MK1 tips and tricks – how to play Mortal Kombat 1

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If you’re looking for the best beginner tips and tricks for Mortal Kombat 1 – here’s a guide on how to play it.

Figuring out fighting games is a pretty difficult task. Most of the time, there’s a pretty standard way to play the game if you’re fighting against offline AI opponents, though fighting against online opponents often requires an understanding of the game’s unofficial “meta.” The good thing about this is that often the developers are pretty aware of fighting game metas, and so they carry over through different renditions of the game. This means that there’s a long history of Mortal Kombat based on past titles to develop an understanding of how to play MK1 effectively.

Alongside learning our Mortal Kombat 1 tips, we’d highly recommend taking a look at the best graphics settings alongside the best controller settings for Mortal Kombat 1 – both of which will sort out any quality-of-life issues you might have with the game. But after many hours spent with the game – check out our Mortal Kombat 1 review here – here’s our advice on the best ways to get started racking up those wins.

Mortal Kombat 1 tips: An image of Kitana from the game.

Mortal Kombat 1 tips – how to play MK1

If you’re looking for the most up-to-date tips on how to play Mortal Kombat 1, then there are a few major mechanics you’re going to want to know: movement, attacking, blocking, Kameos, and combos.

Firstly, though, the tutorial should cover all of these very briefly. Players can find it in the main menu under the Learn section. You should definitely have a play through the tutorial before you begin even thinking about dipping your feet into Mortal Kombat 1. Training mode lets you practice different moves and counter-attacks until they become second nature to you. Performing a fatal blow or timing an aerial kombo is easier once you’ve trained at the lab. Don’t expect to pull off flawless blocks just yet though.

We already covered how to hold your controller in Mortal Kombat 1 in our settings piece, though, for a brief recap, you’re going to want to hold it pretty strangely. We’d suggest using your index finger and ring finger to press the buttons on the right, and to use the D-Pad rather than the thumbstick for movement. It might take some getting used to, but holding your controller like this will give you a little more flexibility with your fingers so you can fire off combos easily.

Start by finishing Story Mode to get a good understanding of the game. While it’s not as elaborate as the World Tour of Street Fighter 6, Story Mode introduces you to some favorite characters while letting you understand combos and other genre mechanics. You also get gear for clearing story missions.

We’re also going to create a key, of sorts, that will map different controller buttons to a standard set of instructions. Once you learn these, you’ll be able to use this guide to master Mortal Kombat with whichever controller you want. Here it is:

PlayStationXboxPCFight StickCommands
Left D-PadLeft D-PadALeft Joy-stickBack
Right D-Pad Right D-Pad DRight Joy-StickForward
Up D-PadUp D-PadWUp Joy-StickUp
Down D-PadDown D-PadSDown D-PadDown
L1LBSpace KeyThrow
L2LTUFlip Stance

Mortal Kombat 1 movement tips

Now that you’re holding your controller as suggested, or you’re using the best arcade stick for MK1, or even your keyboard, let’s get stuck into Mortal Kombat’s movement mechanics.

Step ForwardForward
Step BackwardBack
Dash ForwardDouble Forward
Dash BackwardDouble Back
Jump BackwardUp + Back
Jump ForwardUp + Forward

We’ve listed the basic possible in-game movements above, which you will no doubt already be familiar with. while they’re extremely basic, they’re going to form the foundation of one of the most important mechanics in-game. Having mastery of your movement means you’re going to be able to duck and evade opponents, and learn distancing and gap closing, while also positioning yourself for counters and attacks.

Movement isn’t particularly hard in Mortal Kombat 1, but you should be aware that you have short hops and long hops – which are read via how long you press the jump button. Movement will come naturally to you in MK1, and you’re going to figure out your movement style by playing longer. However, you’re going to want to make use of dashes to close distances easily, which you can chain with attacks after this.

Mortal Kombat 1 tips: A group of women standing on a purple staircase.

Mortal Kombat 1 offensive tips

We’ve listed the different basic moves in Mortal Kombat 1. However, you might be thinking surely there can’t be only four attacks? Well, you’re right. There are so many more attacks in MK1 than it looks like, and they’re all formed via combos.

AttackButton press
Front Punch1 (Square)
Back Punch2 (Triangle)
Front Kick3 (Cross)
Back Kick4 (Circle)

You’re going to be able to learn these specifically by having a look at the move list for each character, and while they might look different in design, they can be broken down into pretty standard categories. You’re going to have Highs, Mids, and Lows for most attacks, all of which will do a varying amount of damage.

Combining these different attack types with your movement is going to unlock a plethora of different attacks in-game. You’ll be able to figure these out through playing the game, or through learning the moves list. For example, you can do a Back attack by holding down the Back button paired with an attack. This will have a different effect, damage, and area of attack than a standard attack, and you should certainly make use of these techniques to vary your attacks.

Good low attacks can deal damage to players who are blocking upwards, for instance. Note that your ridiculous amount of moves can be complemented by Kameo characters so keep those synergies in mind too. It’s a different approach from other fighting games like Tekken 8 but it’s a puzzle that’s worth solving to deal a lot of damage.

Make use of Kombos and Special Move Cancels

Within the move list, you’re going to find a range of combos. You’re going to need to get to grips with pulling off the right combo at the right time, which you can only really figure out with experience. It’s important that you combine this movement and timing, alongside defensive positioning and counters to make the most of them. Launcher attacks can be used to push enemies into the air, letting you use MK1’s new focus on aerial combat. Usually, a combo consists of a string of attacks that when chained together pull off a specific combination attack.

Long combos can be aided with Special Move cancels. This means using a special move to interrupt an ordinary move of yours to extend combos. Note that it can take a while to master the timing required for this, especially across characters.

