The Mortal Kombat franchise first splattered the scene some 30 years ago and quickly became known for its trademark carnival of slaughterous violence. And the game, which began as a popular arcade console title and moved into home console play, has drawn millions of fans and spawned everything from movie adaptations to novels to card games.
However, even the longest running series eventually demands a reboot. And Mortal Kombat 1, the 12th official game in the main series, is that story start-over.
Riffing on an element we’ve seen in superhero franchises these days, MK 1 gets its fresh start by blending together the idea of time manipulation and the multiverse. The central “Kampaign” mode plays out like a four-hour-plus movie. And it also acts as something of a tutorial that gives new players a chance to experience the different move sets of the key characters.
Storywise, fire god Liu Kang has defeated an elder god named Kronika and used her all-powerful hourglass to create a new timeline for the universe (including both Earthrealm and Outworld), rebuilding it in a new and “better” form. Then he puts that immense Keeper of Time power aside and hands Earthrealm’s protection over to an artificial construct named Geras.
The rebooted timeline has sent a number of longtime Mortal Kombat characters in unexpected directions. But even though the great villain Shang Tsung has been recreated as a lowly con artist, and other powerful figures are living more peaceful lives as farmers and townspeople, there’s still someone manipulating from behind the multiverse in evil ways. And chaos is on the rise.
That motivates Liu Kang to pull together the now peacefully living heroes to battle this evil. And, of course, that involves another Mortal Kombat tournament and scores of fierce fights.
The game consists of several different modes of play besides the above-mentioned story mode. Invasions mode, for example, allows you to embark on a quest across the realms, competing in fights, multi-phase boss battles, survival trials and test-your-might encounters.
Towers mode is a single-player, arcade-style approach to a series of increasingly difficult challenges that let players climb the ranks against evermore powerful opponents. The Tournament mode allows you to compete against local and online friends and even set up your own tournament. And then there’s a Learning mode that walks you through ever-important tutorials and practice sessions.
There’s also a new feature to MK 1 called Kameo Fighters. After selecting your champion, you choose a secondary character to back you up. This unlockable roster of secondary characters feature distinct moves that shield you from incoming attacks, attack your opponent, or disrupt the flow of battle.
A Kameo character named Sareena, for instance, can appear in both human and demon form and has a variety of attacks, including leaping on a foe and sinking her teeth into his neck.
Besides its gory destruction, MK 1 is also known for its tight gameplay and fluid fight mechanics. This is one of those games that offers players the potential of button-mashing simplicity or intricate, skill-testing, attack choices and combos. And the story lore is quite intricate for each of the main battlers.
The newest Mortal Kombat also takes advantage of the latest consoles’ horsepower and offers players crisp and realistic graphics …
… but of course, those graphics give this game a heightened grisly realism. There’s lots of splattering blood in the course of the bashing, hacking and slashing martial-arts fights. Characters use huge hammers, swords, fireballs, lightning zaps, claws, teeth and every other imagined means to tear at their foes. (We see x-ray visuals of shattered bones and burst internal organs.) But on top of that, Mortal Kombat 1 glories in its finishing moves that literally butcher combatants in bombastic ways.
Limbs are sawn and ripped off; blades are driven into eyes and fleshy organs; skeletal structures and bloody organs are yanked from their fleshy cover; fighters are quite literally torn open, crushed, beheaded and pureed in gushing, screaming, horrendous ways. It really is quite hard to describe the butchery without seeing how gleefully the game practices its bloodbath art.
Besides the wince-worthy carnage, MK 1 also spews forth foul language from time to time, featuring f- and s-words, “a–hole” and crude misuses of God’s name. And some female characters display skin. The above-mentioned Sareena, for instance is nearly naked in her horned and red-skinned demon form.
There are fighting games and then there’s Mortal Kombat. You may find other titles with large fight move sets and deep lore, but you won’t find anything quite as gruesome as MK 1.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.