Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe Review

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Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe Publisher: Midway
Developer: Midway

Platforms: Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3
Reviewed on Xbox 360

Just as the superheroes of the DC Universe were about to defeat the foul magical manipulator Darkseid, and the armies he had brought through dimensional portals known as "Boom Tubes," Superman destabilized a portal through which Darkseid was fleeing, opening up a link to yet another dimension. That other dimension happened to be Mortal Kombat's Realms, a universe that occupies the same time and space as the DC Universe, but in a parallel dimension. At exactly the same time in the Mortal Kombat universe, Shao Khan prepares to be punished for his crimes, violating the rules of Mortal Kombat, and is knocked into a portal between worlds by the bolts of Raiden, god of thunder.

The defeated Darkseid fused with Shao Khan's foul magics, becoming a staggeringly powerful being calling itself Dark Kahn. Dark Kahn is reaching out to fuse the two universes, turning the overlapping worlds into a nexus of evil, and infusing everyone with a mystical rage that forces them to fight, fueling the combination. Only by defeating Dark Kahn can the merging of the two universes be stopped, restoring peace and order to the world.

Kyle Ackerman

The only thing that sounds sillier to an outsider than a brief summary of a video game plot is a similar summary of the super-powered soap-opera antics of comic book characters. As a fan of both, it's easy to overlook the audacious ridiculousness that happens when you put both together (Superman causes the near end of the universe by aiming his heat vision at a Boom Tube, and then saves the universe by mashing buttons?) and enjoy the pageantry. But don't try explaining the storyline to your mother-in-law. Fortunately, story aside, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe is a remarkably good fighting game.

As a superhero fighting game, I enjoyed Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe more than any other I've played. As a Mortal Kombat game, it certainly looked and played better than past games thanks to the new generation of consoles, but with fewer Mortal Kombat characters and seriously reduced gore, it wasn't quite as satisfying. After a little play, I think most Mortal Kombat fans will be able to forgive the changes, and will appreciate what Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe has to offer.

When Competitive Play Goes Solo

Dark Kahn (the lava golem-looking dude born from the dimensional interlacing of Darkseid and Shao Khan) is merging the two universes, and that is changing everyone's powers. It's the storyline's justification for making every character the equal in a fight of every other. It explains how Flash can be perfectly matched in battle against Superman, and how the Joker happens to be evenly matched with Raiden. It's the kind of justification that gives my barber the same shot as Aquaman at actually being cool and taking down Superman.

While this might sound like a backhanded compliment, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe is the best single-player fighting game I've played. In a genre that focuses on the competitive, multiplayer experience, that's strange. Typically in such games, the single-player mode is a loosely strung-together series of fights designed to warm you up for the real matches. Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe offers two story modes that are both worth watching, with plenty of engaging cut-scenes and incrementally introducing you to every character. Keep in mind that when I say, "a story worth watching," it's fun, but only as deep as those Star Trek episodes in which characters come back as their evil counterparts, sporting goatees. In this game, you can tell by the glowing, yellow eyes.

The DC Universe story line starts with the various heroes and villains battling it out, beginning to encounter the denizens of the Mortal Kombat universe, and ultimately tackling Dark Kahn himself. The Mortal Kombat storyline begins with the various Kombatants (I'm trying to resist overusing that "K") investigating the disappearances of members of their own battling factions. Both stories intertwine, showing mirror sets of events, but ending the same way – in an epic battle against Dark Kahn.

Up Klose and Personal

When you get down to the fighting, this is the most fun that I've had with a Mortal Kombat game in a long time. Yes, Midway has pulled back on the blood so that Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe could achieve a "T" ("Teen") rating. This may be a disappointment to long-time fans, but doesn't really change the way the fighting plays out. There are still fatalities, although the heroes of the DC Universe prefer to perform "Heroic Brutalities." Don't probe too deep into that distinction – I'm sure it was a lot of work to let the heroes be that vicious, since no one wants to enter a code to have your fighter pick the other guy up, dust him off and hand him over to the cops. And while the blood is notched back, the higher-fidelity graphics mean that you can see costumes get torn and flesh get ripped as combatants batter one another.

