There comes a time when a long-running franchise reaches its saturation point. Mortal Kombat is no exception. For three whole decades, Mortal Kombat has dominated the fighting game scene, along with Street Fighter. Now, Mortal Kombat is tracing its steps back to when it all began in a new title dubbed Mortal Kombat 1. Interestingly enough, the series has kept in mind fans of the old arcade days and the new 3D gameplay system. They have revamped old-time fan favorites while also throwing a fresh coat of paint on new-time characters from the 3D time period.
Together, they sculpted fresh backstories for all the characters. And compelling stories at that, seeing as folks like Raiden are just normal citizens. Way before they’ve received their powers and mission statements. The new Mortal Kombat is an engrossing take on when these characters' journey all began, and in the series’ undying gory glory, you can expect to blow out spines to thy kingdom come and kick ass. So, tag along as we explore all Mortal Kombat 1 has to offer, including the new Kameo system and everything in between.
Backtracking to the Beginning
It had reached the point where Mortal Kombat’s story had been stretched to its limits. There was only so much time travel and resurrection we could take. And so, the decision to backtrack the series to the beginning certainly made a lot of sense. Even though Mortal Kombat (2011) had pretty much done the same thing.
Anyway, Mortal Kombat 1 is a nostalgic treat for old-time fans to reenact some of MK’s most compelling characters’ backstories. While also revamping characters of the 3D era for more recent hitchhikers of the franchise’s journey. In the same breath, we get introduced to a new gameplay system called the Kameo system, which would presumably cater to those who've yet to experience MK’s thrilling “finish him” moments.
All Rather Too Familiar
But rebooting a series always comes at the cost of overfamiliarity. Fortunately, Mortal Kombat 1 does a great job of creating new backstories for each of its old and new fighters. On one hand, we have the otherworldly characters who’ve just arrived on planet Earth from a different realm. And then we have the earthly MK fighters, most of whom are yet to discover the powers that lie within.
Sure. The story does become dangerously predictable. However, for one reason or another, it works to completely sell its vision to every type of gamer. Of course, the story unfolds in the usual cinematic setting before you’re brought in to fight. In Liu Kang’s universe and as protector of the Outworld, you run into all sorts of familiar and not-so-familiar characters. And eventually are nudged to go head-to-head with them in battle.
To tie in Mortal Kombat 1 with the first game, the plot takes place around the same time as when the original Mortal Kombat game would have unfolded. And in true MK style, a deadly mystery looms in the background, waiting to take center stage. Best of all, the ending leaves you questioning what would happen next, leaving room for Mortal Kombat 2, I suppose. It’s a win for sure, as far as the plot is concerned.
By now, veteran players will have mastered the art of Mortal Kombat. It’s a gameplay system that has lasted through three decades, constantly receiving polishing touches here and there. And in Mortal Kombat 1, it’s no different, with a sense of swiftness and fluidity coming through in line with today’s hardware capabilities.
We do see plenty of returning game modes. There’s offline and online gameplay. Each one has its own sub-sections. I won’t go into detail about the recurring sections. However, we do see a change in the usual Krypt mode. Now, it’s been revamped into “Invasions.” The two are similar in the sense of looting for treasures and collectibles. However, it takes place in an almost virtual tabletop board game environment with a 3D top-down perspective. Here, lots of cool things mesh with one another to create a more engaging and replayable experience.
For starters, you indulge in over-the-top boss fights. There are also RPG elements that thrust you into a world of quick, bloody fights akin to Towers of Time, survival obstacle trials, and varied quests across the realms. It’s by no means easy. Yet it does provide tons of content to keep you busy without the need to bring friends over. That said, perhaps the concept only looked good on paper. Because it tends to juggle too many things at once.
Still, I know better than to fully critique a new idea. Does it provide a fresh take on gameplay? Yes. Is it fun to play? Yes. And that’s all I need to look forward to in future patch updates that further iron out the concept.
Kameo Sweet Delight
The new Kameo system is perhaps the most anticipated feature in the new game. That’s because it’s the feature that rocks the boat compared to what fans have been used to all these years. Like in wrestling, the Kameo system allows you to call for an assist mid-fight. So, you not only have access to one fighter but two, the second of whom you’re free to bring in from a cast of Kameo characters, opening up the fight to a suite of more varied gameplay options.
In total, you have 22 core characters. Add to that the 20 Kameo characters you can access, and it’s hard to put a finger on what’s not to like here. Before, it felt limiting to stick to one character throughout the fight. Only the swiftness of each tournament could help ease the wait to check out someone new. Now, you can diversify your game plan on the spot because, ultimately, there are characters with fantastic finishers, others with fast travel, others with overhead mid-combo, and so on.
In the end, the main focus of Mortal Kombat is the fights. And when you’re given room to dig deeper and explore more options, you enjoy an even spicier attack versus defense plan. Add to that the fact that every kick, punch, throw, and finisher packs an extra crunch and lands devastatingly well, so much so that returning for more is a no-brainer.
Look and Feel
Visually, the game looks divine. The transition between cutscenes and fights in single-player is handled professionally. You can always tell when it’s your time to come in. Unfortunately, the cutscenes do get lost on you, the same way they did in previous entries. Only this time, patience is wearing thin. During cutscenes, your job is to sit through them, waiting for your cue. But cutscenes, especially when bland, will barely hold up in the years to come. Fortunately, the acting and performance come together in perfect harmony, enough to see you through to the end.
It’s no secret that Mortal Kombat reigns supreme above all other fighting games. Well, Street Fighter comes in a close first or second, depending on who you ask. Still, the franchise has maintained a respectable record of gore and ruthless victory. It’s in the series’ DNA, and it's hardly ever something that you can imagine the series foregoing anytime soon. And so, seeing the series return to its roots once again is a sweet delight.
Mortal Kombat is by no means a novel. And novelty is the last thing you’d want. It’s meticulously careful not to upset the apple cart too much. Yet it stays faithful to revamping the plot and gameplay features to suit every type of gamer’s taste.
As for the characters, each one has a new backstory that takes them back to their younger selves. It’s interesting to see their personalities take form. And to experiment with their revamped, altered playstyles and finisher moves. The gameplay, just the same, has a fresh coat of paint, with newly introduced features like the Invasions mode and Kameo system grabbing one’s attention for longer playthroughs than usual.
It’s the kind of game that accommodates everyone, whether you’re a veteran player committed to the cause from the arcade days, a fan of the 3D era, or fresh off the realm of games besides Mortal Kombat. There’s something special sculpted for you here. Whether Mortal Kombat 1 holds up its end of the deal to usher in a fresh era in the franchise’s history remains to be seen.
Mortal Kombat 1 Review (PS5, Switch, Xbox Series X/S, & PC)
Dance with Gore and Death in Mortal Kombat 1
Who knew that the second time’s the charm? Mortal Kombat 1 takes us back to the original game in the franchise. It takes place in the same era. However, characters receive new backstories in Liu Kang’s universe. There’s plenty to love, for sure, mostly due to the series remaining faithful to the gameplay that has worked all these years. You do experience a deeper and more engaging playthrough, thanks to the new Kameo system and the single-player Invasions mode. All in all, get ready to dance with gore and death as you fight against some of the fighting genre’s greatest warriors alive (and dead).