Mortal Kombat 1 Preview – Pulling No Punches

Platform:
PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Switch, PC

Publisher:
Warner Bros. Interactive

Developer:
NetherRealm Studios

Release:
September 19, 2023

Mortal Kombat 1 represents a clean slate for the long-running fighting game franchise just as the story does for its characters. After the cataclysmic events of Mortal Kombat 11 and its story expansion, Liu Kang has assumed the role of the all-powerful fire god. While he created the world with visions of peace, the Mortal Kombat characters do what they do best in relatively short order, and the blood starts splattering once again. 

While I don’t get a ton of additional insight into the story, I get to play several fights in the upcoming reboot. In my build, I have four characters to choose from: Sub-Zero, Liu Kang, Kitana, and Kenshi. Each character plays great and feels familiar, but introduces new elements; I love using Sub-Zero to create a series of ice clones for his opponent to get frozen by, while his sliding charge adds an ice-spear exclamation point.

Meanwhile, Liu Kang features a lot more fire-based moves thanks to his new mantle as the fire god, but you can still expect many of his old favorite attacks to return, and Kitana is by far the fastest and most acrobatic character in this build. Kenshi still has his telekinesis and his swordplay, but my go-to move was summoning his spirit clone to fight alongside you – you control both simultaneously, which still feels great, and if the spirit clone takes damage, he’ll fall to a knee and be out of commission.

Speaking of controlling two fighters at once, the new Kameo mechanic feels awesome. I had just three Kameo fighters to choose from in this preview build – Sonya Blade, Kano, and Jax – but I can already see the potential of the system from both a mechanical and fanservice perspective.

Not only do faces from around the MK universe appear as these Kameo fighters, but they do so as the classic versions of those characters. Sonya and Kano appear as the versions from the original Mortal Kombat game, while Jax appears in his Mortal Kombat II form. By pressing the shoulder button, you can summon your chosen Kameo fighter to come in and attack your opponent. This adds disruptive new mechanics to the pre-existing formula to great effect. I loved summoning Kano to blast his eye-laser at my opponent, but I had to constantly worry that if I got too close, my opponent would summon their Sonya Blade Kameo to grab me with her legs. 

Kameo fighters not only pop in when you summon them directly, but they also tag in to take part in other moves. If you parry effectively, the Kameo fighter pops in to help deflect the incoming attack. Meanwhile, when you successfully grab your opponent, it plays out more like a tag-team wrestling move where you pass the move to your teammate to put the finishing touches.

However, the Fatal Blow is where the coolest interactions come into play between your chosen fighter and the Kameo teammate; once you activate it, your main fighter performs the opening move before your Kameo cracks some bones, then your main fighter finishes the job. In one fight, Kitana dealt the first blow to initiate the move before Jax ran in, shattering my opponent’s back, followed by Kitana running in, impaling the opponent, jumping off their chest, then plunging her sharpened fans into the top of the poor soul’s skull. And yes, it all happens with full X-ray glory.

Kameo characters may not be fully featured fighters, but they get plenty of the spotlight. They can even execute Fatalities; the longtime Mortal Kombat fan in me adored seeing the classic versions of these characters return with their classic Fatalities. Kano rips the still-beating heart out of the dazed fighter’s chest, Sonya’s classic deadly kiss Fatality returns, and Jax’s ridiculous growing Fatality appears in all its glory.

Perhaps the most exciting part is that these older Fatalities don’t feel out of place when compared to the even more complex finishers of the main roster fighters. Kenshi’s finisher is particularly brutal, as he uses his telekinesis to direct his sword blade down the throat of his conquered foe before giving it a gruesome spin, while Kitana’s fans spin rapidly as they hover above and below, slowly closing in on the defeated enemy until they’re basically pureed. It’s safe to say that Mortal Kombat 1 isn’t pulling any punches in the blood and gore department.

Ever since the series’ most recent reboot with Mortal Kombat 9 in 2011, the franchise has consistently contended with the best games in the genre. After getting my hands on Mortal Kombat 1, this fall can’t come soon enough. Mortal Kombat 1 arrives on PS5, Xbox Series X/S, Switch, and PC on September 19.

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