Mortal Kombat 1 Review – Back to square one.

At NetherRealm Studios, they changed course. No more Mortal Kombat 12, we’re going back to where it all began and simply calling the latest installment Mortal Kombat 1. Appearances are deceiving, because except for a reset of the story, this latest edition brings exactly what we have come to expect from Mortal Kombat.

Mortal Kombat 1 continues the trend that started with Mortal Kombat 9 (also known as Mortal Kombat, just to make things confusing). The mechanics are focused on short combos that invite you to get the enemy in the air, so you can creatively continue another combo from there (juggling). Special moves such as Scorpion’s spear or Sub-Zero’s ice ball are performed with a button combination and can be enhanced by pressing R2 at the same time.

That’s where the novelty begins. Reinforcing attacks uses part of the little gauge at the bottom of your screen (the gauge meter). In previous volumes, you could use a full gauge for a gruesome, cinematic attack – once known as X-ray moves – but in Mortal Kombat 1, this trick has been disconnected. From now on, the new Fatal Blows can be performed as soon as you reach 30 percent of your HP. A simple adjustment, but one that frees up so much space to boost your attacks.

Combos and Breakers

The combat in Mortal Kombat 1 feels a lot smoother than what its predecessor had to offer. Partly by making room for enhanced attacks, which more often than not allow for longer combos instead of just doing more damage, but mostly by making everything just a little faster. Battles are shorter, so the need to break through your enemy’s combos is greater than ever.

Behold the Combo Breaker. A functionality we know from previous volumes, but works slightly differently. If you find yourself in a deadly combo, using a full gauge meter allows you to interrupt the enemy in epic slow-motion. The delay and resulting distance between you and your enemy serves to take away the enemy’s momentum. It’s a hefty investment, but with proper use, this move can mean the difference between winning and losing.

Kameo’s

The aforementioned Breakers are performed by your Kameo fighter. This is much more than what the name suggests: Kameo’s are an important addition to your arsenal to win battles. With the press of the R1 button, your Kameo jumps into the breach during battles to perform a special move, then dives away again. Simple but effective, as each Kameo has its own moveset so you can extend your combos in various ways.

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In a way, Kameo’s are similar to what Variations were in the previous two Mortal Kombat games. With Variations, you modified your primary character’s moveset, effectively having multiple characters in one, whereas now you’re adding to a solid base. The result is that you can put a greater focus on your favorite character. Your choice of Kameo adds some variety without compromising that focus.

They deliver a fine dose of nostalgia by dosing characters like Sonya, Sektor and Scorpion in their original costumes from the very first Mortal Kombat games.

Kameo’s aren’t just functional, by the way. They deliver a fine dose of nostalgia by dosing characters like Sonya, Sektor and Scorpion in their original costume from the very first Mortal Kombat games. Plus, they really are part of the fight: if they get in the way, you can interrupt their attack by literally knocking them out. Details like this liven up the dynamics of the fights, while their impact remains minimal.

From tournament to tournament

With the above, the novelty is gone. If you’ve played Mortal Kombat 9, 10 and 11, then Mortal Kombat 1 feels like a warm bath that starts to feel lukewarm. Fatalities and Brutalities are starting to feel dull – the shock factor has worn off by now – and while existing characters have received a nice lick of paint, this volume introduces no new characters. Granted, the lick of paint for Li Mei and Shao, for example, goes so far as to make them feel practically like new.

The same is not true of Story Mode. Fans of the first hour have enjoyed the many (yet cheesy) lore Mortal Kombat has presented us with since the beginning, from game to movie, and they were rewarded with Mortal Kombat 9’s surprisingly good Story Mode. Since then, developer NetherRealm Studios has increasingly deviated from what makes Mortal Kombat exciting: the battle for the world through a tournament between chosen ones.

Yes, the world is at stake this time too, but little else remains. Instead of epic battles in which Outworld threatens to consume Earthrealm via the Mortal Kombat tournament created by the Elder Gods, we now have to put up with a peaceful Liu Kang as a Fire God who organizes the occasional tournament between the two worlds for honor and prestige. With this, the excitement and necessity that Mortal Kombat once managed to evoke lapses completely and is exchanged with bland jokes and characters who take themselves far too seriously.

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Far from a reboot

Perhaps I expect too much from a game that you end up playing primarily for its great combat. Still, it doesn’t let me off the hook. When you rename a game to “Part 1” and completely reset the story, you come up with something new, right? Instead, NetherRealm plays it safe and leaves you indignant after the six-hour Story Mode. Familiar characters come off with the smallest amount of backstory, such as Reptile being a good guy because “family,” and instead of introducing a new threat we have to make do with recycled storylines from previous editions. Clap on top is a complete lack of a final boss.

But wait, there are bosses! The new Invasions Mode lets you travel from timeline to timeline to fight enemies and receive rewards. Battles are short – just one round – and various modifiers challenge you to play creatively every now and then. An RPG system plays with your stats in the background and encourages you to find equipment, but it’s all incredibly stripped down. It’s nothing more than running from fight to fight. And the aforementioned final boss? That one doesn’t amount to much: one of the existing characters with some modifiers and an awfully gimmicky mini-game.

Time after time, Mortal Kombat seems to want to improve an existing formula only to find out that there is a need for something new. From Story Mode and Invasions to the former Krypt; it has either lost its charm, or it is trying too hard to be something funny. Had there been just a little more focus on a new story or innovative mechanics, Mortal Kombat 1 would have been something great. Now we have to make do with cool graphics and a combat system that improves itself step by step. That’s fine, but it’s far from the reboot it purports to be.

Mortal Kombat 1 does what it does best: flashy combat, excellent mechanics and gory fatalities. So you don’t have to expect anything new here, except for the inventive Kameo’s, though that functionality is mostly an evolution, not an innovation. Online players can feast on familiar characters with a new lick of paint, while single-player fans get the short end of the stick. Story Mode pretends to reinvent itself but simply recycles previous storylines, while Invasions Mode tries in vain to improve upon modes from previous Mortal Kombat games. Although Mortal Kombat 1 plays wonderfully, it is more an evolution of what we already had than an inventive reboot.

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