there’s anything to criticize, while the cutscenes in story mode can be jaw-droppingly gorgeous, some of the facial animations leave a lot to be desired and enter the uncanny valley at times. It’s a small complaint but I found it a bit distracting.

A Test of Might

I’m impressed with what Mortal Kombat 1 has to offer. From the ambitious Story mode, to the new addition of Kameos to the combat. From the relegating of the gear system to be cosmetic only, to the all-new RPG Invasions mode. Mortal Kombat 1 feels like a return to form for the series while pushing it in new meaningful directions. It’s the perfect entry point for newcomers and long time fans of the series. It’s for die-hard fighting game fans with its combat depth, but also for the single-player looking for a ton of content. Mortal Kombat 1 is a game I absolutely love and can’t wait to enjoy for years to come. With no doubt in my mind, this is the best Mortal Kombat game since the 2011 reboot.

Rejoice, Mortal Kombat fans. The golden age is upon us.

Mortal Kombat 1 arrives on September 19 for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series, Nintendo Switch, and PC via Steam and Epic Games Store.

Review code provided by the publisher.

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