When it comes to Mortal Kombat—and Injustice, for that matter—I’m the guy who’ll log a few hours online, pop the story mode on easy and crash through it, pulling off some brutal shit that makes me wince.
Having spent half an hour toying around with Mortal Kombat 1, I see no reason to give up on the loop that makes me happy. It’s smooth and slickly animated, it’s gorgeous, and it feels approachable regardless of your skill level. I put the controller down, chuffed with myself for blowing through the Tower on medium only to glance over and find myself humbled.
I’m legally changing my name to Cleanliness, because I sat next to Godliness this afternoon.
Although I’m sure there’s plenty of fine tuning that’ll be instantly noticeable for some, a casual like myself is bound to notice maybe two things about Mortal Kombat 1. Liu Kang, that pesky fire god, has only gone and reset the whole damn universe, and half of the roster might be appearing as Kameo fighters in a system that’s like Marvel vs. Capcom’s assists.
It was a rather limited demo, with only four fighters, three Kameos, and two stages to pick from.
Despite trying out Kitana, who I felt to have the highest skill ceiling from a casual perspective, Sub-Zero, and Kenshi, a lot of my time was spent with Liu Kang. As you’d expect from a fire god, his move set is hot. He’s particularly great from range, with his Dragon Kick a useful tool to close down space in a hurry, or if you’re wanting to keep an enemy at arm’s length, send a literal dragon their way.
While there’ll be a significant learning curve for anyone hoping to reach the big leagues, what’s still great about Mortal Kombat is the way they still make you feel like a bad ass even if you can’t commit to memorising every single combo. Fatalities, and accidentally Brutalities if you’re me button mashing at the ‘Finish’ screen, are another way they nail this.
We’ve all seen Liu’s in the first trailer, as he and his two spectral dragons effectively turn their opponent into mince meat. Kenshi’s finisher is also brutal as he uses his sword to blend his opponent’s insides like they’re a pesto. The game also features Kameo finales, which’ll tag your elected side kick in to seal the deal. Of the Kameos the demo offered, I only managed to see Jax become comically big and crush someone under foot—a bootality, if you will.
The one thing I might say I remain confused about is with regards to the roster. It was made to sound as though Kameo fighters are just that, and aren’t destined to be a part of the final roster. As someone who probably spent more time playing Mortal Kombat when I was younger, I guess it would just surprise me if the likes of Sonya, Jax, and Kano—three of the originals—would be relegated to assist roles, even if the Kameo system is exceptional in its own right.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s not a Tekken Tag situation where they’ll swap into the battle under player control. It works more like the assists in Marvel vs. Capcom, though it feels much more realised and fleshed out. These characters can poke the head in at basically any point with a move set robust enough that you should be able to keep your combo up regardless of where your opponent is on-screen. During the demonstration we got, their Sonya was able to impact a combo more than once, so it’s clear these Kameos are going to be an integral cog to mastering high level play this time around.
Another thing I did mention earlier is just how beautiful the game looks, it’s so crisp and smooth in how it’s animated which obviously is the hope for any fighting game. Of the two levels we played with, Johnny’s Los Angeles pad, complete with a stunning view of the bay below, felt like eye candy.
I’m not a fan of all of the character redesigns, though. Kano, in particular, looks a bit like Terry O’Quinn with a hot plate on his head, whereas I’m used to a foul-mouthed merc. Everyone else in Liu’s reimagined universe looks the part, though.
With the game not expected to launch for another few months, I can’t fathom where the remaining polish will go. The game already feels locked in mechanically and it’s gorgeous—I imagine NetherRealm might use the time to tune, balance, and consider the initial meta for a game that I can see being yet another piece in what’s becoming a golden age for fighting games.