Kano firing a laser from his eye at Liu Kang
Image via Warner Bros. Games

Review: Mortal Kombat 1 Encourages Staggering Levels of Fighting Creativity

Mortal Kombat 1 revels in combos and complex beatdowns. Its character movesets have been lovingly curated to give you fantastic strings of attacks that will keep opponents reeling. Adding the Kameo System only makes those combo possibilities even more absurd, giving you many different tools to keep opponents flying through the air or to let you sneak in to get your strikes started. Combining all this with the best-looking fighter on the market, a wealth of content to unlock, and some playful modes easily makes this my favorite Mortal Kombat in years.

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The story of Mortal Kombat 1 follows Liu Kang after he uses the Hourglass he won at the end of Mortal Kombat 11 to make everything a bit more peaceful. Things naturally don’t stay that way, leading you back into battle with our familiar gang of Ninjas and monstrosities. Not that you’ll mind, as it’s a fine excuse to throw down with the game’s combo-centric movesets. The game feels like its speed has been amped up since the previous title, with a greater focus being put on how fast you can execute an attack against your foes while sustaining punishment against them.

While I am still working on getting my timing down on combos, so many of the game’s moves launch or link into one another in neat ways. Mortal Kombat 1 feels like the game is naturally coaxing you into thinking about what you can do next with each of its attacks. When Scorpion teleports across the room and slaps someone in the face, what’s your follow-up? If you boot someone into the air, what can you do next? While I know this thinking is common in every fighter, Mortal Kombat 1‘s quick combat really encourages you to launch into a follow-up attack as often as possible. I always felt compelled to see what I could do next since things happen so fast, and foes are often reeling or flipping through the air.

Sub-Zero kicks Liu Kang in the face.
Image via Warner Bros. Games

Getting combo timing down takes some practice, though. Coming from Street Fighter 6, Mortal Kombat 1‘s combat can sometimes feel like attacks need to be executed together more quickly if you want to pull off a combination back-to-back. It’s a different kind of timing that makes me feel like my hands need to move a bit faster when compared to Street Fighter 6, so it’s been a bit of a learning curve. Thankfully, Mortal Kombat 1’s combo training mode offers a variety of move suggestions to try and features timed button inputs on the screen so you know when to press them at the correct time. These visual inputs are a great teaching tool and have been a huge help.

Still, maybe you have some difficulties getting past your opponent’s fireballs to get your combo started. Maybe your combos are too short, and you’d like to extend them a bit. Or maybe you’re a bit sick of getting smacked around as soon as you get up from a fall. For help with any of those, you’ll want to make use of Mortal Kombat 1’s Kameo system. With it, you can grab an assist character who can do an array of different moves that can help with your own deficiencies or give you a boost to lengthening your combos.

In Mortal Kombat 1, a Kameo is an assist character that you can call in to do an array of different things. With the press of a button, you can quickly tell them what to do when they arrive in your battle. This can include actions such as having them show up to fling a fireball or smack an opponent with a devastating overhead strike. If your character doesn’t have a ranged attack, a Kameo will now allow you to counter a fireball-hurling opponent. Then again, you could also just call in Sub-Zero and have him cover you in ice armor to absorb the firey projectiles.

Kitana and Mileena square off against one another
Image via Warner Bros. Games

Mortal Kombat 1 is filled with creative Kameo moves that let you counter foes in interesting ways. If you find yourself in a spot of trouble and need to pull yourself out, you can literally call in Scorpion and use his spear to yank you back. Or maybe you just want to stir up some trouble and have Jax do an unblockable ground pound that punishes your opponent for not jumping. Maybe your foe is on top of you, and you want to call in Frost to push them back with a barrage of icy fist strikes. The Kameo system offers so many unique solutions.

Between the Kameos and the robust move sets, you’re going to see a ton of creativity in what is possible in this game. Players can essentially add several extra moves to their characters just by using Kameos. However, you can’t just abuse the assist system, as the Kameo gauge drains whenever you use it. The Kameo gauge regenerates on its own, but it does so at different rates depending on the move. Still, you start the match with a full bar so that you can go wild pretty quickly and can use a handful of these abilities each round. This means that players can create a whole unique game plan based on their character moves and the Kameo abilities they add to it. There’s going to be many surprises in your matches as you get to know this game.

With so much to do, you’re going to want to have some solid online play to test it out. Mortal Kombat 1 ran super smooth during my trial periods in online matches and was filled with fun surprises. You can play ranked of Kasual, with Ranked offering you points as you win matches that will steadily raise you through several levels. I seemed to be steadily gaining points even when I lost matches, but not as many.

Mortal Kombat 1 - Smoke and Cyrax stand ready to fight. A buzz saw is emerging from Cyrax's chest.
Image via Warner Bros. Games

You gain a lot of different kinds of points, currencies, and experience points for doing most anything in the game, too. For starters, you have player, character, and Kameo levels as you play the various match and game types. As you level your player, you gain access to profile backgrounds and little goodies (up to unlocking new Kameo characters). For the characters themselves, you unlock skins, color schemes, and even Fatalities for them to use (although you can look these up online for free and use them even if they aren’t unlocked). You get the same for Kameos.

There is a lot of free stuff you can unlock while playing Mortal Kombat 1. That’s something I really enjoyed about it, as much of this is stuff I would expect to pay for in most games these days. There are some genuinely cool new costumes and colors you can get from just playing as a character or Kameo (you get points for whoever you are actively using). You feel like you’re rewarded just for playing the game instead of always spending money on it. There are some premium costumes and accessories, but if you don’t want to spend anything, there’s still a lot you can unlock.

