NetherRealm Studios has been on a real hot streak with the Mortal Kombat franchise ever since it dropped its first game, the sublime Mortal Kombat 9, all the way back in 2011. The studio has always focused on bringing a top-notch narrative experience to the table, supported by a laundry list of single-player arcade and online multiplayer modes, alongside the fantastic collectathon that is the Krypt.
Mortal Kombat 1 is a reboot of sorts for the franchise, one that continues on from Mortal Kombat 11 but also completely changes direction, giving us a new universe that threads through the series' rich lore whilst also refreshing everything from character designs to the roster and environments where you set about decapitating and exploding your foes. It's a clever move, one that feels as though it was required given how complicated things had gotten by the cataclysmic events of the last game, and it affords NetherRealm the opportunity to reintroduce some old favourite characters into the bloody fray to boot.
Indeed, in terms of the roster, besides the disappointing fact that Shang Tsung has been made a pre-order/paid-for exclusive, this is a strong outing at launch with 22 base characters to choose from, all rocking sweet new looks and, don't forget, you even get to play as Jean Claude Van Damme, although he is just a skin for Johnny Cage.
There's been plenty of shakeups in terms of mechanics, too, the biggest and most obvious of which is Kameo assists, giving you access to some sweet tag-team options with a simple press of your right shoulder button. Kameos factor into the game's combo-breaking manoeuvres, and this new entry also sees some shaking up of blocking with the 'Up Block' giving you the chance to shift your opponent into a disadvantageous position if you nail it correctly. Think of the Flawless Block system from Mortal Kombat 11 and you've got the general gist of this one.
Most of the signature moves, flashy combos, and ridiculously gory fatalities return this time around, although you'll find as you play that some attacks, such as Johnny Cage's fireball, have been replaced. Don't worry Johnny fans, he's got a sweet new Hype Meter that more than makes up for the loss of his classic fiery ranged attack, and overall the new additions make for a fighter that feels nice and fresh whilst also retaining all of the aspects we expect, know and love about this series.
So, overall what we've got here is a fresh new take on the Mortal Kombat universe, or multiverse as it is now, one that sticks to the studio's usual setup of delivering the best story mode in fighting games — the campaign really is a cracker — alongside all the other modes you'd expect to find; the online fisticuffs, local and single player match-ups, Towers and in-depth practice and training arenas for you to hone your fatalities, ball-busters, drill kicks, and fan-nados. But wait...where is the Krypt?
Well, unfortunately, the Krypt is no more, here replaced by a shiny new single-player Invasions mode that sees you choose a character and get busy romping around a boardgame-styled setup. Invasions has you travel along nodes, unlocking multiple paths forward as you take part in fights that throw all manner of random modifiers and special enemies into your path. This all takes part in Johnny Cage's suitably OTT Hollywood mansion and, although we were initially skeptical that it could match the Krypt, it's a mode that makes a good replacement, testing your skills to the max, throwing up tons of fun situations and dishing out all the goodies and cosmetic items you could ever hope for.
However — and it's a pretty big 'however' — all of this is sullied by the fact that this Switch port feels as though it's really pushing the system to the max, and then some. Is it playable? Yes, it'll do if you're a big Mortal Kombat fan and you've got no other way to experience the game, but you really are going to have to come at this version with a lot of patience as it's got some serious problems.
Now, this particular writer hasn't sampled Mortal Kombat 11 on Switch, and therefore can't compare directly in this regard, but revisiting our review it seems it's a port that dials the graphics right down in order to achieve a playable frame rate. Perfectly fine and acceptable. Mortal Kombat 1 attempts to take the same route, turning all of the lovely visuals down to their very lowest settings — we're sure you've seen some of the rather hilarious comparison images with other consoles online already — but it still can't provide anything approaching a smooth experience as things stand at launch.
In story mode, the various cutscenes look good for the most part, but they suffer from weird glitching and skipping issues, whilst the game's signature seamless transitions from cutscene to actual gameplay are marred here by stutters, loading screens, and a dynamic resolution that dips way, way down at the start of battles in order to keep things from grinding to a complete halt.
Manage to ignore all of this and you'll get scraps that can still provide some entertainment when the frame rate isn't wobbling. We've had entire bouts that have been fine and played well, however, for the most part, you're looking at kombat that's been kompromised (couldn't resist) by dips and stutters that can make action hard to follow and oftentimes lags behind your inputs, meaning you lose the flow of what moves you're trying to pull off. We have also encountered broken visuals and issues in relation to Fatalities not playing out or animating properly. Now, anyone who plays fighting games knows this is not ideal, in this genre more than most. These games have got to nail input lag and any other issues that affect your ability to perform the moves you want when you want. Mortal Kombat 1 on Switch isn't doing this right now, and that's really the long and short of it.
There is more bad news too, we're afraid. Our attempts to get down with the online aspects of this game have been unsuccessful, to say the least. We know we're reviewing during the exclusive 'early access' period for purchasers of the Premium Edition, so things may improve when those who didn't want to stump up £100/$110 for a few days of early Scorpion spears join the online pool, but so far we haven't been able to find a single match-up with any other players. (We'll provide an update here with our impressions of online play in the coming days.)
Further to this, and this is a real kick in the NetherRealms, Invasions mode is a bug-fest right now. We've had an issue where we've had to restart the mode several times because a key item just will not drop in the very first battle, denying us access to Johnny's mansion — a totally mode-breaking bug — and the character select menus are also incredibly slow and have frequently ended up selecting the wrong fighter for us as a result. Now, WB Games has also just put out a correspondence to Switch players stating that;
"To ensure the best possible experience for Switch players at launch, only the introduction for Invasions will be available. The full breadth of Invasions Season 1 content will be available on Switch in a matter of weeks."
It's important to know this in advance if you're thinking of picking up the game, as it's not gonna be the full package at the time of writing, even though you're expected to pay full price. We get it, the Switch is a tricky prospect, but we'd really rather the game was delayed or reduced in price until these things were sorted.
Away from all of this, loading times across the board between fights can see you wait a good long while. We've seen close to a minute in the Towers mode, menus can be excruciating to traverse due to how slowly everything moves, and you'll find that you're hit with infinite loading screens from time to time as the game struggles to keep up, forcing you to reboot and restart.
When all's said and done, this is a port of Mortal Kombat that's in a bit of a state, really. Yes, it's playable, you can make your way through the Story and Towers mode and have some fairly good fun when it's behaving itself. In portable mode, it looks fine for the most part, even with every bit of polish and detail stripped away, but patches are needed ASAP before we can recommend anyone throw down their money on the Switch version of the game.
We've been playing Mortal Kombat 1 on another platform (also the Premium Edition — no, we couldn't resist as big fans of this franchise) at the same time we've been reviewing on Switch and it's a superb fighter, a highly polished, slick, addictive effort that's the best the series has looked and felt since Mortal Kombat (9) dropped 12 years ago. However, this Switch port, unless you really have no other choice and can put up with the multiple issues we've outlined, just doesn't cut it.
Mortal Kombat 1 on Nintendo Switch manages to deliver this superb game's Story and Towers modes in a state that's playable, but only if you've got plenty of patience. There are frame rate issues, big resolution dips, input and timing problems related to performance drops, missing content, game-breaking bugs in Invasion mode, long loading times, and unresponsive menus. If you are a huge Mortal Kombat fan whose only option is Switch, you may be able to press through all of this. However, if you have any other option, we suggest you stay away from this one for now.