Mortal Kombat 1: 30 years after its debut, a franchise still as indestructible


Four years after a very solid 11th installment, the progenitors of the indestructible Mortal Kombat saga return with “Mortal Kombat 1”. A title designed as a soft reboot, supposed to bring together fans of the franchise and attract new players. Successful bet ?

It is an understatement to say that the journey and destiny of the studio that created the Mortal Kombat franchise is exemplary, especially in an uncertain context where the unceremonious liquidation of studios by game publishers is still going strong.

Because for 30 years, NetherRealm Studios, formerly Midway Studios Chicago before its acquisition by Warner, has managed to sustain its existence by capitalizing almost exclusively on a single license. Even if the studio offers itself from time to time, that is to say not often, a few recreations, as in 2013 with the successful Injustice: Gods Among Us and its sequel released in 2017, which exploited the DC license Comics, owned by Warner.

Because it’s a fact: the Mortal Kombat license is super powerful, with more than 80 million copies of games sold since its creation. It is the most lucrative franchise in the Versus fighting game scene, ahead of Smash Bros, Tekken and Street Fighter.

This means that Warner Bros. Games is not ready to let go of its martingale. And that’s good: four years after a very solid Mortal Kombat 11, the publisher and the studio are once again throwing its new opus into the bloody arena: Mortal Kombat 1.

Here is the announcement trailer again…

Story mode, big added value of Mortal Kombat

In our opinion, the story mode is THE added value of the license compared to the competition. Initiated with the Cross Over Mortal Kombat Vs DC Universe in 2008, the story mode specific to Mortal Kombat truly began with the 9th part of the saga, released in 2011.

In 30 years of existence, the MK franchise has had plenty of time to lay the foundations of its mythology, to refine it and refine it. From a totally anecdotal background and above all a pretext to give a semblance of depth to its Kombattants, just to stand out a little from the competition of the time, in this case Street Fighter II, the studio has never stopped over the years weave an ever richer backdrop, new characters and antagonists.

Warner Bros. Games / NetherRealm Studios

Hans Lo, the senior producer of Mortal Kombat A difficult balancing act: injecting enough new blood so as not to give the impression of standing still, without alienating the fans from the beginning, who are still as present as ever.

Being both a soft reboot and a sequel, the title Mortal Kombat 1 rightly underlines its dual ambition: a reset of the license counter, in a clear desire to broaden its base of potential players. It is in this perspective that we must insert the story mode of this very clever MK1: if the mythology is rewritten, the story is at the same time completely in the wake of the previous part. Two birds with one stone.

Sleight of hand

The story deployed in MK1’s story mode allows all the cards to be redistributed. Liu Kang, who is no longer the guardian of time but the god of fire, reshapes the kingdoms with the aim of establishing general harmony and peace.

In this new alternative to the Mortal Kombat mythology, former enemies now become allies or brothers, like the indestructible Scorpion and Sub-Zero, who once engaged in a merciless struggle between their two clans, the Lin-Kuei and the Shirai Ryu.

If Johnny Cage is still an action film star with an oversized ego, he is riddled with debt because of his ruinous lifestyle which he would not give up for anything in the world. The ancient Raiden we always knew is no longer the god of thunder and spends most of his time doing agricultural work in the fields, even if he is still experienced in martial arts.

And Shang Tsung, the historical antagonist of the license? He is now a half-pariah traveling merchant, but above all a crook selling his so-called miraculous potions, like those tooth pullers and false doctors who roam the western plains in Westerns. A new universe put in a regulated section therefore. At least until a grain of sand obviously upsets the picture…

Of a rather generous duration and divided into four acts, this story mode follows like a mini-series. With a scenario that is always so WTF, unabashedly multiplying anachronisms, between age-old traditions and High Tech gadgets, the scenario logically appears like a patchwork stitched together with blank threads and absolutely ridiculous to lay people; but still works incredibly well in reality.

Between eruptions of violence and regular bits of humor (and not always fine that said…), the dosage runs at full speed, until a conclusion which we nevertheless found to be behind the rest of the adventure .

