Shacknews Best Fighting Game of 2023 - Mortal Kombat 1

In a historic year for fighting games, Mortal Kombat 1's layered gameplay and reimagined mythology stole our hearts (straight out of our chests).


Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter. Two of the most recognizable brands in video games and in popular culture at large. The franchises had never received new installments in the same year—until 2023. Capcom gave us Street Fighter 6, arguably the best installment in the franchise since SF4; and Mortal Kombat 1, a re-imagining of NetherRealm Studios’ 31-year-old universe. Both games are fantastic, but Mortal Kombat 1 took home our staff’s award for the best fighting game of the year.

Mortal Kombat 1 is the freshest take on the franchise in over a decade. 2011’s Mortal Kombat (aka Mortal Kombat 9) rebooted the series to retell the story of the arcade-era mythology using cinematic technology unavailable in 1992. That story continued through 2015’s Mortal Kombat X and 2019’s Mortal Kombat 11, which ended with Liu Kang ascending to godhood and claiming the power to rewrite history. He did just that, resulting in MK1, a reboot that’s more of a reimagining.

Explored over 15 chapters, MK1’s story flips the script on established characters and their dynamics. Liu Kang is a god and mentor, and Raiden is mortal and his mentee. Sub-Zero and Scorpion are no longer deadly enemies; they’re blood brothers with conflicting views regarding the future of their clan. Mileena is no longer a bastardized clone of Kitana; she’s heir to the throne but stricken with a disease that, if discovered, will get her ostracized along with all the other diseased citizens her mother, Queen Sindel, has banished. Johnny Cage and Kenshi form an unlikely partnership, Shang Tsung and Quan Chi feel drawn to unite in a deadly alliance, and Shao Kahn is a general who has his eye on Queen Sindel’s throne. These relationships and more are explored with plenty of twists and turns, culminating in a final chapter that delivers some of the best fan service in franchise history.

Mortal Kombat 1’s gameplay feels as fresh as its reimagined universe. NetherRealm’s latest introduces the Kameo system: choose a main character, then select a Kameo to call in and perform special attacks or extend your combos at critical points in a match. No matter which main character you choose, the Kameo you pair them with opens up new options, new strengths, and new weaknesses. Online and offline tournaments are thriving, and pros are putting on matches as exciting to watch as the game is to play. Mortal Kombat 1’s art direction is stunning; watching its characters in action is like watching the martial arts flicks that inspired the series’ creation in the early ‘90s.

In true MK fashion, not all characters have returned from previous games. That makes sense: New faces would feel out of place in a story predicated on rethinking known relationships, but there are plenty of faces so old they feel new. Kombatants from the 3D era such as Li Mei and Havik, absent for so long that younger MK fans might not have even heard of them, make their return in MK1, partly in response to years of fans demanding to find out what they’ve been up to. This mix of series mainstays such as Scorpion and Sub-Zero, combined with prodigal kombatants from the 2000s, makes for arguably the most diverse Mortal Kombat roster in years.

Mortal Kombat 1 isn’t perfect. It didn’t ship with cross play (although NetherRealm plans to roll it out in early 2024), and its multiplayer options are not as robust as Street Fighter 6’s stellar offerings. Those issues aside, Mortal Kombat 1 is packed with single-player content that remains unmatched in the genre, deep fighting systems as satisfying for pros to dissect as they are easy for casuals to pick up, and other trappings such as robust tutorials and accessibility options, making it even more inviting to a wide demographic. That robust package carried MK1 to victory in our Best Fighting Game of 2023 category—and served as a reminder that Mortal Kombat has always been a fighting game franchise designed to appeal to everyone, not just the hardcore demographic.

Be sure to read over the rest of the Shacknews Awards in our Year of the Games: 2023 feature.

Long Reads Editor

David L. Craddock writes fiction, nonfiction, and grocery lists. He is the author of the Stay Awhile and Listen series, and the Gairden Chronicles series of fantasy novels for young adults. Outside of writing, he enjoys playing Mario, Zelda, and Dark Souls games, and will be happy to discuss at length the myriad reasons why Dark Souls 2 is the best in the series. Follow him online at and @davidlcraddock.

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