Before we begin, let’s make like Liu Kang and clean up the timeline a little. Mortal Kombat 1 review code—sorry, ‘kode’—dropped mighty close to the early access period dangled in the not-inexpensive premium edition. To the more suspicious observer, that could have signified some sort of damage kontrol on an undercooked product—a growing industry practice that can feel shadier than a Noob Saibot mirror match. Fortunately, I can confirm that is absolutely, one hundred percent not the case here.
My single-raised eyebrow converted to a double-arch special, right after I clicked into MK1’s Story Mode, grabbed a spine, and got cracking. It quickly became apparent that what’s here is the strongest entry in years. Like, ‘upper end of the Test Your Might meter’ levels of strength.
I’m going to ice-slide into all the reasons why that is in a sec. But first, I should clue you ‘mind’s-made-up’ types in on the best ways to score Mortal Kombat 1. If window shopping doesn’t interest you, by all means click here to skip right past to my continued hands-on thoughts…
Table of Contents
Mortal Kombat 1 (Standard Edition) – Out 19/9
Xbox Series X
Note: Preorder any version of the game, and you’ll get access to the playable character Shang Tsung.
Mortal Kombat 1 Premium Edition – Out Now
Xbox Series X
The premium edition costs $139.95 and includes the game itself, the preorder bonus (see below), plus the following items:
- Early access starting Sept. 14
- Early access to DLC characters
- Kombat Pack (6 new playable Characters, 5 new Kameo characters, and Jean-Claude Van Damme skin for Johnny Cage)
- 1250 Dragon Krystals (in-game currency)
Mortal Kombat 1 Kollector’s Edition
Sadly, this Kollector’s Edition is not available locally in Australia. I’m just as sad as you are about this fact. Quick note: it seems to be selling out overseas at an alarming rate, so act quick if you plan on going the import route. Personally, I’ve had nothing but positive experiences after decades of dealing with Play Asia.
Mortal Kombat 1 Hands-on Impressions
Long story short, I adored the bold universe reset that’s been undertaken here. When it comes to this colourful ‘new cast of old’ characters, I fell for them faster and harder than a pit fatality. Narrative-wise, this truly is an uppercut above my expectations.
To say this is the perfect entry point for new and curious fans is an understatement on par with “Sub-zero has a slightly chilly disposition.” The TL;DR: 11 main games and 30 years of drama between Outworld and Earthrealm—gaming’s answer to Springfield and Shelbyville—have been zeroed.
The original Earthrealm protector and champion team of Raiden and Liu Kang have effectively role-switched in a page-one rewrite of the timeline. Many of the big baddies have been handed mediocre destinies, designed to end like a bad playthrough of Rick and Morty’s ‘Roy’ (think: death by falling in a carpet warehouse as an octogenarian).
Mortal Kombat 1 Shang Tsung ‘Alien’ Fatality
Conversely, most of the heroes you know have been (re)trained to compete in a relatively kid gloves tournament where the victor stops well short of walking away while wearing the loser’s head for a hat. Obviously, that Friendships plan falls through, though you definitely shouldn’t expect the ability to do wall-to-wall fatalities in the Story mode.
Makes sense. Can’t have much of a story if everybody meets their maker in the first act, right?
Also, speaking of runtime, the story mode is 5 hours long (and quite ‘kutscene’ heavy), so I’d best not offer more synopsis than I’ve already provided. What I will say, however, is how surprised and delighted I was with the decisions made on which characters to feature and how divergent their new relationships are. With Liu Kang adorning the cover in all his fire god splendour, you’d be forgiven for assuming Kang would be dominating the proceedings in lieu (Liu?) of a more shared affair. But it’s just not the case.
Delightfully, Johnny Cage and Kenshi are not only given lots of limelight, but they quickly develop a bromance that I didn’t know I needed until now. Likewise, it’s pretty fascinating to watch an unaware human Raiden get slightly manipulated into a Ryu / Ken rivalry with Kung Lao. And lastly, I love that Netherrealm has chosen to put some of the historically darker characters in a sympathetic light as unfair victims of circumstance.
Just on that concept, my favourite addition to this new roster is the moral-transitioning Ashrah, a character we’ve not had playable since 2006’s Mortal Kombat Armageddon. This demoness who’s steadily killing away her evil nature—one villain murder at a time—is in good company with other distant Armageddon acquaintances like Havik, Li Mei, Nitara, and Reiko.
