I’m not a fighting game expert. I can remember a couple of combos and special moves for my favorite characters, but that’s about as far as I get when it comes to games like Tekken, Street Fighter, and Soul Calibur. However, one series, Mortal Kombat, holds my attention more than any other because it has always felt like the perfect game for fighting game pros and scrubs alike.
So, when I talk about Mortal Kombat 1, keep that in mind. I don’t play these games to dominate in tournaments or learn all the various unblockable combos or whatever. I’m here to rip ninjas apart with lighting and kill giant lizardmen with cool swords. And I can thankfully report that Mortal Kombat 1 lets you do all that, and much more besides.
Wait, Mortal Kombat…1?
If you skipped the last game, Mortal Kombat 11, you might be a bit confused about this one’s name. Why is this, the 12th main entry in the franchise, named Mortal Kombat 1? Well, because the whole timeline from the last few games was reset by MK mainstay Liu Kang, who’s now a demigod. And when he reset everything, he got a chance to reshape the entire Mortal Kombat universe. His plan was to make sure evil people like Shang Tsung were nobodies who would never become powerful and screw things up. But, well, you can probably guess how well that plan worked out.
The main single-player campaign of MK1 is part reboot and part weird sequel, as some characters learn about the past timelines and others are left in the dark, nonetheless recreating their previous origins, though often slightly differently than before.
For the most part, until the end chapters at least, this timeline wackiness works, and longtime MK fans will get a kick out of seeing classic characters in new roles or relationships. And newcomers will likely just enjoy the zany comic book-like madness as they meet these new variants of popular characters—like Scorpion, Raiden, and Shao Khan—and then watch them punch, kick, and stab each other for a few hours.
Once you wrap up the campaign and its bonkers last chapter, you can explore what else Mortal Kombat 1 has to offer, such as towers of fighters to defeat, multiplayer matches, and the big star of this entry: Invasion mode.
The bloodiest board game of 2023
Taking a page from the timeline shenanigans found in the main story, Invasion is basically a board game-like RPG starring famous Mortal Kombat fighters and their alt-timeline variants. It’s a surprisingly complex mode that includes loot, side objectives, tons of Easter eggs, elemental combat, crafting, and character upgrades.
The basic setup has you picking a character and Kameo fighter—a new feature in MK1 that lets you bring a support character into fights to aid you in combat—and then exploring various simple maps that are split up into nodes with different paths to unlock and events to complete. Some events are just standard fights against other characters, while others will have you dodging fireballs or mashing buttons to break items.
As I progressed through Invasion mode, the complexity started to build and I was eventually consulting an in-game chart and managing skill points for multiple characters, which isn’t quite as fun as kicking a dude’s face off, but provided a nice change of pace between said face kickings. Plus, there was plenty of fighting to be done between the RPG menus and systems.
I spent about three hours with Invasion and in that time felt like I barely scratched the surface of what this new mode has to offer. There are load of secrets and other goodies to discover while leveling up your favorite fighter.
Even better, MK1 will update Invasion every season with new content and rewards, so I can easily see people sinking a large amount of time into this new mode.
The punches are good and the kicks are great
As cool as Invasion, Kameos, and other new features are, without great combat, all the wacky campaign moments and new modes wouldn’t matter if fighting people wasn’t a blast. All the other extra stuff is fun, but the only reason I’m still playing Mortal Kombat games in 2023 is because they tend to have some of the best, hardest-hitting, most satisfying combat of any fighting franchise. And MK1 is no different.
Again, I can’t tell you about i-frames or anything like that. But once again, Mortal Kombat feels like a joy to play. Uppercutting a fool, hearing a loud meaty thwack, and then watching them go soaring away is still as fun today in MK1 as it was in the ‘90s in…well, not Mortal Kombat 1 but like, the original one. You get what I’m saying.
Developer NetherRealm Studios provides some of the best fighting game action out there. Each punch, kick, slap, stab and grab feels appropriately heavy and dangerous. And the studio really seems to understand that the key to a successful fighting game isn’t just snappy and satisfying combat—which MK1 has in spades—but it also needs to be exciting to watch. Mortal Kombat 1, more so than most other fighters out there, is exactly that.
Mortal Kombat 1 is what I’ll load up when friends or family are over and people, not all of whom are gamers, want to spend some time together playing a game. Some of the best fun I’ve had with video games is from nailing a brutal combo in Mortal Kombat and hearing an entire room of people go “Ohhhh, shit!” as I split some dude’s skull open.
For those worried the kills are gone or less brutal this time around, don’t be. MK1, like past chapters, is filled to the brim with blood, guts, and gore. I’ll admit that sometimes while watching hyperrealistic fighters scream as an aggressor shoves a steel blade down their throat I found myself not enjoying the kills as much as before. But then I’d watch someone’s body get frozen and shattered, leaving their limbs attached to a cartoonish skeleton like oversized flesh gloves and boots, and I’d laugh.
A history of violence
The violence of Mortal Kombat is an integral, iconic part of the series and at this point in time, it feels like the conversation around it has been happening for decades. (Probably because…it has.) So I’m not sure I can add anything new and interesting to the discourse. Instead, I’ll just warn you that Mortal Kombat 1 is very gory and if you aren’t into that kind of thing, I’d recommend skipping this one.
Mortal Kombat 1’s biggest problem—beyond a storyline that feels a tad unfinished by the time the credits roll—is that nothing in the game feels new or innovative. As fun as Invasion is, MK has been doing this kind of “campaign mode/towers/weird SP thing” format for a while now.
Granted, games don’t have to always be innovative to be good. Case in point, Mortal Kombat 1 is really good even though it’s more or less doing the same things the franchise has done for quite a long time now.
You could argue that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Which is fair. But a part of me feels like it’s time for Mortal Kombat to swing for the fences again and try something new. Then again, I’m having so much fun with this entry that I can’t be too upset about getting another serving of what came before.
Ultimately, the way Mortal Kombat 1 blends over-the-top gore, silly storylines, oddball game modes that aren’t just about punching, and tight, precise combat has always attracted me and millions of other players to the series.
This latest entry continues that legacy. Mortal Kombat 1 is truly a fighting game that anyone can enjoy, even if you just button-mash endlessly. And while I wish it did more to reinvent the blood-soaked wheel, MK1 is still a worthwhile package that will please most fighting game fans, pros and casuals alike.