'Mortal Kombat 1' Review: It Has Begun...Again!

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Warner Bros. Games

It's such a blessing to be able to witness the latest arrival of a fighting game renaissance. Street Fighter 6, Guilty Gear Strive, and the 2024 release of Tekken 8 not only mark the arrival of the latest series entries for mainstay fighters, but they also provide all the proof in the world that a genre that was once thought to be on life support is now healthier than ever. Another pillar of that genre that has also entered the now thriving fray of fighters is a 90s gaming staple that's still going strong - Mortal Kombat. And to mark this new franchise installment with a renewed sense of vigor, NetherRealm Studios has opted to reboot its long-running universe once again for a brand new take on familiar faces and plotlines. Thanks to Fire God Lui Kang's rebooted realm, fans can now bask in the greatness of a new era of "Fatal Blows," "Brutalities," and "Fatalities." Welcome to my Mortal Kombat 1 review.

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'Mortal Kombat 1' Review

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Warner Bros. Games

As a fighting game player who's deep in the trenches when it comes to following the FGC and its passionate opinions on the biggest fighters in the genre, I've noticed a prevailing complaint regarding Mortal Kombat 11 - there is a sizable group of players that feel that that game's combo potential and player freedom is at an all-time low due to the game's focus on "kombat" that relies on "footsies." MK1 remedies that issue from the jump thanks to a roster full of characters that have a wealth of combo and special move options at the ready. In all my years of playing MK, this game marks the first time I've had the most fun mastering Baraka - his rushdown offense and easy-to-comprehend gameplan provided me with a main that can deliver an easy 10-hit combo at the drop of a dime. Thanks to the new "Kameo" system, MK1's barbarous battles are way more exciting to watch and play - choosing the right character to assist your character's gameplan is another highlight of this fighter that adds an extra layer of strategy to the moment-to-moment gameplay. Calling upon Stryker to arrest the opponent or commanding Scorpion to transport you to a safer area are just a few examples of the slick Kameo assists that deepen MK1's gameplay aspects.

From a roster standpoint, MK1 features one of the series' coolest lineups of series icons to date. While it's great to see recognizable characters such as Sub-Zero, Scorpion, and Kitana enter the new MK timeline, I was more excited at the return of underrated fighters that debuted during the 3D MK trilogy. Ashrah, Li Mei, Nitara, and Reiko's resurgence feels like a breath of fresh air for a long-time MK fan such as me. The fact that each of those characters comes with updated visual designs, movesets, and story motivations makes them all feel refreshed in the best ways possible. For instance, Ashrah's ability to switch between the powers of light and darkness via her soul-cleansing sword is an amazing aspect of her toolset that makes her one of MK1's most interesting characters. With updated looks for fan favorites such as Smoke and Reptile, MK1 proves that its rebooted universe has done an amazing job of freshening up series regulars.

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Warner Bros. Games

Ever since 2011's MK, fans have become accustomed to each ensuing series entry featuring a monumental story mode that rarely disappoints. In the case of MK1's narrative, I'm happy to say that we've reached yet another high mark in storytelling for NetherRealm Studios. Following the mystery of who is disrupting Fire God Lui Kang's rebooted universe and who is the main villain pulling the puppet strings of that evil benefactor is captivating from start to finish. A combination of strong voice work (except Megan Fox's Nitara, who sounds like she'd rather be anywhere else than the recording studio), genuinely funny moments, fun Easter Eggs, and jaw-dropping moments proves that MK1's story mode is miles ahead of the big-screen cinematic turd that released in 2021. I won't spoil anything regarding who you'll run into during battles and how everything ultimately unfolds - witnessing all the major plot points of MK1 for yourself for the very first time is an exciting affair that must be experienced.

MK1 doesn't just keep solo players busy with a worthwhile story mode - it also provides even more meaningful content in that regard via "Towers" and "Invasions." Towers provides your standard Arcade Mode setup as you can tackle ascending pillar challenges with either a set number of opponents, an endless lineup of challengers until you lose, or a survival run-through that tasks you with beating as many "Kombatants" as possible without regaining any health. Those options provide a fun diversion for players who just want to unlock character endings or want to challenge themselves in the face of overwhelming odds.

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Warner Bros. Games

Invasions is the one single-player mode I poured the most hours into and honestly had the most fun with. Putting this Mortal Kombat 1 review together saw me constantly return to Invasions since it does a great job of allowing players to master their favorite character while simultaneously unlocking all manner of gear, palettes, and taunts for every member of the game's roster. It feels good to just hop into MK1 when I'm not in the mood to hop online and just revert to Invasions to try my hand at getting the game's best items without having to pay for them with real money. The added elements of "Talismans" that grant special abilities, "Relics" that provide passive stat boosts, diverging paths on each map, and awesome surprises gave me ample reasons to return to Invasions time and time again.

Since fighting games have finally begun relying on rollback netcode for the current timeline and foreseeable future, it came as no surprise to me that MK1 also taps into the style of online play for its ranked and casual match options. For the most part, my online sessions ran smoothly and without anything in the way of disrupting lag. However, I ran into an occasional match here and there that felt like I was trudging through quicksand. Plus I'd encounter audio drops where the brutal sound effects associated with my successful blows registered nothing but silence. I guess the damn near flawless online connectivity of Guilty Gear Strive and SF6's rollback netcode has made me look at competing genre heavyweights' online capabilities more closely and judge them more harshly. MK1's online is good, but could definitely be a bit better.

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