Mortal Kombat 1 Review: A Flawless Victory for NetherRealm

The time is finally here for Kombatants to celebrate the rebirth of an iconic series.

Screenshot by Gamepur

It’s a great day when a new entry in the most iconic fighting franchises draws out the “Mortal Kombat” warcry from its fans. There’s little that compares to yelling this famous line in your living room while throwing fireballs at your opponent and poking out the eyes of giant demons as they cry out in agony. Okay, that last point was a bit much, but I’m sure you get the idea that there’s no game on the planet that delivers satisfying visceral combat like NetherRealm Studios’ hit flagship fighting series.

They’ve been perfecting the series for decades, and after playing their latest effort in Mortal Kombat 1, they finally found the working formula for the future. Unfortunately, this comes after the series struggled to find its footing in the new era that came after the SNES and Sega Genesis. At that time, the industry started to shift towards 3D graphics, and Mortal Kombat, being a 2D series, wanted to keep up with the trends being set around them.

For a while, the main numbered releases and some of the spinoffs took the series in all kinds of directions, including titles like Mortal Kombat: Special Forces and Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks, where they completely abandoned the fighting genre and tried to expand to a beat-em-up audience.

Oddly, it wasn’t until the release of Injustice that NetherRealm Studios found a formula that worked for them while keeping the series’ identity intact. For those unfamiliar with the Injustice series, it’s a DC Comics spinoff featuring its superheroes in a Mortal Kombat-esque 2D fighting game. It wasn’t nearly as bloody, of course, but a lot of the principles of the game would carry over to future development up to and including Mortal Kombat 1. I mention this because Mortal Kombat 1 is something of a byproduct of this system, and this is definitely the new mandate of the series.

Key Details

  • Developer: NetherRealm Studios
  • Platforms: PC, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5
  • Release Date: September 14, 2023
  • Multiplayer: Yes (Local and Online Multiplayer Gameplay)
  • Price: $69.99, $109.99 (Premium Edition)

The Gameplay Gets A Fatality!

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Mortal Kombat 1 gameplay is terrific, and everything works beautifully. Combos are quick and flow together so satisfyingly that it’s hard to believe they aren’t being motion-captured in real time. NetherRealm has always been impressive in delivering satisfying gameplay, and the number of unique fighting styles from the Deadly Alliance Era a few generations ago has cemented them as arguably the best combat designers in the genre.

The gruesome and exciting Fatalities in Mortal Kombat 1 are everything a Mortal Kombat fan could hope for. It must be challenging for NetherRealm to devise creative ways to disarm and dismember someone, but since this is a fictional setting with magic and outlandish weaponry, there aren’t too many ways to go off-limits.

All the classics, from Sub-Zero’s ice-based pokes to Liu Kang’s Bruce Lee impressions, are still here, but with a fresh spin that mirrors the new characteristics that they’ve taken on in this new era. The support characters, Kameo’s in this case, are involved in all of the Fatal Blows, which are mini-fatalities in this instance, so that means that the team had to come up with even more creative methods of punishment.

Screenshot by Gamepur

When getting players ready to compete, Mortal Kombat 1 does a great job teaching players the basics of what to look for when competing against high-level competition. The tutorial goes the extra mile in explaining frame data, timing, and defensive techniques — the three things that are mandatory to know at that level.

The glaring omission of tagging combos for the main screen is really unfortunate. For everyone else, there’s a mandatory tutorial when you boot up the game that goes over the barebone mechanics that’ll get you through the story mode and early invasions. Overall, it’s excellent stuff from the development team and much appreciated as a fighting game fan interested in improving.

Do The Single-player Modes Live Up To The Hype?

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Throughout Mortal Kombat 1’s promotional material, we were treated to sneak peeks of both Story Mode and Invasions Mode, and to sum up, both lived up to the hype well. The story mode is simultaneously lengthy, well-acted, well-directed, and just plain fun. To avoid any spoilers, the story may go down a path you would expect if you played the previous Mortal Kombat games, but how they handled it was so comical that it’s hard to be disappointed with the choice.

In Story Mode, there are points where you are forced to participate in the iconic Test Your Might challenges, but none were challenging, and they were so few and far between that it never got annoying or gratuitous.

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The second, more anticipated addition, Invasion Mode, is perfect for players looking for reasons to grind experience points and solve unique challenges. It’s also suitable for earning currency that you can use to unlock cool stuff, including skins, banners, and relics. The initial tutorial area is well done and covers the basics of what you will see in the other stages, including modifiers, minigames, and key-locked rooms. It even has its own unique plot featuring a familiar face, so it’s completely worth doing if you just want some more story after finishing the main course.

Screenshot by Gamepur

The Klassic Towers make a return, with a choice of up to five representing the various difficulty modes. They get longer and harder with each rung, and the additional Kameo partners work for your opponents just as well as they do for you. Once you complete a tower, your chosen fighter will get a classic ending cutscene that tells a (perhaps) alternate story of the new timeline plot. In some, you may even see some cool cameos of characters you thought were missing.

Mortal Kombat 1 online portion is the weak spot in an otherwise great package. When we received our review code, the servers were, to say the least, shaky. I had a hard time loading into a match, and many times, the game completely crashed on the desktop after selecting my character and choosing a Kameo partner. When I finally got in, I was met with a pretty smooth net code, and the games I participated in were lag-free and responsive despite getting my backside kicked by more experienced players.

So What About The Monetization?

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Monetization was a nonfactor in my experience. The gambling is there, but I never really felt the need to take advantage of it. There’s stuff like gear, costumes, and even easy fatality tokens, but hardcore gamers will ignore most of these as they really do nothing for the gameplay. I do wish that the costumes were all earnable in-game instead of splitting them between the shops and the shrine system, where you can donate 1000 koins that you earn by playing any of the game modes.

The Verdict

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I’m amazed at the progress in overall design at NetherRealm Studios. They’ve nailed the gameplay, which is the biggest component for succeeding in this genre where the average gamer just wants to jump in and play a couple matched with their buddies. The variety of modes lends itself to the fun; by giving more ways to play, you enjoy movies. Play the story mode; it’s amazing! The invasion mode will be right up your alley! Do you want to be the next EVO champ like SonicFox? The training mode is a big step for you to overcome, but if you do, you’ll be well on your way.

The graphics are pretty spectacular on every console (except the Switch), and the framerate holds up pretty well, even during the action. The only downside Mortal Kombat offers is the servers for online play, and even that’s improved a bit since the official launch. Every fan of Mortal Kombat owes it to themselves to check out this game. If you weren’t a fan of the previous games for any reason, Mortal Kombat 1 changes enough to give it another look.

Final Score:

9 / 10

+Amazing gameplay that’s great for fans who enjoy the genre along with newcomers.
+The story is engaging and well-acted; just ignore the vampire.
+There are plenty of modes to enjoy, with each one having tons of content.
The server connection was a bit shotty at first and tends to crash a lot.
There’s a currency that’s purchasable with real money that can be used for outfits that probably should’ve been in the game.