Mortal Kombat 1 (Xbox Series X/S) Review

By Justin Prinsloo 27.09.2023

Review for Mortal Kombat 1 on Xbox Series X/S

NetherRealm's steady pace of output continues with Mortal Kombat 1, a grand reboot for one of modern entertainment's longest-running franchises. While Mortal Kombat 11 had a split fan base by the end of its shelf life, it was a mainstay at fighting game tournaments across the world thanks to an enjoyable meta that the developers never stopped tweaking. Mortal Kombat 1 is clearly gunning for similar honours, with some ambitious changes to the action that are sure to delight fans of its moment-to-moment gameplay.

Looking back on the history of Mortal Kombat, it's incredible to think that the series' lore has grown deep enough to warrant a timeline reboot. This is the same series whose cheesy 3D visage once graced 90s arcade cabinets, after all. It's a testament to Boon and co.'s passion for the product that the once substance-less characters — pardon, kharacters — have grown to become bastions of backstory, iconic within the genre and well at home on current gen hardware.

It's exciting to see, then, that popular cast members — Scorpion, Johnny Cage, Kitana, Liu Kang and the other usual suspects — feel at once familiar and refreshingly new. This goes for both their individual move lists and for the roles they play in MK1's signature story mode, which is back and as bombastic as it's ever been. NetherRealm has treated the rebooted timeline as an opportunity for some role reversals and clever evolutions, putting old foes into the role of hero and vice versa. It's the perfect platform to fall for this diverse roster all over again; not least because some fan-favourite characters have made the transition to 3D for the first time ever in the series.

Screenshot for Mortal Kombat 1 on Xbox Series X/S

At launch there are 23 fighters in the main roster, two shy of Mortal Kombat 11's initial 25. Already we've had confirmation that a further six will be arriving soon as part of the familiar Kombat Pack 1. Mortal Kombat 1's story sees these characters embedded into their new roles; roles devised by Fire God Liu Kang after the events of Mortal Kombat 11: Aftermath, upon his ascension to Protector of Earthrealm. Scripts have been well and truly flipped, with long-time antagonists like Reptile and Baraka being reinvented as tortured heroes. The longstanding rivalry between Scorpion and Sub-Zero, meanwhile, has transitioned into a bond of brotherhood. Of course, most of the characters in this timeline are canonically unaware of past timelines, so it really does feel like uncharted territory for a well-trodden world. The result is a brand new, blockbuster story that is perhaps the best of the series so far.

Visually, MK1 is splendid. Returning characters have been redesigned with loving callbacks to their roots, and customisation — while not as deep as MK11 — offers some personalisation options for players' looking to deck out their favourite characters. Elsewhere, each stage is so gorgeously rendered that it feels like there's something new to discover in the backdrop on each new round. This is an experience clearly crafted by a team that adores their work, and this is evident before a single punch is even thrown.

As it happens, when those punches are thrown, they are meaty. This is a true sequel and evolution for the Mortal Kombat franchise, with the familiar bloody action underpinned by some interesting additions to the meta that already has professional players excited, which is always a good sign. First up, variations for each fighter are gone. There's a set move list for every character but despite this, Mortal Kombat 1 feels somehow more flush with options than its predecessor. This is all thanks to the addition of the excellent Kameo system.

Screenshot for Mortal Kombat 1 on Xbox Series X/S

To complement the 23-strong base roster, there are 15 Kameo fighters to choose from in each matchup. Kameos function alongside the main fighter to offer them assists during battle, with a set number of unique moves that players will recognise from their options as characters in previous entries. Present are characters like Jax, Goro, Stryker and even Motaro, bringing even more variety to the already strong cast. What's the result of being able to pair any of the 23 main fighters with any of the 15 Kameos? A veritable wealth of options in each matchup, of course. Tier lists for the Kameos are already as much a point of discussion as the main roster itself, a very exciting sign for the future evolution of this entry.

So, with each of the 23 characters having effectively 15 different assist options, the Kameo system is an ingenious replacement for the Variations of Mortal Kombat X and 11. It's quite simply inspired, and beautifully serves the return to combo-heavy, quicker-paced gameplay. MK11 was often criticised for being a slower affair than MK fans were used to, and while MK1 isn't quite played to the breakneck tempo of MKX, it's still a welcome change.

Of course, it's impossible to talk Mortal Kombat without talking about everyone's favourite meal-ruiner: Fatalities. They are back and as brutal as ever, with some stomach-churning fatalities that will have jaws gaping upon first viewing. Cubed3's review of MK11 praised the over-the-top creativity of four years ago, but MK1 takes it so many steps further to bring us some mind-bogglingly visceral and incredibly conceived ways to finish off your opponent in style. It's bloody, it's messy, it never gets old.

Screenshot for Mortal Kombat 1 on Xbox Series X/S

All this adds up to Mortal Kombat 1 being a hit in competitive play, but what of its game modes? As established, there's a fantastic story mode to get invested in, and the familiar character Towers return as well to give players the chance to test their might against AI opponents. There's also the online matchmaking process and this is, sadly, where the experience begins to sour. As of this writing, matchmaking feels sluggish compared to other modern fighters on the market, with a lack of options resulting in an occasionally disappointing experience. There's also no crossplay at launch — a feature that fighter enthusiasts have been spoiled with in recent entries from other series, so it's a shame it's absent here.

In terms of other single player content, there's the brand new Invasion mode, which sees a player-controlled wraith navigate tiles on a board game-like map, gradually levelling up as they complete puzzles, mash-fests and, of course, good ol' rounds of fisticuffs with other characters in the roster. Each Invasion map — or "mesa" as they're referred to in-game — offers a different level of challenge, with many rewards in the form of character cosmetics, concept art and other goodies. If that sounds like a bit of a grind fest, that's because it is. Invasion can be mind-numbing for players who just want to stay absorbed in the action, which is a shame given that it's been marketed as the bulk of the single player experience. Granted, these mesas do swap out seasonally (every two months or so) so time will tell if it becomes more engaging in future iterations.

In many areas it feels like MK1 has cut out the grind required in MK11. Character progression, for example, isn't tied to a set of ludicrously long Towers but rather to how often you use that character throughout the available modes, as it should be. But with Invasion, it certainly feels like a slog that fans may have been hoping to avoid. Overall, this makes Mortal Kombat 1 feel like the most competitively-focused MK entry yet. For players who simply love to lab their mains and plough through online match after online match, this won't feel like such a bad thing. For players hoping for some endless single player content that hits the heights of Mortal Kombat 11, that sadly is not to be found at this moment in time. Still, MK1 offers some of the most exciting gameplay of the series so far, and has had a strong start in the competitive scene. Arguably, that's the best indication of longevity one could hope for in a fighter of this calibre.

Screenshot for Mortal Kombat 1 on Xbox Series X/S

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Mortal Kombat 1 absolutely shines in its gameplay, thanks to some healthy tweaks to the formula, not least of which is the excellent Kameo system. There are flashy combos aplenty and some fresh takes on series staples, which are sadly let down by currently lacklustre online options and a less compelling single player experience, bar the riveting story mode. Still, there's so much fun to be had for players obsessed with optimising their combos and getting their fists bloody in the ring, but the amount of content falls shy of what we've been spoiled with in other modern fighters on the market — at the time of this writing, at least.

Developer

NetherRealm

Publisher

Warner Bros.

Genre

Fighting

Players

2

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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