Sorry, I had to shout so that your brain would start playing the classic 1990’s Mortal Kombat theme song – Techno Syndrome.
I love a bit of Mortal Kombat, first released in the early ‘90s, the series is taking the soft reboot option by going to Mortal Kombat 1 instead of working towards Mortal Kombat 12 this September.
And Mortal Kombat 1 is a game we have had a look at, hands-on via a technical stress test. Now, whilst I’ll be giving my thoughts here in regards to what we got to see during the preview, much can change between now and launch. With that said, let’s take a look at Mortal Kombat 1 and how it is currently stacking up.
The Mortal Kombat 1 stress test itself ran for four days and allowed lucky players to jump in and get a look at the new game. Not too much was actually available to poke around in during the event, but we expect many more options and gameplay modes to show up on the road to release.
What was on offer were two modes – Kampaign and Versus; both modes sharing the same stages and characters. Thankfully in the sessions we got to partake in we witnessed no noticeable lag during online matches, which is huge for such an early stress test to pull off.
As this is an early look, the only playable characters available were Sub Zero, Kenshi, Kitana and Liu Kang, as well as Sonya Blade, Kano and Jax as Kameo Fighters. Playing and looking a lot like its predecessor Mortal Kombat 11 – there appeared to be spaces for 24 selectable main characters and 16 Kameo Fighter slots. These characters were enough of a selection to get a feel for the gameplay, but also where my complaints begin to arise.
The characters in MK1 feel slow, like they are constantly trying to get speed built up. I even had to go and download MK11 to make sure I wasn’t just comparing it to Street Fighter 6, but sure enough combat in Mortal Kombat 11 felt oddly smoother and faster than in MK1. Hopefully the speed and smoothness is ironed out by the time we get the full game in September. Others may be okay with how the game slows things down, but for me it felt like playing with an old arcade cabinet.
One other complaint I have about Mortal Kombat in general is how I feel there is a need to relearn a character moveset with each new iteration. Again I went back to Mortal Kombat 11 to make sure I wasn’t imagining it, and sure enough each of the characters have different inputs for their moves. Now I’m not against changing things up to stop it becoming stale, but looking at Street Fighter in comparison, I can use the same basic moves for Ryu and Ken in SF6 that I used on the Megadrive version of Street Fighter II. The exact same input.
Away from that and we got a look at Klassic Towers in the Kampaign mode. Here we had the chance to fight our way up the tower, facing off against AI opponents and their Kameo Fighters. This mode has been a series staple for Mortal Kombat and it would have been a shock if Mortal Kombat 1 did not include a tower mode. The tower featured here had the same characters available for players to select, as well as having the same two stages for us to test – Cage mansion and Fengjian Teahouse, both of which have a day or night mode to select before each battle.
You may be wondering – what the heck are Kameo Fighters? Well, this is probably the biggest change seen in a Mortal Kombat title. Kameo fighters are assist characters that can be called upon during battle. Similar to Marvel v Capcom, Kameo Fighters will appear and join in during a Kombo, or get you out of a tight spot when summoned at the right moment. Each Kameo Fighter is chosen before battle and cannot be tagged into the match to replace your main fighter. This change up to the overall dynamic will bring some interesting new gameplay strategies come launch.
The other mode available during the stress test for MK1 was an Online Versus. Street Fighter 6 came with a fantastic set up for online play, with no more old school feeling or soulless versus mode where you just wait to be paired with an opponent. SF6 came with Battle Hub, an online social hub where avatars walk around and interact with one another in real time. I have a bad feeling MK1 has missed the window for actioning its own version of this, and Bandai Namco with Tekken 8 should be doing exactly this right now if they aren’t already. I have to say, Mortal Kombat 1 feels dated in this regard, going through menus once more to get online. Still, things can change before launch.
Brutalities and Fatalities were present in all their gory glory for those looking for the obligatory FINISH HIM! at the end of bouts. But in addition there is the Quitality. Introduced in Mortal Kombat X, Quitality is activated by a player quitting during an online match and cannot be pulled off via a button combo.
Further, the lack of Kombos were complained about in MK11, so they return here with a vengeance. Shown off online in one user’s clip was a 22 hit Kombo using Liu Kang that went directly into another full string assault on the opponent. Online I experienced a few contenders for juggling champion of the year, as I barely got a punch in during some matches before I was tossed in the air like a beanbag.
Fighting game veterans may rejoice for this and I can see the appeal of showcasing skills. However, therein also lies the problem – attracting new players. Not one newbie to Mortal Kombat will stick around long if all they receive online are complete (Komplete?) merciless beat downs. There has to be some strict matchmaking skill based system in place, or at least tiered levels for online matches. If skill based matchmaking isn’t implemented, then perhaps a Kombo breaker or reverse Kombo can be added so players aren’t just watching their chosen character be bounced about the stage without a chance of coming back.
Whatever, the brilliance of Street Fighter 6 means the bar has been set incredibly high for fighting games out of the gate. Comprehensive, encouraging competition online, allowing high level players to take the time to tutor and almost mentor newcomers as they learn their characters. The suite of options presented in SF6 could potentially make the other fighting games on their way this year look dated and unwelcoming.
Mortal Kombat 1, being a fresh start/reboot for the series, should use Capcom’s example as a template on how to present the game to attract players of all different skill levels. We still have a few months where tweaks can be made, and there is even a Beta in August before full release in September. Hopefully the gameplay is sped up just a little and Kombos are balanced with a reversal or Kombo breaker move so that new players aren’t scared off. Either way, it will be interesting to see which way Mortal Kombat 1 goes this September when it releases on Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch and PC.
I love Mortal Kombat and I only hope Mortal Kombat 1 brings something special to the table; something capable of standing alongside the masterful Street Fighter 6. It is too early for any form of prediction, but the technical stress test for Mortal Kombat 1 allows for promise. Hopefully the right adjustments are made and MK1 brings it home once more.
Huge thanks go out to Warner Bros for giving us access to the Mortal Kombat 1 stress test on Xbox.
You’ll find Mortal Kombat 1 releasing on Xbox Series X|S (no Xbox One here), PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch and PC come September 19th 2023. You can get pre-ordering the Standard Edition (£64.99) or the Premium Edition (£89.99) from the Xbox Store today.