When I first heard that Mortal Kombat 1 would be skipping the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles, but would in fact, be coming out on the Switch, my first thought was, “Surely that means that it’s going to be one of those cloud version-only games like Resident Evil Village, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, and so on. But I was wrong: Mortal Kombat 1 on the Switch is a straight-up port, running directly off the Switch hardware, and yes, that is as bad of an idea as it sounds.
Before we begin, please check out my Mortal Kombat 1 review for the version that’s on PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC to get a full overview and my critiques of it. Long story short: MK1 is great! There are exciting changes to the gameplay formula in the form of the Kameo system, the fighting itself feels fresh thanks to some smart tweaks to how combos are structured, and the story mode is fantastic, even if some of its online features feel outdated and the Invasions mode doesn’t quite land.
Mortal Kombat 1 on the Switch can claim all of those things too, but the technical limitations of the hardware make experiencing them feel like you’re trudging through whatever sludge Reptile crawled out of. Let’s get the most obvious knock against it out of the way first: It looks abysmal compared to the other versions. Character models lack detailed textures, the expressive facial animations of the current-gen versions are highly compromised to say the least, clothing – and sometimes even skin – constantly stretches and clips through body parts, and every so often you can even see straight through them. Those absolutely gorgeous stages that I praised in my other review look like they had a heavy gaussian blur filter applied to them in Photoshop and briefly made me think that I needed glasses.
So yeah, it’s bad, but this also isn’t a big surprise – the Switch was an underpowered console when it launched six years ago, and truthfully, if this was the worst of Mortal Kombat 1’s problems, I’d still be able to recommend it because even though it would look bad, it’d still play great. But the issues go far deeper than just skin – they’re down to the bone.
Before you even get into a match, you’ve got to deal with egregious load times lasting, on average, around 40 seconds. This is made all the more noticeable by the fact that the character select screen is designed for you to quickly and seamlessly take you from here into the match. On the other versions you select your characters, they clash, say a quick two lines of dialogue, and when they separate, you’re in the match. On the Switch, they clash, say a quick two lines of dialogue, and then… stare awkwardly at each other for half a minute while textures pop in and out all around them.
Loading pains are felt the most in both Invasions mode and online play. Invasions is particularly bad because it’s designed for a ton of quick bouts that you’re able to generally steamroll through in order to collect rewards like new gear pieces, skins, etc. At its best it’s already pretty grindy and slow paced, but when you add on the fact that you’re frequently spending more time waiting to get in and get out of a fight than you are actually fighting, it becomes straight-up joyless.
Ranked online play is especially frustrating because of the fact that every match is a first to three set, and despite the fact I’m playing with the same characters on the same stage, with the same Kameos, it still takes about 40 seconds of staring at a black screen in between each match of the set. That’s just too long to wait when you consider that you’re also waiting for matchmaking, waiting for opponents to accept matches, and occasionally even waiting a moment or two for fatalities to happen.
But the real kicker is the actual performance of the gameplay during a fight. There’s a lot of slowdown that affected my timing and led to dropped combos, similar to how it’d feel if I was playing online with bad netcode… only this was playing locally, against a CPU. Some stages are worse than others, but it is something that I felt to a certain degree in pretty much every match that I played. There’s also a couple of weird bugs that I encountered, such as Li Mei’s lantern disappearing after a certain amount of time in the air; Sareena’s dreaded boomerang Kameo attack doesn’t return, which makes it essentially useless; and the list of combo trials isn’t at all like the list from the other versions, with most characters getting six challenges instead of seven, and some characters getting just one. It’s almost like it’s working off of a different version.
If Story mode is all you’re interested in, then you may find some value in MK1 on the Switch. The cutscenes are pre-rendered and look great, even though the switch to in-engine fights is incredibly jarring, and the problem with long load times is mitigated due to the fact that you’re just watching the story as it loads. But you’d be less frustrated just watching it on YouTube.
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Author: Mitchell Saltzman