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Summer Game Fest 2023 Hands-On Preview: “Mortal Kombat 1”


At this year’s Summer Game Fest, which was held at City Market Social House in downtown Los Angeles on June 9th and 10th, the good people from NetherRealm Studios and Warner Bros. Games gave journalists — present company included — some hands-on time with the upcoming fighting game Mortal Kombat 1, which will be out September 19th for Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 5, PC, and Switch.

What follows are my limited impressions of the game.

Mortal Kombat 1

A reboot of sorts,

Mortal Kombat 1 will feature a new story mode, and some redesigned characters. But the biggest addition, as far as the gameplay is concerned, is the addition of Kameo Fighters, who serves as assistant to your main brawler. By hitting the right bumper button, you — in keeping with Mortal Kombat‘s long-running tradition of kindness and being well-mannered — politely ask another character to help you out by performing some of their signature moves. Which means that while you’re playing as Kitana, you can have Sonya jump into your match and hit Sub-Zero with her energy rings.

Mortal Kombat 1 will also let you use Kameo Fighters as part of a combo attack. Sorry, kombo attack. Which means that you can punctuate one of Sonya’s leg grabs with a couple short, sharp shots. Or she can do the same when you’ve grabbed someone.

They will also attack from the side of the screen on which you started the match, even if you’re now on the other side of your opponent. They call that a pincer movement.

Of course,

getting help from a Kameo Fighter is not free in Mortal Kombat 1. You have a meter, which refreshes over time (and rather quickly). It also lets you use your pal twice in a row, and even twice within the same combo attack, if you can pull that off.

Now, Kameo Fighters are not like Smart Bombs in some old arcade game. They’re still people, and people in Mortal Kombat 1, as in every game in this long-running series, are prone to being injured. Which means that Sonya’s aforementioned attacks can be blocked or countered by Sub-Zero, et al.

They also can’t sacrifice themselves for you. Not entirely, anyway. If, say, Sub-Zero launches an attack on you, but you happen to call in Sonya at just the right time, and she’s between you and Freezer Boy, you won’t take the full brunt of Sub-Zero’s attack, and neither will Sonya, but you will take some damage, while Sonya’s meter will be slightly drained as well.

Mortal Kombat 1

You’ll also be limited…

in Mortal Kombat 1 by which characters you can use as your primary fighter and which will be your sidekick. At the moment, the main characters include Liu Kang, Raiden, Johnny Cage, Kitana, Mileena, and Kenshi, with six more combatants — sorry kombatants — to be named later (and available post-launch as part of a “Kombat Pack,” or in the Premium Edition or the Kollector’s Edition versions of the game). Then you have Kano, Sonya Blade, Goro, Jax, and Stryker as Kameo Fighters (with five unnamed additions in the “Kombat Pack,” and in the Premium and Kollector’s versions), while Sub-Zero, Kung Lao, and Scorpion will go both ways.

And yes, you can have the same character be both your main fighter and your Kameo Fighter, if they are available in both roles, which will inevitably lead to the existential crisis of Scorpion and Scorpion vs. Scorpion and Scorpion.

As for how this all plays out when you, well, play Mortal Kombat 1, this was made available to attendees, who had a chance to fight solo or against someone else, with Sub-Zero, Kitana, Liu Kang, and Kenshi in the main slot, and Jax, Sonya, and Kano in support. And since I don’t play well with others…

Mortal Kombat 1

Initially playing as Kitana,

with Sonya as my sidekick, I took on Liu Kang and Jax, and found that while Mortal Kombat 1 feels as smooth as 2019’s Mortal Kombat 11 (and 2015’s Mortal Kombat X, and 2011’s Mortal Kombat…), the addition of Kameo fighters did add a new and interesting wrinkle. Especially since they don’t work like secondary characters do in fighting games like Tekken Tag Tournament 2, where you have teams and can switch between them on the fly. When Sonya jumps in, for instance, Kitana doesn’t step aside to check her Twitter until you tell her to switch back. Instead, Sonya jumps into the fray, does what she has to do, and gets out, while you continue fighting as Kitana. The transition is smooth, and feels more like, well, like you just pressed another attack button.

Which, of course, will work even better when in the hands of someone who doesn’t try to button mash his way to victory. Especially since, as I mentioned, Mortal Kombat 1 lets you bring in your cohort (sorry, kohort) in mid-combo (kombo, dammit), something I was able to pull off, but only by accident. Still, seeing Sonya jump in, pop Sub-Zero in the mouth while Kitana held him in place, was deeply satisfying.

While the implementation of Kameo Fighters is the biggest new thing about Mortal Kombat 1, I did notice two other things worth mentioning. First, the game has five difficulty options when it comes to its single-player difficulty: Very Easy, Easy, Medium, Hard, and Very Hard. And those are accurate descriptions. Which isn’t new, or unusual, but as someone who’s very Lisa Simpsons when it comes to difficulty — “I like a challenge, but a challenge I can do.” — such info is helpful.

I also noticed some small bits of offbeat humor in Mortal Kombat 1, something I don’t remember seeing much in previous games. Dark humor, sure, but this was more…weird. Before a match, for instance, Sonya bends down to tie her shoes. When brawling in what looked like a tropical bar, some of the patrons didn’t seem fazed by the bloody fight playing out before them. And then there was the other arena, a luxury condo with an indoor pool, complete with a pink flamingo floaty, which seems more like somewhere you’d throw hands in a Dead Or Alive game than a Mortal Kombat sequel. Though maybe that’s the point.

Mortal Kombat 1

As for just how weird Mortal Kombat 1 will ultimately be — and how well the Kameo Fighters and other gameplay mechanics will work out in this brutal fighting game — well, we’ll just have to wait until the game is released for Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 5, PC, and Switch on September 19th. But if my brief time playing it at Summer Game Fest is any indication, it’s going to be a bloody good time.



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