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      Mortal Kombat 1

      Impressions: Mortal Kombat 1 is a return to the 90s colours, but with today's possibilities

      We've tried out NetherRealm's first 'next-gen' fighting game, and it offers so many alternatives that its balancing will surely be a big challenge for the team.

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      It has several reads to it, but you can't deny that three of the big showings at Summer Game Fest Live were the respective returns of three beloved classic from the 90s: Prince of Persia, Sonic, and Mortal Kombat. Games with bigger or smaller budgets and ambitions, but that effectively recover the style that put them on the map back then, just with today's means. The third example, evidently, is a AAA blockbuster, a full reboot of the franchise that has finally been built with the power of the newer generation of PS5 and Xbox Series in mind (even thought it's also being ported to the Nintendo Switch) and that, for someone who ended up distancing himself from the series in the past few years (like yours truly), means a breath of colour, smoothness, and fresh air, enough reason to get back to it.

      MK1 looks absolutely spectacular. Not only because the stages are the most detailed I've seen in a fighting game to date, with multiple planes in the background, animated elements and persons a la Street Fighter, together with a depth and a light work that is unparalleled in the series, but also because they bet high on two aspects that had been slightly neglected lately: the colour and the fighters' animations.


      Thiago Gomes, Art Development Director at NetherRealm, couldn't help but feeling proud when I mentioned this impression I got as I was playing. It's a clear intention that Ed Boon, creator of the series 30 years ago, later confirmed to me in the interview we had after my play session: they were actively looking for the vivid tone of that decade, but without losing the series' trademark realism in the way. At the same time, in my opinion, realism and fidelity can't improve by just adding more polygons and textures; it needed a full revision of those robotic animations that already looked a bit silly next to games such as Killer Instinct or Tekken.

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      Controller in hand, then, Mortal Kombat 1 reacts in a more natural and fluid way, even though it maintains the combat system fans know and love. It just feels more right. You still get your usual button mapping, your exaggerated jumps and the "turn-based" special attacks. Now, besides, you get three bars to enhance those more elaborated moves by pressing a button and, of course, then comes the big new feature tweaking or expanding the whole game: the Kameos.

      In my Klassical Towers game (the traditional MK arcade mode, although there are yet to-be-revealed new game modes) I played with Kitana and her throwing fans all the time, but I could also have chosen among Sub-Zero, Kenshi, and, naturally, Liu Kang, who is responsible for creating this new universe, timeline, and story. But as Kameo Fighters there were Kano, Sonya, and Jax. In the demo version the rest of the 24-character and 16-Kameos roster was locked, but players will be able to make any combination they wish between any of them. And yes, their relationship in the story will be reflected with specific lines during their kameos.

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      My Kameo character of choice was Kano, who made a stellar appearance every time I pressed R1 at any time, even during an ongoing kombo or grab. But I'm a complete noob here as, according to Gomes and Boon, the kameos will be available in other circumstances, even as a defensive resort, or to make chained attacks longer. What I did try out though, was the Kameo Fatality, with Kitana letting Kano take care of the bloodshed. Great when you've grown tired of the same "finish them".

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      These absolutely fit in the middle of the action and allow for some significant creativity, without a doubt, but at the same time I'm slightly worried that we could end up seeing specific combinations that may break the game, mostly at a competitive level. Boon admitted that it's the thing they'll be polishing the most until the game's launch in September.

      My game in medium difficulty progressed as expected when you've been far from MK and fighting games in general for a while: you've lost your muscle memory but, as it gradually comes back and kicks in, you also start kicking some ass. Liu Kang with Sonya, Sub Zero with Jax, a clone of my Kitana-Kano couple, and finally Kenshi with Sonya, completed my tower in a kollection of very violent and hilarious blows, in the franchise's klassic style. Back are the kounters, the fatal blows (L2+R2), the punishments, and much more but, again, it doesn't mean this will play like MK10 or MK11: it's much better connected and it also adds new moves to the mix.

      I climbed the tower after getting a couple of beatings here and there and delivering a bunch on my own, performing a few of the easy fatalities (those which are down, down, button, both with Kitana at a distance and with Kano in the close quarters) and being absolutely blown away by the quality of the models, the lights, and the stages. And I still haven't seen good 'ol Jean-Claude Van Damme as Johnny Cage.

      So, we'll have to see how that tricky balance turns out given the big variable that are the Kameos, but the animation, the colour, the smoothness, and the sense of humour this new entry introduces, for the little I've seen and played so far, make me excited to be there on day '1' to get back to the series on September 19. And that's without even knowing what kind of krazy shit awaits us with the new movie-like story mode!

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      NetherRealm's fighters are back to kick butt in the bloodiest way possible in a completely rebooted universe. We've checked out whether it lives up to its potential...

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