And you can round that roster out with more recently rostered quantities, like Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Kitana, Mileena, Smoke, Rain, Tanya, Baraka, Geras, Reptile, Sindel, and General Shao. 22 total kombatants, with lots of cool DLC blow-in guests on the way.
Murderous melodrama aside, let’s get to the meat of what matters most in MK1—the fisticuffs. For starters, jump cancels, breakers, enhanced moves, and the always handy ‘jump-cancel out of uppercuts’ are all bound to a single meter. I loved using it with my boy Sub-Zero, but it quickly became apparent that said meter wasn’t be Bi-Han and end all in terms of damage output. If you’ve got the skills, every character can dispense arguably larger amounts of pain via non-metered techniques, like the new air combo system.
Other welcome mechanical changes come from Netherrealm going full Baraka by tactically pruning off the odd problematic, vestigial limb. For instance, you should have sub-zero expectations of using wake-up rolls, wake-up attacks, character variations, krushing blows, or fatal blows that have invincible start-ups. They’re deader than a disco-themed Friendship.
The biggest thing in their place is the kameo system, a first-in-series tag-in mechanic. By sacrificing half your meter—or the whole shebang, if your dance partner has four arms—you can call in a pre-selected offsider to table-turn a scenario. Three assist moves are available per helper, that are as flashy as they are useful. And I love that your silent partner gets a piece of the post-win pose as well.
Obviously, the basic idea is to smartly pair a kameo partner in such a way as to cover the natural weaknesses of your main. For example, you might get somebody who provides the projectile reach you lack, or some air domination for a more down-to-earth(realm) fighter. Alternatively, you could bullishly go the other way by literally doubling down on your strengths to overwhelm an obvious weakness in your enemies. Speaking from a same-screen multiplayer perspective, it’s a ton of fun figuring out which partnership best screws with your opponent’s go-to plans.
Also, it has to be said that the implementation of kameos is done in such a seamless way as to not even feel like a typical tag system. It’s both an animation and tactile thing, wholly unlike the switching feel of a Marvel vs. Capcom or the like. Your partners will zip in and add their two cents (or koins?) as a flawless, flowing link of an extended combo. It just feels lovely. On the dispensing side, at least.
Better yet, MK1 has a best-in-class tutorial mode that should go a long way towards helping one master the subtleties of this bloodsport. (Tactical name drop there: Johnny Cage’s inspiration—Jean Claude Van Damme—has a premium skin from the movie of the same name.) Now, I wish I could say that the Story mode does just a good job of prepping you on the strengths of your characters, but you’re largely left to flounder about when the perspective shifts.
Mortal Kombat 1 – Jean-Claude Van Damme Character Skin Reveal
On a more positive note, it’s impressive how much stuff one can earn without resorting to microtransactions. MK1’s progression system largely rewards character monogamy, and you can be rolling in skins, taunts, gear, brutalities, and the odd fatalities in fairly short order.
And I must say—some of the latter unlocks are some of the most deliciously disgusting send-offs yet seen in this franchise. Timeline-wise, MK1’s characters may technically be the most inexperienced fighters in this new lore, but their fatalities are still cranked right up to 12.
When it comes to other pros, I believe the sumptuous visuals speak for themselves. Likewise, in my early experiences with the framerate and netcode in Kombat League and King of the Hill have been ‘relatively flawless’ victories as well. Mind you, the inability to matchmake in other modes is something I’m decidedly less enthused about.
That said, and to cap this off on a more positive note, I have good things to say about the new Invasions mode. It’s basically an Ermac of a virtual board game—the loose affiliation of the souls of Towers of Time, The Krypt and some minor RPG elements from some legacy Konquest modes. The basic idea is themed square battles, all-or-nothing Tower fights, minigames, keys, gates and a decent amount of rewards for a successful clear.
Where it gets interesting is a range of quirky buffs / debuffs, statistically upgradeable talismans, and the fact that every fighter and kameo adheres to a complex elemental table. There’s depth and replayability here. Invasions, complemented by the aforementioned multi-mode, are going to keep me koming back for more for ages.
Mortal Kombat 1 Trailers
Adam Mathew has been a fan of MK since he played the arcade OG in the early ’90s. There was sub-zero chance of him not playing this one.