Now in “Mortal Kombat 1” published on Thursday, a wish of three decades is fulfilled. Van Damme plays an alternate version of Johnny Cage, the fictional Hollywood star created to lampoon and lampoon him. Like Elon Musk and his long obsession with calling a company “X,” the Mortal Kombat franchise feels like he never outgrew his youthful desires.
That applies to the story of “Mortal Kombat 1.” It’s developer NetherRealm Studios’ second attempt at rebooting the franchise, but beyond some superficial changes, it reuses the same characters with basically the same characteristics under the same circumstances. When the credits rolled, I didn’t quite understand series protagonist Liu Kang, who was promoted in “Mortal Kombat 11” from zombie to actual god of all creation. (And no, I don’t have time to explain how that happened or why he was a zombie in the first place.)
The Mortal Kombat series are basically R-rated Marvel movies and have a lot in common with blockbuster movies. The most devoted consumers are rewarded for their knowledge and dedication to the back catalog. The story will end with people screaming and shooting different colored lasers at each other or something.
On the other side of that comparison, this single-game franchise has a roster of characters that is as diverse and fun as the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. The writers are unparalleled when it comes to filling out the action movie archetypes of the last century, giving them outlandish character traits and placing them in a simple but relatable soap opera. Shang Tsung, a Fu Manchu-stroking kung fu villain who frowns and says ridiculous things like “Your soul is mine,” remains an iconic antagonist.
These distinct and memorable personalities have helped make Mortal Kombat the king of the fighting game genre when it comes to sales. For the first two hours of “Mortal Kombat 1,” it plays with the audience’s expectations while coloring in new lives and stories for these old characters. After Liu Kang resets the universe, Shang Tsung is no longer a powerful sorcerer, but is literally transformed into a down-on-his-luck snake oil salesman. The god of thunder Raiden is now a deadly and likable farmer with an “aw shucks” charm.
Even the titular Mortal Kombat tournament plays out differently than in the past, and there’s something tempting about watching and waiting for the inevitable upheaval as these volatile people can’t help but find themselves in conflict. When that bubble finally bursts, that’s when the disappointment begins. The second half of the plot builds on story beats already used in previous games, including the attempted 2011 reboot, which was also frustratingly called simply “Mortal Kombat.” NetherRealm seems unable to create a new type of story with these characters. In theme and presentation, this is a series in arrested development.
Ironic, considering the original game is often credited with “maturing” the video game industry. Its depiction of gore and violence sparked a national moral panic that ended in 1993 when the U.S. Senate threatened government regulation of video games, and that in turn created a national standard for age and content ratings of games. video game.
Regardless, there is still great entertainment value here. “Mortal Kombat 1” is never shy about using one-liners and making references to past games and adventures, even just saying the name of the game. This entire story is a constant stream of “they said the thing” moments. The cast is acted and animated with excellence, particularly Mara Junot as Sindel, reformed as a gentle sovereign, and Alan Lee, sneering as series villain Shang Tsung. NetherRealm also proves to be among the industry’s best in cinematography, with close-ups that accentuate the emotion.
Most reviews of fighting games don’t give much importance to the stories, because it’s almost always beside the point. But the Mortal Kombat series is different. The 2011 reboot pioneered the industry in how the genre features a story mode, complete with great acting and a plot with dramatic twists. It was so successful that it saved the studio from ruin after years of failed sequels, and NetherRealm found its winning formula and has repeated it ever since.
Part of that winning formula is filling each title with so much content that it’s almost impossible to run out of things to do. The new Invasion mode is a board game that unlocks many cosmetic resources simply by playing your favorite characters. If the story failed in reimagining, it is not because of the scenery and scene design. These are some of the most dynamic and lively stages in fighting game history. In a teahouse fight, the waitresses walk away while the spectators applaud. There is a great and tangible feeling of belonging to a place.
The combat itself sees further improvements. The Mortal Kombat series has been criticized for sticking to its quirky, rigid animations, but this game offers more flexibility than ever for the expression of attack combinations. Allows more fluid movement. True to the original intentions of the first game’s digitized real-life actors, the fights in “Mortal Kombat 1” have never felt more real and grounded.
“Mortal Kombat 1” as a fighting game product remains as stellar as ever. It’s a shame that the game feels like a refreshing reboot until it can’t help itself and reiterates its past habits. Mortal Kombat doesn’t need to and probably shouldn’t “grow up.” Eternal adolescence is the point. But to stay young, you just need to get rid of the old.