You can be certain that either Scorpion, Sub-Zero, or Liu Kang’s face would be on the rock if there were a Mount Rushmore for video games. Mortal Kombat has been tearing spines and severing heads for more than 30 years, and the most recent installment, Mortal Kombat 1, may be the most significant gameplay change the series has ever seen. With the ability to essentially break the rules of the game by giving characters tools they weren’t intended to have, the new Kameo system offers an unprecedented level of player expression for the series. This creates a fighting system that is incredibly dynamic and allows for some truly insane combos and set ups. Even with those flaws, Mortal Kombat 1 more than lives up to its bloody legacy. Everything built around that system, aside from the predictably excellent story mode, could’ve used a little more polish and refinement.
Mortal Kombat: Overview
If there’s one thing Netherrealm has done well in recent years, it’s how each new Mortal Kombat game released since MK9 has played radically differently from the one before it without losing that distinctive Mortal Kombat feel. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Mortal Kombat 1 makes some significant changes from MK11 that really set it apart, even before we get to the bizarre Kameo system.
First off, it eliminates character variations, wake up attacks, and wake up rolls, and replaces them with a single meter that controls enhanced special moves, breakers, and the ability to now jump cancel out of uppercuts. Additionally, it introduces a new air combo system that allows all characters to deal significantly more damage without using any meter. Finally, it keeps fatal blows but changes their initial invincibility to krushing blows. These are all excellent, clever adjustments that make the action in MK1 feel both familiar and new while resolving some of the issues that the fighting game community had with MK11.
The Kameo system, however, is the most significant new addition. You can now select a second character to use as a fighting assistant for the first time in a Mortal Kombat game. Every time you call in your Kameo, you deplete half of their individual meter, or in some cases, like with Goro’s potent unblockable stomp assist, the entire meter. The fact that every Kameo has at least three assist moves is also fantastic because it gives any character you choose to play a variety of new tools.
Every Kameo has three assist moves, adding many tools
Baraka, who has no overheads or lows in the middle of his combo strings, is my example. That would make him a safe low-block character. Unless… Kameo Scorpion has an overhead move. Now I have another layer to my offense that I can use to open up my opponent. Or I could pick Frost and use her low-hitting freeze attack in neutral to surprise my opponent and start a damaging combo.
Other Kameos can extend combos, convert respectable damage from small hits, and have more specialized uses. You could give your character teleportation, projectile immunity, or a way to quickly retreat to fullscreen. I’m not a fan of assists in fighting games because they usually come with tag systems, but their implementation here is well thought out and improves MK1’s already solid foundation.
Mortal Kombat has always had a unique feel to its gameplay, thanks to the dial-a-combo system, having to hold a button to block, and stiff movement, and the more I play other fighting games, the harder it is to get back to. I adjusted to MK1’s unique 2D fighting style, but it took time. I soon realized Mortal Kombat 1’s combat is better than ever.
Mortal Kombat: It has started
This time around’s story mode marks a genuine new beginning for the series, and that’s exceptionally satisfying. The entire Mortal Kombat history has been rewritten; this isn’t just a timeline reset like Mortal Kombat 9; well-known characters have brand-new appearances, backstories, relationships, and powers. It begins literally eons after Mortal Kombat 11’s events. In which newly minted Fire God Liu Kang used the Hourglass of Time to reshape the universe in his image.
Earthrealm is at peace, Queen Sindel is the just ruler of Outworld. And while the Mortal Kombat competition between realms still exists. It now serves more as a source of pride and honor than as a means of realm invasion. A few very chill and lighthearted opening chapters with the encouraging father Fire God Liu Kang. Supporting his plucky new champions in their first martial arts tournament. Suffice it to say that things get very real very quickly and the stakes get raised in all the usual ways. Eventually, that peace is threatened by outside forces that I won’t get into.
I really enjoyed these fresh takes on traditional combatants
Above all, I enjoyed these fresh takes on well-known kombatants, especially those who have typically played supporting characters. In previous games, Baraka and Reptile, for example, were merely henchmen, but in Mortal Kombat 1. They play major roles and have their own chapters and pivotal plot points. In addition, the writing is chock full of witty in-universe references. Which felt like nice rewards for being a devoted series fan.
Mortal Kombat 1 is no exception to the rule. Netherrealm fighting games are the best at producing story modes that are essentially the video game equivalent of ridiculous popcorn movies. The six hours of the campaign are big, bombastic, well-acted, and ridiculous in all the right ways. But it doesn’t offer any new gameplay innovations. If that sounds familiar because I essentially said the same thing three years ago. In addition, I could have said the same things about Mortal Kombat X, Injustice 2, Injustice 1, Mortal Kombat 9, or Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe if I had reviewed those games. If you enjoyed the Neatherrealm games as much as I did, you’ll likely enjoy this one as well. It seems that the designers of Neatherrealm subscribe to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy.
Although nothing is in dire need of repair, there is undoubtedly room for improvement. That hasn’t yet been taken advantage of. Every chapter simply thrusts you into the role of a different character. Without providing any context for what makes them unique. Such as their combo strings, launchers, or special moves. I had to pick things up on the spot by pulling up the move list. And practicing them string by string. And special move by special move. By the time I had mastered the basics of a character. The chapter was over and I had moved on to the next. When its tutorials are so excellent outside of the story mode. This mode would greatly benefit from optional, brief, developer-led character guides. That can get you up to speed on a character’s fundamentals before spendING the next 30 minutes playing.
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