Learn Frame Data

This key term is for the more competitive crowd so don’t push yourself into memorizing this. Each move in a fighting game can be broken down into a beginning, a middle, and an end. These are called Start-Up Frames, Active Frames, and Recovery Frames respectively. While this can take a while to wrap your head around, it’ll come in handy across most fighting games. This information regarding the movement animation can make a noticeable difference in how you play.

Let’s say you want to attack quickly before an opponent. Learning which moves have the lowest Start-Up Frames can let you attack before your enemy does. For instance, using a move with lower frames than your rival lets you hit first, invalidating their attack attempt. These values can be found in the Advanced View of the pause menu. They are a huge deal when it comes to combo extensions and outwitting your rival’s move. You can also hop into Practice matches and activate the Frame Data toggle.

Mortal Kombat 1 tips: An image of a brutality performed by Kitana in the game.

Remember, throws are unblockable

Mortal Kombat, like other fighting franchises, implements throws as an unblockable feature. Press the throw button, alongside directing your D-Pad or thumbstick in a specific direction, and you will throw your opponent in a specific direction. These are unblockable, and you should definitely make use of this mechanic when you’re finishing up a combo or similar. And while blocks protect against other attacks, you still take chip damage from enemies.

Don’t sleep on Special Moves

You can read a list of special moves in the Mortal Kombat 1 moves list. Special moves are individually designed for each character and will perform a special move (duh!) which will do more damage than a normal move. You’re going to want to chain your regular move combos to end with special moves, but this is an advanced concept and you’re going to need to practice a lot to hit all of these combos.

Using special moves uses up energy from your Offensive Meter, so bare this in mind for the next bit. Follow up your special moves with Offensive Meter chain attacks, where you hit the Kameo button after throwing a Special Move to combo your opponent with a brutal tag-team attack.

This brings us to another key element.

Use your Kameos

Kameo characters like Kung Lao, Scorpion, and Motaro can enhance your offensive potential with moves that compensate for your character’s drawbacks. Expand your arsenal with assists from beloved characters like Sonya Blade and Goro. Try to pick Kameo characters that account for the weaknesses of your main fighter.

As the subtitle says – don’t forget to use your Kameos! Press the Kameo button at the end of your combos to call in your partner who will finish up your opponent with a tidy bit of extra damage, which you can even chain into your next combo.

Crack out those fatalities and brutalities

Once you’ve depleted your opponent’s health low enough, you’re going to be able to perform a Fatality, which will finish off your opponent nicely. Havik’s Atomic Heart is a particularly devilish fatality. Here’s how to unlock Havik in Mortal Kombat 1 if you haven’t done so.

Note that you’ll have to be at the right distance (close, mid, far) to land fatalities like Raiden’s Storm’s Arrival and Liu Kang’s Double Dragon. The fatality tutorial section helps with figuring out the correct distance. Your first fatality will pave the way to several more.

When you finish a combo and your enemy’s health is low enough, land a brutality by hitting Down + 2 to perform a brutality. This will stylishly finish off your opponent. You could also opt for a button combination to land a fatality like Ashrah’s Heavenly Light, Reiko’s The Impaler, or Sub-Zero’s Hairline Fracture. Note that Kameo characters also have fatalities like Scorpion’s Toasty fatality. For example, Cyrax lets you use Annihilation to blow up the entire world. I wish I were joking.

Mortal Kombat 1 tips: An image of Raiden, Kung Lao, and Madam Bo in the game.

Mortal Kombat 1 defensive tips

You’re going to need to make use of Mortal Kombat 1’s defensive mechanics, which involves blocks and counters. The button for blocking is different for each platform, though you’re going to want to get familiar with it.

However, you can’t block while you’re jumping. Similar to games like Super Smash Bros., you can only block while stationary. However, compared to Smash, you’re not going to be able to block your whole body at a time. If you’re standing up-right and blocking – you’ll block high attacks, mids, and overheads. Low attacks will still damage you.

However, blocking low will block low, mid, and high attacks. However, be warned – you can’t just spam low blocks as overhead attacks will still penetrate your defenses. Overhead attacks also do a hefty amount of damage, making them even more useful.

The moves list will tell you where attacks will hit – all the more reason to get familiar with it.

Throws are unblockable, but…

While we’ve already discussed that throws can’t be blocked, there are a few other mechanics that can help you defend against them. Perhaps the most valid one is that throws can be ducked. If you’re ducking, but not blocking, you’re going to be able to defend against throws. However, this does mean you’re susceptible to normal attacks.

You can also escape throws by anticipating, or learning, which direction your opponent is about to throw you. For example, a forward throw is escaped by hitting the 2 button. A back throw is escaped by hitting the 1 button. However, if you guess the wrong throw direction, there’s a chance you could be hit with exaggerated damage.

We’re going to update this page as we play Mortal Kombat 1 a little more. In the time spent playing it for our Mortal Kombat 1 review, we’ve aggregated lists of all the best fatalities. These come in handy in the Mortal Kombat 1 Invasion mode too. The new invasion mode also lets you get new cosmetics and unique pieces of gear for characters like Geras, Raiden, and Smoke from the seasonal store. Note that this doesn’t alter gameplay. Invasion mode plays differently with unique attributes that can be leveled up over time. But the best combos and elements like the special meter are still present.

Be sure to check back in with us regularly for the latest Mortal Kombat 1 tips and tricks. Mortal Kombat 1 is available now on PC, PlayStation 5 (PS5), Xbox Series X|S, and Switch players from NetherRealm Studios.

About the Author

Amaar Chowdhury

Amaar loves retro hardware and boring games with more words than action. So, he writes about them daily.

Mortal Kombat 1

  • Release Date: 19 September 2023
  • Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series S, Xbox Series S/X, Xbox Series X
  • Genre(s): Beat 'em Up