NetherRealm Studios, the creative force behind Mortal Kombat, is taking a daring leap into the past, embarking on a rewind of the game’s storied history, propelling the 30-year-old franchise back to its origins with Mortal Kombat 1. Scheduled for release on PC, PlayStation, Switch, and Xbox on September 14th, this latest installment pays homage to the series’ visceral roots while delivering the trademark over-the-top, blood-soaked combat that has become synonymous with Mortal Kombat. This time, however, there’s a unique twist: Liu Kang, the franchise’s iconic character, steps up to reset the cosmic clock, allowing beloved fighters to savor lives unburdened by the nightmarish specter of having their guts gruesomely extracted, inch by gruesome inch. Yet, Mortal Kombat 1‘s intentions extend beyond mere reboot; it welcomes players to explore a groundbreaking facet of the classic fighting game – the realm of role-playing.
The privilege of experiencing Mortal Kombat 1 in its reborn form was granted to The Verge, who delved into the minds of the developers, uncovering the game’s fresh narratives, the introduction of new Kameo fighters, and the revelation of “Invasion,” a novel game mode unveiled at Gamescom 2023.
Traditionally confined to one-on-one clashes, Mortal Kombat has been completely transformed by the introduction of the Kameo fighter system. Players are now empowered to assemble a duo of combatants: a principal character shouldering the brunt of battle and a secondary fighter maneuvered by the player, capable of seamless tag-team substitutions, akin to the dynamics of a wrestling tag team match.
My initial impression of the Kameo system likened it to a streamlined rendition of the character-swapping mechanics observed in titles like Marvel vs. Capcom and Dragon Ball FighterZ. Yet, the gameplay itself surprised me, revealing a depth that surpassed my initial perception. The Kameo fighters possess not only the ability to swap in and out, elongating combos, but also serve as defensive allies. For instance, Sub-Zero envelops his partner in a protective ice shield, absorbing damage for a brief interval. Meanwhile, the debut of Motaro as a Kameo fighter introduced an intriguing element; he physically intercepts incoming assaults. Although I was only afforded a brief hands-on encounter, my exposure piqued my curiosity regarding how Mortal Kombat 1 would ingeniously meld each Kameo fighter’s unique attributes into both offense and defense.
My personal inadequacy in capitalizing on the Kameo fighters’ potential aside, Mortal Kombat 1 emanates an air of accessibility, warmly welcoming newcomers. A diverse array of options cater to novices, from simplified inputs streamlining combat mechanics to an assortment of features that smooth the entry for fledgling fighters.
Derek Kirtzic, the lead designer, shed light on the game’s philosophy: “Mortal Kombat 1 aims to offer a gratifying experience for casual players. The simplicity of the Kameo system, executed through a single bumper press, facilitates its integration into any play style, without the complexity of intricate input sequences.”
As an inexperienced player, I found Kirtzic’s assertion accurate, seamlessly incorporating the Kameo fighter activation via a shoulder button. Over time, mastering diverse Kameo maneuvers became feasible through the move set list accessible from the pause menu. For the story-driven campaign, the game introduces an easy mode – deceptively challenging – and streamlined input commands, substituting diagonal entries with cardinal directions. Additionally, the “release check” feature modifies combo execution, either upon the button release or press.
A pivotal accessibility feature, the expanded combo timing window profoundly impacted my experience. Engaging primarily with AI adversaries, I gradually transitioned from frantic button mashing – reminiscent of my youthful bouts with cousins in 1993 – to calculated, methodical execution. Loosening the timing constraints allowed me to internalize intricate combos, departing from my customary spray-and-pray approach. Translating these revelations to multiplayer engagements bolstered my performance, epitomizing the microcosm of improvement that Mortal Kombat 1’s Invasions mode thrives upon.
Invasions emerges as Mortal Kombat 1’s pièce de résistance, a live service component intertwining elements from the franchise’s storied past, such as the “Test Your Might” trials and MK11’s enigmatic “The Krypt.”
Derek Kirtzic elaborates on Invasions’ concept: “We sought to introduce a secondary campaign within MK1, emphasizing progression. Players can set the controller down and resume their journey seamlessly, embodying the essence of the season.”
Invasions materialize as an elaborate board game, an example being the iteration where I explored Johnny Cage’s opulent mansion. My choices unraveled a labyrinth of paths, with some requiring special key cards for access, each junction accompanied by a combat node. Engaging in these skirmishes, players contend with computer-controlled opponents, facing a spectrum of modifiers that infuse battles with dynamism – ranging from scorching fire tornadoes to disruptive monstrosities. The experience mirrors a dungeon crawler, a chance to metaphorically pummel adversaries into submission.
Kirtzic interjects, narrating Invasions’ gamut: “RPG components encompass level progression and stat allocation. Elemental adversaries and challenges encourage experimentation with characters possessing advantageous attributes against specific opponents, fostering character exploration.”
Elaborating on the mode’s depth, Kirtzic mentions, “The forging system, the relic system, multi-phase boss battles – these are innovative components intrinsic to Invasions, adding layers of engagement beyond precedent.”
Invasions, for all its allure, challenges even on the easiest setting. My clash against Mileena exposed her unrelenting grab assault, impervious to my attempts at countering. Meanwhile, Smoke exhibited a life-bar-draining knife sequence that left me gasping for breath. These seemingly insurmountable hurdles bear a purposeful design, aimed at refining player skills.
Kirtzic shares the rationale behind these challenges: “Each opponent adheres to a scripted pattern, tailored to acquaint players with defensive maneuvers. By telegraphing moves, we facilitate the learning curve, translating to competitive play.”
Moreover, the comprehensive suite of input enhancements, diverse difficulty options, and the captivating narrative offered by Invasions collectively captivate Mortal Kombat’s audience. An intricate tutor for the uninitiated, a conduit for unlocking cosmetic rewards and narrative threads, Invasions binds both casual players and enthusiasts alike, ensuring the game’s lasting allure post-campaign completion.
Kirtzic encapsulates Invasions’ essence: “Boasting a forging system, relic system, and extravagant boss fights, Invasions gamifies the experience, catering to players’ desired levels of depth.”
From its genesis in 1992, characterized by unprecedented levels of graphic violence, to the expansion witnessed in Mortal Kombat Gold and the introduction of “fighting styles” in Deadly Alliance, the franchise perennially embraces innovation. In Mortal Kombat 1, Kameo fighters and Invasions usher in a new era of innovation, paying homage to the series’ roots while paving the way for a riveting future.