REVIEW: Mortal Kombat 1 – After Beating Story Mode and Playing All Modes (No story spoilers)

By Todd Russell Sep19,2023

Mortal Kombat 1, really Mortal Kombat is the 16th installment, launched for preorders ($109.99 USD) on Thursday and today, Tuesday 9/19/2023, launches for the rest of the world. The retail price is the “newer” $69.99 price point, which has drawn fire from some from the previous $59.99 price point. Personally, this author is surprised AAA game prices weren’t raised higher sooner, as the previous standard AAA rate of $59.99 had been around a long time. Nintendo is, unsurprisingly, doing their own thing and will release the new Super Mario Bros. Wonder next month for $59.99. But let’s leave the red plumber and delve into the bloody red world of new Mortal Kombat ….

After spending 20+ hours playing the preorder of Mortal Kombat on a PC with 40-series card at Ultra 4K, including beating the story mode (which takes around 8 hours), what follows are my detailed thoughts on the game. I will try to avoid story spoilers, but if you only want to know whether or not I’m recommending it to others, I’ll start with that.

An abbrievated (lol) version of this review will appear on Steam and be linked here for the longer version. UPDATE: adding it verbatim here, since I can’t add to Steam quite yet at launch, and felt it compliments the review here:

As a huge fan of the arcade Mortal Kombat, the first three are epic fighting gams, I sort of lost track of the franchise after the 90s, returning time and again and not feeling that magic. I came back for Mortal Kombat 11 and enjoyed that one on the Nintendo Switch and now comes this follow-up in 2023. I preordered, excited for the first time in many years for a new Mortal Kombat. It’s hard to describe that feeling one gets when they see an old gaming friend. Those reading that played MK1, then were excited for MK2 and then perhaps even more for MK3 … wow, it’s been almost 30 years for that feeling.

That is what Mortal Kombat 1 (2023), this “new” game captures somewhat. More than MK11 because the combat is more fluid mixed with the story. One of the issues others have complained about with other games are cut scenes, because they disrupt the flow. In this game, you will be watching a story mode in high resolution, if you’re fortunate enough to have a higher end PC and then seamlessly it morphs into a battle. This is something we could only dream about in the 90s and blends the past, the foundation, with the modern. It is masterful and helps cement the gaming experience.

Will admit I was nervous paying for the preorder that it might underwhelm me, but I happily played all 5 days of that early access, beat the story mode which took like 8 hours and excitedly shared this with our gaming group, Play Games More, through live streams in Ultra 4K. I even streamed from my local network to my Steam Deck and enjoyed playing there, though admittedly not as much as on the 55″ OLED 4k screen. System specs will definitely vary your graphic experience as I tried this on a top end Alienware with 40-series card and my lower spec gaming HP with 1650 Super and feel like the former was overkill but was underpowered on the latter. Probably something in the middle of these specs would be fine. I don’t know about the minimum specs being as good an experience, however.

The fighting is fluid, but not as fast as Mortal Kombat X. It’s perhaps more simplified and back to roots, but for those that want to go after the advanced combos, they’re there and just as memory intensive to pull off. A bread and butter block, punch, kick strategy will beat the story mode, so for beginner to intermediate players, you can hang with this game. Online matchmaking, what little I tried, seemed solid as well, matching me against opponents I felt could be beaten with my skill set (but I didn’t beat any of the few I played against).

Something you’ll see a ton of in this game are tower battles. I welcome these, as this so central to MK. There might, however, be a bit of over-reliance on towers as there is a dedicated towers mode to unlock character endings, towers inside individual invasion areas and a complete area of towers with hourly, daily and weekly tower challenges. If you don’t like towers, you won’t like MK 1 (2023).

One significant criticism is the somewhat grindy nature of the new board game-like Invasions. There are 8 unlockable worlds where you must fight your way through to the next portal. At first this is exciting, but loses its luster after many, many, many dozens of fights and begins to feel a little too repetitive. There are might challenges, but it would have been cooler to see more variation of these minigames, as there are only a small few of them. One positive thing is NetherRealm has promised these Invasions would reset every six weeks and have new content, enemies and goals added and — bonus! they are saying there will be no additional charge for these updates. I did like the inclusion of additional fight to the top tower-related fights within Invasions.