If online play isn’t your thing, you can still gain a great deal of player and character experience points in single-player modes. You have the usual Towers where you fight 6, 8, or 10 battles against an array of opponents. You also have Endless mode (beat as many as you can without losing) and Survival (beat as many as you can without health top-ups). More fun than those Invasions, which plays more like a board game where you kill people.

Mortal Kombat 1 - Kenshi summons a phantom warrior that slashes Kitana with a sword.
Image via Warner Bros. Games

Invasions puts you on a top-down map in a variety of Mortal Kombat 1 locales. Here, you can walk to various nodes and do single-round fights with various characters. Most of them aren’t too difficult as you only have to win one time, but you can also purchase items (with in-game, in-mode currency) to make combat easier. You also gain levels that let you affect your stats in this mode, so you can crank your damage to rip through foes or give yourself more health to take more hits. The AI isn’t too bright, so cranking your damage is a great investment.

This mode is not just straight fights, either. You’ll have different hazards or effects in some of the rounds to keep things interesting. Having fire-breathing creatures flying around gives you something else to watch out for, but also gives you new opportunities if you time your uppercuts just right. It’s a lot of fun to mess around with, and is also a good, easy source of character and player experience if you want to get some unlocks fast. You can also do fights over and over again, so if one seems particularly valuable and easy, you can do it repeatedly. Be sure to end with a Fatality for a lot of bonus experience!

There is, of course, a Story Mode as well. In it, you’ll play through the events of a complex story involving much of the game’s cast. The story itself isn’t great, but getting a bit of experience with each character felt more valuable than playing World Tour mode in Street Fighter 6 as you got experience with characters and not just with various moves. It’s not terribly friendly to new players (you’ll want to immediately open your character’s move list each round, or to have practiced in advance in the training modes), but it’s fun to connect to the characters throughout the extensive tale.

Mortal Kombat 1 - Liu Kang smiles with Sub-Zero and Scorpion standing at either side.
Image via Warner Bros. Games

It was nice to have a long story mode to go though, as Mortal Kombat 1 is downright gorgeous and the customizable difficulty of Story Mode makes it easier to enjoy the view. The characters and locations are covered with striking details and color, making the game a treat to look at. I had been previously impressed looking at Street Fighter 6, but Mortal Kombat 1 really shows off what next-gen consoles are capable of. There’s so much activity in the backgrounds of the levels and so much to see in the bright fields that I really enjoyed taking in some new detail each time I played a match.

The moves look really great as well. Sub-Zero’s icy powers are wonderful to behold, leaving characters covered in icicles. Li Mei’s lanterns give off a striking purple light as they drift through the air, ready to explode on your head. Liu Kang’s feet alternate between blue and orange fire as he spin kicks you multiple times. Scorpion calls up whirling flames around you. It’s nice to watch all of the moves in action with their vibrant uses of color, light, and detail. It feels better when your move is hitting someone else, sure, but they all look fantastic in action.

With that attention to detail comes some more gory Fatalities. Mortal Kombat 1 continues the proud, gross tradition of killing people in nasty ways, and with higher graphical fidelity comes further leaning into gross-out territory. Watching Mileena eat a brain is pretty stomach-churning on next-gen consoles, I’ll admit. However, seeing Scorpion boot someone’s skeleton out of their body is both funny and gross (just far less so). There’s a great array of creative ways to kill your enemies, and with each character having several Fatalities and Brutalities that all look great, you can choose one that feels right to you. Still, if you get a bit queasy at some of these, I don’t blame you. Still, it’s a Mortal Kombat game, so I doubt you’ll be surprised to know you can die horribly in this game.

Mortal Kombat 1- Kitana cuts Liu Kang with a bladed fan
Image via Warner Bros. Games

The closest thing I have to a sticking point with this game is the return of Fatal Blows. These are those X-Ray attacks that you can use in a match to deal a ton of damage to your opponent in long-drawn out, slow-motion x-ray views of the bones and body parts you’re tearing up. You can access them when you’re low on health, and given the absurd damage most of them deal, you can turn a match around fast. However, both you and your Kameo will do a bone-breaking attack when these are used. With two people doing these ruthless strikes, the moves just take ages to finish. You’re going to want to block these at all costs just because they take so long to wrap up. I like the comeback mechanic as it adds a ton of tension AND most players can access them easily if their timing is good. They just take so long to watch that I felt disengaged from the match and would have to get my mind back into it afterwards.

Mortal Kombat 1 looks incredible, has several fun play types depending on what you want to do, constantly rewards you for the time you spend on it, and offers so much customization to the combat through the Kameo system. While I might gripe about sitting through a Fatal Blow, I spend far more time just taking in the near-infinite possibilities that come from each character and Kameo combination. I feel like the ideas that come out of these systems are going to keep this game exciting for some time, and have made something that will be extremely rewarding for players to experiment with.

Fighting game fans are doing extremely well in 2023.

Mortal Kombat 1 is available now on the Nintendo Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.

Mortal Kombat 1

Discover a reborn Mortal Kombat Universe created by the Fire God Liu Kang. Mortal Kombat 1 ushers in a new era of the iconic franchise with a new fighting system, game modes, and fatalities! PS5 version reviewed.

Mortal Kombat 1 looks incredible, has several fun play types depending on what you want to do, constantly rewards you for the time you spend on it, and offers so much customization to the combat through the Kameo system.

Food for Thought
  • The Kameos seriously let you customize your fight style so much and in so many wild ways.
  • Kameo Sub-Zero's projectile armor is a delightful middle finger to fireball spammers and I love it.
  • There is so much content, from costumes to characters, you can just unlock by playing. You feel rewarded no matter what you do in the game.

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Joel Couture
Joel is a contributor who has been covering games for Siliconera, Game Developer, IndieGamesPlus, IndieGames.com, Warp Door, and more over the years, and has written book-length studies on Undertale, P.T., Friday the 13th, and Kirby's Dream Land.