Sometimes it feels as if Mortal Kombat has been rebooted just as many times as Neon Genesis Evangelion, but each reboot comes with a wave of praise as it rejuvenates the series. This largely has to do with giving the lore a fresh start, allowing the characters to feel new again, but more than story and presentation, it’s mostly about fine-tuning the gameplay experience for all players.
This entry in the gory fighting franchise isn’t just any ordinary reboot set in an alternate timeline: this right here is a complete and total reset. Being the reboot of all reboots, the game is titled Mortal Kombat 1, nearly three decades after the launch of the original Mortal Kombat.
The universe has been reborn thanks to Liu Kang, the Fire God himself. It’s often said that the more things change, the more they stay the same, but believe it or not, Sub-Zero and Scorpion are actually pals in this universe. In fact, they are straight-up blood brothers.
The closed beta served as a network stress test, allowing for basic online matchmaking as well as an abstract of the game’s arcade tower mode. The main playable roster in this build included Sub-Zero, Kenshi, Kitana, and Liu Kang. Then there was a separate roster of Kameo characters, which included Kano, Sonya Blade, and Jax. The latter is a noteworthy addition, as they add a new layer to the combat system.
The character selection puts focused more on nostalgia, but even these familiar faces have something new to offer thanks to nuanced enhancements to their tried and tested move sets. Some transformations are more dramatic, as being a demigod has given Liu Kang a new set of supernatural special moves, but his educated feet still form the basis of his core fighting style, just like they did back in 1992.
Similar to the striker characters found in The King of Fighters, Kameo characters are summoned by the main character to provide various assists. These can be in the form of a special attack, a combo extension, or performing critical tag team specials where both characters hit their signature moves to bone-crushing effect. It’s an inclusion that is simple to execute but adds so much more to the core fighting gameplay.
The combat itself builds upon the solid foundations set in Mortal Kombat X that were then later refined in Mortal Kombat 11. In Mortal Kombat 1, the combination attacks follow precise animation frames, with special moves blending and integrating seamlessly into the combo system to allow for extended chains and air juggles.
The several nuanced improvements add up to a significant polish in how the game feels, and the aforementioned Kameo attacks add further possibilities. The game feels sublime and amazing to play, and there is no question that it is being fine-tuned and balanced for serious competitive play.
Fatalities still offer the post-match spectacle, and yet there’s just something more satisfying about bringing a fight to a sudden end by executing a perfectly timed Brutality. In short, the game sticks to tradition whilst still evolving to create meaningful gameplay substance.
Although the series had been experimenting with brighter color schemes and daytime stages over the years, things have never looked brighter or more vibrant than they do here. Whether it’s the character designs, the stage backgrounds, or even the extensive lighting, this is a surprisingly colorful and vibrant game to look at.
In a way, it enhances all the blood and gore due to the jarring juxtaposition of it all. While the visuals may lack artistic flair compared to other fighting games, the attention to detail is present, and on newer hardware, the sheer power of the graphics engine simply shines.
The network performance holds up nicely, but it was also nice to have an arcade mode available in the beta build, just in case. The game has been in development for nearly four years, and so even this early build shows a great deal of polish and completeness in its gameplay design and presentation.
It may be a busy landscape for fighting games, but Mortal Kombat 1 is absolutely welcome and needed. It brings its own unique brand of fighting, this time enhanced by a major reboot in both lore and presentation, as well as new gameplay systems to freshen up an already refined fighting system. Mortal Kombat 1 launches for all major gaming platforms in September 2023.
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