As for unlockables, there are a ton. This is how you unlock skins/palettes, brutalities, additional fatalities, talismen and relics to power up your character and more. Did I mention that each character can have a maximum mastery level of 35 and each Kameo (your partner in the fight) has a lower max level. Speaking of these kameos? I’m sort of mixed on their inclusion. In some ways I wish it was co-op so a friend could be swapped instead — or another characte that you could play through with full health — and the Kameo isn’t able to fully swap in, which would have made them better. Maybe in the future co-op fighting will be added, making it so these Kameos aren’t sort of just there for extra damage at the end of a combo.

The character roster of 24 fighters is more than the original games, but is small and somewhat incomplete at launch compared to MK11. Likely with future DLC and packs this will become more fleshed out and there will be more characters. Don’t get me wrong, 24 is enough for now and it doesn’t *need* to be one of those fighters that launches with like 50+ fighters, but as a modern title it feels a bit thin.

In summary, I’m recommending this reboot of Mortal Kombat 1. It feels fresh enough and yet pays plenty of homage to the original trilogy. Honestly, this feels more like the MK4 I wanted instead of the one that sort of had me drifting away from the series. A good sequel can bring you back to a franchise and if it’s really good, like this fighter, it can even re-ignite your feelings about playing more games in the genre.

(when Steam lets me post the above review after the official release this morning, it will be submitted)

So, before continuing with my second TL;DR version, so you know whether or not it’s recommended: yes. Here’s the official launch trailer, for those that haven’t seen yet:

First, a little Mortal Kombat history. As far as more recent releases go, I enjoyed playing MK11 — vast majority on the Nintendo Switch (lol, even bought a special Hori Fighting Stick to play) — and bought the extra characters like Rambo and Robocop, which really brought me back into the world of Mortal Kombat, because I’d been away from the franchise for some time.

My first and probably always love for the franchise are the first three Mortal Kombat arcade machines (numbered accordingly). Played the heck out of the first three arcade titles both at the arcade and on various console systems. Wasn’t a big fan of MK4 and then kind of drifted away with titles since then between there and MK11. I just bought MK10 on Steam and feel like I might have missed out on that one. MK11 didn’t really have me going back to the titles between MK4 and MK10, but part of me now after playing this new Mortal Kombat 1 makes me want to go back and either visit or revisit them to see if there are others I might enjoy.

One of the neat things about the original Mortal Kombat (1992) arcade was the way it borrowed from Bruce Lee’s Game of Death movie for the rising tower levels. You would face increasingly more difficult opponents to reach the top level of the tower. Take a look at the original Mortal Kombat arcad in 1992 – playable on Antstream Arcade — compared to the 2023 Mortal Kombat 1 towers below.

(source: Mitsuownes – The Evolution of Mortal Kombat Towers – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbFWDfm-5qI)

The towers in MK1 (2023) play a significant role in multiple modes: Invasion, which is a board-like game where you work your way around through 8 different areas, disguised by question marks except for the first one, but fairly quickly three areas unlock, one of which is in the middle and offers multipl tower challenges: hourly reset towers, daily towers and weekly towers, all awarding different unlockables and coins. There are also tower levels inside each area and an entire mode called Towers where you have several different towers you can unlock character endings in.

The Invasions game, which is linked to Seasons and will last for six weeks then reset completely offering different challenges, is fun at first but becomes grindy.

Personally, I liked how much towers were used, but some might criticize using them too much in this game. As for Invasions and the changing seasons every six weeks, this idea will keep the game fresh and NeverRealm Studios made a video saying they would not charge for these seasons, they would be free reset/updates every six weeks. That is cool and will add to the replayability, but I hope future seasons offer more variety, because after playing through Invasions for 10+ hours, I felt like it was becoming repetitive. The end fights for new portals are the most difficult and you will want to use your talismans and relic boosts to help get through these. Also, another tip: when you get too many items, you either have to drop them or sell them. I should have visited the shop and sold down the lower level ones, because several times I had to discard and lost out on coins from this, my bad.

As for unlockables, there is a ton in this game. Everything from skins to brutalities and additional fatalites, coins and more that can be unlocked. After 25 hours and beating the story mode (again, that took me like 8 hours of gameplay) and most of the rest playing Invasions and a little bit of Towers modes, I still had less than 10% of all “kollectibles” unlocked. Yes, a ton.

