I remember when Mortal Kombat launched in 1992, or rather, I remember when it was ported to consoles in 1993. I was six at the time, but it was impossible to avoid the media fervor around its ultra-violence. My parents didn’t bat an eye when I rented it. My mother’s reaction to seeing me play it was to just ask if it was that game everyone was talking about. Then she continued with her day.
That would normally be an extremely weak way to start talking about Mortal Kombat 1. The original Mortal Kombat (which we can no longer refer to as Mortal Kombat 1) was 11 Mortal Kombats ago.
Yet Mortal Kombat 1 seems somewhat keen to tap into nostalgia for the ‘90s, and there’s nothing I have more abundance of than ‘90s nostalgia. It seems aimed at lapsed fans and dilettantes like myself. Through the Kameo Fighters, we get to see some of the Kombatants as they appeared in the original trilogy. However, this grab for nostalgia proved rather confusing to my thumbs, which tried to throw combos from muscle memory, only to have them not work in the new system.
Those were $500 sunglasses
The beta weekend provided a decent way to get my feet wet with Mortal Kombat 1. It was enough to show my I’ve got a long way to go before I can compete at even the basest level. There’s a single-player tower mode, as well as a simple online versus. No practice mode, however. That really threw me.
It messed me up mostly because Mortal Kombat 1 doesn’t use a genre-typical combo system. In something like Street Fighter II, it’s mostly just a matter of finding out which moves flow best into each other. In Mortal Kombat 1, you need to dial-a-combo. You can view each combo in the movelist, which is helpful, but it means that if you fail a combo input, your character will throw a punch, then pause and wait for the studio audience to stop applauding before they’re primed to throw another.
This might be how it worked in the last couple of Mortal Kombat titles, but I only briefly played Mortal Kombat 11, so my memory is pretty hazy. It just felt extremely gluey to me, at first. If my mind ever wandered from keying in the inputs, I’d quickly be reminded of that by a sudden pummeling. It’s, uh, going to take some getting used to, I guess. Both online and offline, it started feeling like a sort of tug-of-war. One person would have the upper hand and would cycle through various moves and combos until they messed up an input or a combo breaker or a perfect block interrupted them.
The Kameo Fighters are kind of dopey in terms of implementation. In theory, they represent an entirely new moveset, with you being able to change the attack by using direction input or charging. I guess this is something else I need practice on because, more often than not, my Kameo Character would rush in and either miss their attack or get interrupted by my fighter getting poked. They’d then stand awkwardly for a moment. They would look slightly embarrassed like they missed their cue. Then they’d just turn and run back offscreen.
Mostly, they served to add a little personality to grabs and Fatal Blows. And then they also pose with your fighter at the end, which is also a little strange when it comes to the original trilogy characters. Your fighter is in their overdesigned, color-coordinated outfit, while the Kameo wears their best pajamas and hockey gear. Not that I really mind since I’m kind of happy to see a bit of self-aware ridiculousness alongside all the gore.
The beta provides a handful of playable fighters and another small set of Kameos. I started off with my familiar main of Sub-Zero, but after a playthrough where I discovered he lacks a classic uppercut, I wound up trying out Li Mei. Likewise, I started off playing with the Kameo of Frost, but changed to Jax because I like his cigar-chomping style.
The single-player towers were no problem for me, even on their harder difficulty. However, my win/loss ratio online was dismal. I got a few successes under my belt, but it often felt like I was the only person on the internet who was unable to internalize the dial-a-combo system. I often fell back on the special moves and grabs, which obviously didn’t work out all that well. That’s not necessarily a condemnation of Mortal Kombat 1, at all. But I do have a long way to go to compete.
A few people I’ve spoken with about the game have said they mostly play Mortal Kombat games for the story. Unfortunately, it’s not really shown off in the beta. A few fighters, some Kameos, and a couple of levels. Not really surprising, but worth mentioning.
Online worked fine, though. I didn’t get much opportunity to scrutinize it too hard, but I didn’t really get any visible lag, and the matchmaking worked quickly.
As it stands, however, I’m neither more nor less excited for Mortal Kombat 1. The biggest blow to my enthusiasm was finding out that Sheeva probably isn’t going to be in the launch roster. Otherwise, I didn’t really expect it to re-invent the fighting genre or push Mortal Kombat into a new era. Mostly, I expected it to compete with current forerunners, like Guilty Gear Strive, Street Fighter 6, and the upcoming Tekken 8. Sure, I can see it doing that.
If there’s one thing I wish, it would be that it would find a more unique aesthetic. Its gore-covered Hollywood blockbuster look is fine, but since we’re already bringing back the ‘90s look of some fighters, that could have been pushed hard. Why is there a flatscreen on the wall of the tea house? That should be a CRT. And maybe put an original Mortal Kombat arcade machine in the background of Johnny Cage’s penthouse. Liu Kang remade the entire universe. He should have transported it back to the most magical time of all. I’m an easy target.