Instead of continuing directly after the acclaimed 2019 “Mortal Kombat 11,” the creators of this title revert numerically to “Mortal Kombat 1,” which technically makes this a reboot, although it contains many of the same mechanics as the last title and the excellent “Injustice 2,” also from developer NetherRealm Studios and publisher Warner Bros. Games. The biggest in-fight addition is the inclusion of something called Kameo Fighters, allies for your main competitor who can be brought in during special moves and Fatal Blows, which incorporate the X-ray effect graphics seen in “Mortal Kombat X.” As for modes, the developers include something great called Invasions, which looks like a board game as your fighter enters different modes like combat, towers, and even shops that give the mode a bit of an RPG element. Instead of just mashing buttons, your fighter can use stat-boosting items like Relics or combat-centric items called Talismans. And, to this player, Invasions are the best way to farm customization aspects like new outfits/palettes, gear, and even finishing moves. They will be updated every six weeks or so in a season format, reflecting the live-service game trend that has become so prevalent with regularly updating hits like “Call of Duty,” “Destiny,” “Fortnite,” and so many more. It’s an incredibly addictive mode that brings something familiar but new to a franchise in its fourth decade.
Believe it or not, there’s a story in most modern “Mortal Kombat” games, which basically amounts to extended animated cut scenes intertwined with fights. The narrative here reflects the reboot nature of the game, with Liu Kang recreating the universe to basically try and save it again, allying with Kung Lao, Raiden, Johnny Cage, and Kenshi Takahashi (the sword-wielding badass who has been my favorite fighter so far this game) to compete in a Mortal Kombat tournament for the fate of Earthrealm. From there, it goes to places that wouldn’t conceivably make sense to anyone not deeply versed in the world of “Mortal Kombat,” but know that it’s like watching an animated “Mortal Kombat” movie that you get to jump into every now and then to break up the mediocre dialogue and confusing plotting. It does, however, contain a more fascinating cast list than the 2021 theatrical release arguably had, with Kelly Hu as Li Mei, Megan Fox as Nitara, Phil LaMarr as Geras, and even a skin that can turn Johnny Cage into the one and only Jean-Claude Van Damme. It’s also worth noting that some major DC characters are joining the game in the future as DLC fighters, including Omni-Man from “Invincible,” Peacemaker from the show of the same name, and Homelander from “The Boys,” which could add J.K. Simmons, John Cena, and Antony Starr to this vocal line-up (presuming the get the original actors to do the voice work).
As for the kombat, it’s fluid and wickedly addictive this time, a typical collection of easy-to-administer fighting moves and more complex combos. The result is a game that’s easy to jump into and play if someone only has a few minutes or wants to lose hours. The core of “Mortal Kombat” will always be the actual fighting, and it’s never clunky or glitchy here with consistent physics most of the time—there are some environmental aspects, usually in towers, that can be frustrating to figure out. As for graphics, it looks phenomenal, especially with the detailed backgrounds and adrenalizing finishing moves. Adding Kameo Fighters adds more variety as each brings their own tag-team move. (I’m a fan of Sareena, for the record.) They, too, can be customized with new gear.