Speaking of coins. There are Krystal Koins that cost real $$$. Those that bought the preorder received 1,250 of these. These can be used to buy cosmetic stuff and for 100 of these coins unlock one use of an “easy fatality” which is holding the right trigger and pressing A versus pulling off the multiple button and joystick moves within a brief, but reasonable, amount of time when the screen displays “FINISH HIM!” You can practice the fatalities for all unlocked characters in the tutorial area.

Speaking of the tutorial area, this has multiple modes as well to train on the basic moves and different character fatality moves. You can also pause the game right at the “FINISH HIM” screen and look up the fatality move at that second in time. Memorizing Johnny Cage with Van Damme skin was pretty easy … facing right: right, left, down and Y button. If he’s facing left, then it’s left, right, down and Y. Then Johnny/Van Damme crushes the opponents face into the concrete and takes a selfie afterwards commerating the moment (complete with different facial expressions – and your cameo cheesing for the cam). The fatalities and brutalities are all done really well and after seeing them many, many times, I didn’t tire of them. Wish there were a few more per character, though. Maybe unlockable to 3-5 per character would have been cool. Maybe in a future DLC more will be added? Alas, with the 24 playable characters and a couple each on average, you’ll have plenty of brutal fatality action to explore.

Onto the fighting part. Having not played Mortal Kombat XL until recently, I’d say the fighting speed is faster in XL, but about the same speed as MK 11. Moves are fluid in 4K Ultra but performance on my lower end HP with 1650 was understandably hampered, both graphically and play-wise. Everything performed amazing with the Alienware Aurora R15 and a 4080 card and Sony 55″ Ultra 4K OLED screen. So, performance and play is going to vary on what specs you have, as with any more demanding graphical game. I think something in the middle of my two systems would probably be fine, but PC gamers with specs towards the minimum recommended specs might not have as enjoyable time graphically and play-wise. Pulling off moves was smooth and easy to do with mistakes being mine, not some fail in the game. Overall, very happy with the controls.

Difficulty bordered on easier than challenging, so more experienced fighting fans might take issue with this. I didn’t lose too many matches with my intermediate skill level. I like being able to pull off moves and am not super skilled and pulling off massive combo chains. These advanced combos do exist and you can play around with them and see how successful they will be if/when you can pull them off. I’m not a button mashing fighing fan, but more bread and butter player, opting for basic moves, sweeps, kicks, punches, and a small number of special moves. This puts me in the crosshairs of more experienced fighting fans online, and therefore I didn’t play much online mode during my five day preorder period.

The online matchmaking, what little I experienced, seemed fair. Despite me losing the few matches I tried, there was a sense I could beat my opponent had I been more skilled. Appreciate that. Interestingly enough, you rack up wins and losses by overall opponents, not matches within each opponent fight. So, if I played against you and you beat me 3 times in one match session between us, it would only count as 1 loss for me. Kinda liked that, so one could play a bunch of matches improving their skill, but only be penalized once. Or so I think that’s how it worked. Again, didn’t explore too much of this mode as of this writing. Correct me in the comments if you know more about this mode.

Good games in a specific genre like fighting have this way of making me more interested in playing this genre more. Mortal Kombat 1 (2023) did precisely that. I went back and played Mortal Kombat XL for the first time and have begun exploring, plus bought MK11 for the PC — second platform –have played a bit of that. My game time on the Nintendo Switch for MK11 is much more, but as I played a little on the PC was quickly reminded of the experience. Overall, I’m very pleased with Mortal Kombat 1 (2023) and it’s a solid recommended buy from me. I don’t buy that many AAA games, especially at the new $69.99 price … can count them on one hand within the last year or so and rarely buy preorders. Like rarely as in almost never. Do feel like this one was a good purchase and hoping I’ll spend another 75 or so hours with it over time and that will get the time in to say it was “worth it.” Asking me 25 playtime hours in at the time of this review, yes, it’s worth it so far.

I feel like NetherRealm will continue to add to this, add more characters, perhaps some additional DLC and hopefully do more with Invasions mode. The story mode is already one of the best parts, so tackle that and enjoy. Mortal Kombat is back and in strong fighting form. Now, GET OVER HERE.

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