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[Preview] Mortal Kombat 1: A silky-smooth, hyper-violent reboot that’s (somehow) coming to Switch

Posted on June 14, 2023 by in Previews, Switch

Mortal Kombat 1 is perhaps the most jaw-dropping fighting game I’ve ever had the privilege of playing. And not just in a figurative sense, because there’s literally an X-Ray attack in which Sub-Zero skewers his opponent’s brain through their mouth with a shard of ice, rendered in a shocking amount of detail. Between the new Kameo mechanic, an increased focus on aerial play, and some of the most stunning visuals I’ve ever seen in a fighting game, this is a game that feels next-gen from edge to edge. That’s a polite way of saying: I have no idea how they are going to get this running on Switch.

Let me get this out of the way: despite my best efforts, Warner Bros. didn’t have the Switch version of Mortal Kombat 1 available for me to preview at Summer Game Fest. They wouldn’t answer any of my questions about it, and the only version I got to touch was the PlayStation 5 version. I was debating whether I could even really write an accurate preview of this game, as there’s a very high (if not inevitable) likelihood that the Switch version will feel completely different to play than on other platforms. That is not news, and for anyone who played the Switch version of Mortal Kombat 11 from a few years back, you probably already have a sense for how this is going to go. While that version of the game was competent, and even ran at a somewhat stable 60 frames per second at times, the visual downgrade was stark, and the always-online requirement made accessing several key modes all but useless when on-the-go. The general consensus was that it worked, but was far from the ideal way to play for most.

Mortal Kombat 1 ups the production values substantially compared to 11. Characters look almost photorealistic, and environments are dense with detail well beyond what I’ve ever seen in the genre before. The amount of gore and viscera that explodes from characters during a fatality is beyond impressive, and combat animations are buttery smooth in a way that feels like it should be impossible. The most shocking feature, for me, was that after picking a fighter and opponent from the character selection screen, the game seamlessly shifts them into the fight, without a single visible loading screen. How much of this will be retained for the Switch version? Those were the questions I had during the end of my preview, and unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get any answers.

But for Switch players who are willing to tolerate the inevitable compromises, Mortal Kombat 1 is poised to be an incredible fighting game from a mechanical perspective. The biggest new addition to the game is Kameo fighters, who can be called into battle to fight alongside you with a single button press. While not a new concept to the fighting genre as a whole, the execution in Mortal Kombat 1 feels remarkably open-ended and dynamic. You can stitch your Kameo fighter into combos effortlessly, leverage them for aerial support after launching an enemy into the air, tag-team with them for brutal finishers, and much more. If you pick a primary fighter with a shorter typical attack range, you can supplement them with a long-range Kameo fighter like Kano, whose eye-lasers can deal devastating damage. It adds a whole new dimension to Mortal Kombat’s tried-and-true hard-hitting combat, upping the pace of the game and introducing a new layer of strategy. I even saw my Kameo fighter fight the AI’s sometimes when we both called them in simultaneously.

The four fighters I played as during my demo – Sub-Zero, Kitana, Liu Kang and Kenshi – all felt nimble and responsive. While I’m not so experienced with the Mortal Kombat franchise that I could point out the minute differences in how they played – especially with some limited time with the game – what I can tell you is that they all felt remarkably agile compared to my memories of playing Mortal Kombat X, whether I was unleashing a flurry of attacks on the ground or launching my opponent up in the air so I could drag them back down. And if the tables should turn and you find yourself overwhelmed, the return of Kombo Breakers offers a quick way to give yourself an out, at the exchange for a bit of your power meter. I’m no fighting game expert, but I felt like I was able to hold my own when I really leveraged this expanded toolset, which gives me hope that the onboarding process will be a little more forgiving than in other fighters.

If you’re partially interested in Mortal Kombat 1 thanks to the series’ typical over-the-top sense of twisted humor, you’ll find a lot to love here. While I didn’t get to test out any of the story-focused content, the voice acting is as dramatic as ever, and when combined with the subtle ways characters will taunt each other while idling or utilizing Kameo fighters, results in an experience that balances the shock factor with the laughs in a satisfying balance. I’m really curious about the direction the rebooted story will take, as well as how faithfully the spirit of its presentation and the feel of its gameplay will transfer to the Switch’s 720p screen after all the antialiasing and textures have been dropped down. We’ll find out when Mortal Kombat 1 launches for Switch on September 19, 2023.

Check out our video preview for Mortal Kombat 1 below.

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