Extremely careful in its production, whether it is the care given to the Cut Scenes, to the camera movements revealing more than once sumptuous panoramic views of the universe of MK, to the staging of its characters on which the Players regularly take control during very fluid transitions, it’s a real treat. To be honest, we had more fun following this long-term story than the last cinematic part of the franchise.

Warner Bros. Games / NetherRealm Studios

On the other hand, we still regret that it is impossible to follow this adventure in Vostf. The VF is imposed. If it remains correct and does the job, the immersion takes a hit, and it is quite incomprehensible that, over time, the game still does not offer the possibility of following the story mode in Vostf. Not that we would necessarily have loved hearing the voice of Megan Fox dubbing her character, the female vampire Nitara, who is making her comeback after 17 years of absence, but still…

Bottom big fist

After this very copious appetizer, it’s time for the bloodbath, with a rather generous Kombattants line-up of 24 characters, for the launch; reinforcement is obviously planned later, with, among other things, guests like Homelander from the series The Boys or Peacemaker.

The first thing that strikes you, or rather that caresses your retina, is the visual rendering of the title, absolutely magnificent. It’s teeming with detail in the backgrounds of the environments where the Kombattants clash, while the characters enjoy a royal treatment gently leaning towards photorealism. We thought that MK 11 had reached a sort of pinnacle in this area, given the expert work carried out by the wizards of NetherRealm, it was still difficult to know them.

Warner Bros. Games / NetherRealm Studios

A visual treatment that benefits not only the spectacular and ultra violent shots known as Fatal Blow, but also of course the famous Fatalities and other Brutalities, without which Mortal Kombat is nothing. And on this side, we are served: the NetherRealm team demonstrates exemplary refinement in absolute horror. Uninhibited violence, so outrageous that it is regularly cartoonish.

The great novelty of this Versus fighting game is the arrival of Kombattants called Kameo. Drawn from a generous gallery of historical characters from the franchise (with their Klassic outfits!) but not directly playable, they will support you during clashes. Kind of Tag Battle in the light version, they can intervene in combat to break the opponent’s combo sequence, extend yours allowing you to hit your opponent more, etc.

The adage “easy to learn, difficult to master” once again takes on its full meaning. The training phase and the tutorial will be absolutely essential, especially if you want to come up against player opponents who will not fail to violently correct you in public…

A not so convincing invasion

The other new feature of this MK1, playable solo, is a seasonal mode called Invasions. A sort of mini RPG in a board game style, you move your character across a set of 8 areas. As you progress, you will have to take on different challenges, make/improve talismans in a forge to boost your character’s skills and resistance, face several enemies in towers, etc. It’s quite long, enjoyable, but ultimately quite quickly repetitive. And if the next season will logically offer new challenges and courses, the gameplay mechanics will be the same…

Even if it means offering small complementary games, we think for example with happiness of the one that was offered in the game Mortal Kombat: Mystification released in 2004, which featured Puzzle Kombat; brilliant variant of Tetris revised and corrected with Mortal Kombat sauce of course. There was even a chess game!

To discover the endings of each of the 24 characters on the base roster, you will have to turn to the clashes in the Towers, which in fact correspond to the arcade mode well known to fans.

Warner Bros. Games / NetherRealm Studios

In terms of grievances, we rail against the pure and simple disappearance of the Krypt, although adored by fans, in which, sometimes at the end of tortuous courses requiring small puzzles, we could unlock with coins won in the game of Artworks, excerpts from the soundtrack, unlock new fatalities, alternative costumes, etc. Of course, this is largely “corrected” precisely by the Invasions mode which grants you these gratifications, but the pleasure is clearly no longer the same.

The results of the races inevitably arrive. Contrary to its intentions, this Mortal Kombat 1 does not, in our opinion, constitute the ideal entry point for those who would like to taste for the first time the “simple” joys of the Versus game of an MK, and even more so for its story. We should instead turn to Mortal Kombat 11, which seems to us to be more accomplished in terms of its content, richer and more generous. Even if it means playing overtime afterwards by switching to MK 1.

As for the fans, there is little doubt that they will pounce on it anyway. And they would be wrong to deprive themselves. Because despite the (real) reservations mentioned above, this Mortal Kombat 1 has serious and solid assets to put forward. Something to keep you busy for a while before the still very distant release of Mortal Kombat 2 in theaters.


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