Mortal Kombat 1, or the Mortal Kombat reboot as it has been described takes things back to a simpler time. Instead of growing on the massive roster of fighters in Mortal Kombat 11, this new entry feels like a slimmer package which costs the same money and if anything, delivers less excitement. Mortal Kombat 1 feels like it has an identity crisis with its hogwash fighter roster, lack of modes and features and there’s no real selling point other than fresh new visuals. Even its gore, which has been around since the start of the series, feels toned down.
Mortal Kombat 1 plays it safe. Even the studio has marketed the game as a so-called “soft reboot”. It aims to act as a fresh entry point for new fans and an exciting new experience for returning ones. Sadly, Mortal Kombat 1 doesn’t do any of this. New fans could just go and play MK11 and have a much better time. Existing fans, like myself, found the game struggling to stand on its own. It sort of lacks style and substance. Feels like an empty, soul-less husk in comparison to the past few games.
I get it. This is meant to be the number “1”. If you played this as the first-ever Mortal Kombat game, it would totally knock it out of the park. However, as a sequel, it just doesn’t work. The story is uninspired, its new combat features such as the Kameo system feel underwhelming and the game’s disappointing roster and lack of modes make it all feel stuck in the past.
The only real sell for Mortal Kombat 1 is its campaign and while it isn’t the best in the series, it offers 8 hours of fights and some incredibly good-looking cutscenes. The campaign kicks off after the events of Mortal Kombat 11. Liu Kang has returned alongside only a handful of characters. The story mode plays out in a chapter-based rhythm where each new chapter focuses on a handful of matches played as a different fighter.
I was engrossed in the campaign until about halfway in. The story delivered some refreshing ideas and even characters. Existing fighters have been completely rebooted and look nothing like their previous identities. In a way, it plays into this whole “1” approach and if you had to forget everything you have known about the series, it works. Sadly, the campaign doesn’t want to make sense in that same way. There are so many throwbacks to previous games and even previous DLC packs that you have to be an avid fan with a notepad next to you referring to all these tidbits of information throughout the campaign.
It makes no sense to me. The game is meant to act as this glorified soft reboot but tries so hard to relive its glory days at the same time. It was a lot to try and digest. I ended up researching names and events just to play catch-up. That was until I completely gave up and just played chapter after chapter until the end.
I did appreciate the story for what it was – a test round to play each character. It also acts as a great place to meet the cast which is important given how drastically some of them have changed. Some fighters are unrecognizable. Sub-Zero and Scorpion, for example, feel fantastic to play but if anything, their visual style has been drastically toned down. Again, this can be said for the majority of the game. It is simple…. not in a good way either.
I kind of missed the uncomfortableness of the cast. The dark visuals and sort of grotesque-looking fighters. In Mortal Kombat 1, it all comes across as safe and plain. As if this is the first game and better things will come our way. Only this is not the first game.
Regardless, the campaign is pretty to watch and the cutscenes are well constructed. The writing often takes itself too seriously but there’s an odd joke here and there which made me chuckle. There have been better campaigns and this game’s asking price isn’t worth just experiencing the story. So keep that in mind too.
Outside of the campaign, Mortal Kombat 1 is still a great fighter. Characters feel great to use and you’ll gel better with some than others. It is a slow game but a more forgiving one at least. I don’t swear to be the best fighter on the planet but I was able to master some cool moves and combos after training with certain fighters.
I enjoyed the new blocking and parrying mechanics which let me break grabs and attack back. The stamina system also lets me enhance certain skills for more powerful hits. Some of these hits drastically changed up the arena by sending opponents into the air, opening them up for an even bigger juggle. If you’re counting frames, you’ll love this but even if you’re here to just spam some buttons and hope it looks cool on screen, you’ll love it too.
The new Kameo system is nice to have but feels a little bland for my liking. Essentially, you can give your fighter a sidekick who can jump into the match and perform a move before jumping back out. It is simple and performed with one button. Fatal Attacks, which are available when you hit low health, perform a sort of double combo attack between the fighter and the Kameo. They are also nice to see for the first few hours of the game.
In comparison to the variant system in Mortal Kombat X or the custom loadouts in Mortal Kombat 11, this system feels horribly slapped together and uninspired. Sure, you can attach an unplayable fighter to the Kameo list which is great and all but how about just adding them into the abysmally fighting roster in the first place?
The new Invasion mode is a top-down table-top sort of game mode where you’ll move about an area, fight quick battles against weak enemies and take on other challenges. It is okay… The mode is slow and doesn’t have the same level of polish as I expected. Even the fights lack intros and dialogue. It feels slapped together and very tedious. Some of the combat modifiers were fun to experience but I can’t see myself investing much time in the mode.
Lastly, just like almost everything else in Mortal Kombat 1, the Krypt has also been watered down to a simple menu. You spend credits to bring a dragon to live which then drolls lava around the place and unlocks an item. These can be customizable cosmetics for fighters or artwork. I kind of missed exploring a mini hub layered in secret areas while I spent my hard-earned credits unlocking things I would never use. The Krypt, or lack thereof, is just another wonderful feature lost when this whole reboot nonsense happened.
Mortal Kombat 1 could be my least favourite entry in the series. While it looks wonderful and offers a true “next-gen” visual experience (especially compared to the Switch port), I can’t help but feel the entire game is just a soulless husk. The previous games have offered wonderful break-out mechanics coupled with a robust list of fighters. Mortal Kombat 1, on the other hand, is all forgettable.
Taking things back and toning it all down hasn’t bode well for the series. I might actually just go back to MK11 to replay the glory days. It is a better game in almost every single way.
This Mortal Kombat 1 review is based on a code sent to us by Warner Bros. Games. The game is available now on PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PC and Switch starting at R1230.
Mortal Kombat 1
Mortal Kombat 1’s soft reboot aims to deliver a refreshing take but instead, spews out an empty husk of an experience with watered-down modes, a laughable fighting roster and little excitement. It sits levels below the greatness found in Mortal Komabat 11.