The game is fully 3D, and the 3D environment feels meaningful. You can sidestep attacks, when it makes sense. It's easy to dodge a bullet or fireball from far away, but impossible to sidestep a nearby roundhouse kick. There are tons of moves and combos, and none of the idiotic jumping that plagued my early and formative Mortal Kombat experiences. The game continues the tradition of destructible objects within the arenas, but moves away from deadly and gory traps.

To supplement the various moves, combatants can indulge in a variety of button-pressing mini-games. Similar to initiating a throw, fighters can start "Klose Kombat." That involves the aggressor pressing four buttons in sequence. The defender has a split second to match the button press, countering the sequence and resuming normal battle. Every blow the aggressor lands just stacks on the damage, usually sealing victory. "Free Fall Kombat" is even cooler, and one of my favorite parts of the game. By launching a vicious attack near a huge drop, a sequence like Klose Kombat begins, but falling through the air. Free Fall Kombat always runs its course, but a successful counter changes who lands on top, and who takes the lion's share of the beatdown. There are also "Test Your Might" competitions in which combatants smash through walls, mashing buttons to inflict (or resist) damage. These sequences end up being really cool, even if a well-timed sequence of attacks by an expert opponent is often more damaging.

Also augmenting combat is the "rage meter," in keeping with the plot. Rage builds up over the course of a fight, and can be unleashed when the meter is full to do truly vicious amounts of damage. It's fairly simple to knock out half an opponent's health bar while enraged. Rage does seem to be balanced, in that it often helps the loser keep things close, with one exception. The first person to land a blow in a fight gets a 50% boost to the rage meter. Since rage carries over between rounds, always landing the first blow ends up being a huge advantage. At least this bonus keeps players from waiting for the other fighter to make the first move.

The Klown Prince of Krime

If there's something that residents of the DC Universe and the Mortal Kombat universe share, it's that they all take themselves too seriously. That's why the Joker deserves a special mention. I enjoyed playing him so much, simply because he injected his trademark brand of vicious humor into the mix, often dancing away while cackling after landing a special move. Ultimately, the presence of the Joker emphasized how much room there is to expand in Mortal Kombat, and while this isn't a failing, it would be nice to see more variety in the characters that get added to the mythos.

For me, no one was as much fun as the Joker. I particularly liked the various characters' "trap" moves – sort of a pre-emptive counter. Sub Zero could ice himself over, freezing anyone who landed a punch. Scorpion could set himself on fire, literally igniting aggressive enemies. But the Joker just held out an electric hand buzzer and offered to shake hands. Then he'd taunt the victim of his pugilistic practical joke.

Live Foes Are the Spice of Kombat

Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe offers the usual variety of modes. I've dwelled a lot on the Story Mode, because it's remarkable, as fighting games go. The Story Mode involves a huge number of cut-scenes connecting fights between nearly every combination of fighter in the game. Arcade Mode is typical of most fighting games, offering a brief ending for each character who can battle through a sequence of foes to ultimately defeat Dark Khan. The Kombo Challenge is, perhaps, the best way to hone your skills for multiplayer, as it requires the split second timing of characters' signature moves in sequence. Of course, there's the usual Practice mode where you can practice moves on unfeeling foes.

Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe has a tremendous single-player game, but there is the requisite multiplayer game, as well. You can battle an opponent on the same console, or find foes online. Online play certainly didn't feel laggy. In fact, it felt as smooth as offline play. When I lost, it was because my opponent was simply much, much better than I was.

Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe offers a fighting game experience that is a lot more satisfying than most, and is probably the best superhero fighting experience on a console. It certainly doesn't feel like a title that was churned out to rake in a few more dollars from Mortal Kombat fans or comic fans. Instead, it's an altogether polished experience.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on November 16, 2008 10:32 AM.

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