Old-fashioned bloody fighting game Mortal Kombat 1 may be kitschy

Mortal Kombat arrived in 1992 at exactly the right time: gaming children were just turning into stubborn teenagers. Suddenly here was a fighting game that splattered with blood, where the right press of the right button created a spectacular, bone-breaking ‘fatality‘ that you could show to your friends while giggling.

We are now writing 2023, and the adolescent need for shock Mortal Kombat 1 – not to be confused with the first one Mortal Kombat –game – now seems kitschy. The late thirties gaming sighs when the game treats you to the image of a dagger piercing straight through a skull. And when the American Johnny Cage finds another excuse to raise his middle finger, the eyes roll: yes, yes, very cool.

But that eye roll also contains love, because Mortal Kombat 1 has simply earned its kitsch. The story mode of this latest installment in the series is, as always, total pulp. Liu Kang became a deity in the previous part and rewrote history. In his new timeline, the heroic ‘Earthrealmers’ Raiden, Kung Lao, Kenshi and Cage live in peace and harmony with the traditionally more complicated ‘Outworlders’. However, they still hold the big Mortal Kombat tournament to monitor the balance of power. Then Kang’s grip on his own timeline turns out to be a little shakier than he hopes – and the story derails into total anarchy, where you encounter almost all the characters from the now 30-year Mortal Kombat history.


You will never be bored, because maker NetherRealm Studios shows no shame as always and eagerly looks for any excuse for spectacle. Unfortunately, this story falls into fragments: for a few fights you always have access to one character, who experiences a short personal storyline. You watch some video, play a game or three against enemies, and off you go, on to the next hero. You don’t get much chance to really get used to the movements or feel anything for the characters.

The other parts of the game try to make up for the former: there are the usual practice matches and ‘towers’ of increasingly challenging matches, and the ‘Invasions’ mode where you walk across a kind of chessboard and engage in special battles. Unfortunately, these quickly become monotonous, incomparable with the exciting innovations of direct competitors such as Street Fighter 6. And when you’re ready for the real deal, several multiplayer modes await, including ‘King of the Hill’ mini-tournaments.

The real Mortal Kombatenthusiast mainly finds more of the same, although the whole thing is more streamlined. Only the Kameo system is really new: you can now call on the help of another character, which you select in advance. This way you can easily adjust your fighting strategy without having to exchange your favorite fighter for someone you have less feeling for. If you want to be able to freeze your enemies, choose Frost; if you prefer an air cannon, then there is Liu Kang. Kameo rewards creative forward planning.

Unfortunately it feels Mortal Kombat 1 still a bit clumsy, partly thanks to slow animations and the sometimes demanding button combinations needed to perform an attack. Where Street Fighter the latter was exchanged for a more modern system that better fits the current hardware Mortal Kombat stuck to tradition. Nothing wrong with that, of course. But after the credits roll, this increasingly slow late-thirties yearn for the more intuitive one moves and smooth innovations from Street Fighter 6.