Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe - Flawless Victory?

November 21, 2008

Superheroes in a fighting game? What would have been a shocking concept before Marvel met Street Fighter is still a pretty cool one now, and in some ways DC and Mortal Kombat really do seem meant for each other. If you've ever wanted to see Raiden take on Superman, your dreams will come true. But is taking the outcome into your own hands worth the price of admission?

Regardless of whether or not Mortal Kombat and the DC universe really needed to be brought together by a coherent story, someone has done a decent job of it. Beyond the basic premise of two worlds colliding and beating the crap out of each other, there are actually two stories: one for each side. Heroes and villains alike find themselves affected by a mysterious rage, which is a convenient, if not amazingly clever, excuse for everyone to end up fighting everyone else.

The two tales were crafted by a comic writer who knows his stuff--especially on the DC side. There are actually some interesting rivalries and even a few good jokes mixed into this super-powered royal rumble. While it realizes some of its fan-pleasing potential and trumps most fighting games with its cutscene-packed storytelling, it still feels a lot like typical video game material most of the time.

Compared to recent Mortal Kombat games, MK vs DC weighs in a little light when it comes to game modes. There's no action-adventure mode, no kart racing, and definitely no chess. Not that it’s a bad thing considering how half-baked they were in the past. The two substantial story modes stand dead center, supported by a no-frills arcade mode, the skill-testing kombo challenge, and versus play online and off.

So maybe they could have used one or two silly modes, but MK vs DC shows decent design, bringing back some of the simplicity of old Mortal Kombat while keeping some of the new school stuff like 3D movement and Tekken-like juggles.

It's still not the sharpest or most balanced fighting game around, and that's okay. What won't be okay with many fans is that MK vs DC seems to have traded its signature over-the-top gore and violence for a superhero license and a teen rating. When the match is over and it’s time to finish your opponent, the mild fatalities and the new "heroic brutalities" simply can't compare than the dangling spinal chords and beating hearts fans once knew. They're just much less satisfying.

Each fighter has two finishers to discover, randomly or with the help of the internet, but there's not a lot of content to unlock. There are 23 characters total, with all but three combatants available from the start. Other than brief still-screen endings in arcade mode, you're given pretty much everything up front.

Mortal Kombat versus DC is tamer than most titles that bear the Mortal Kombat name, but there are still recognizable elements. There are two punch buttons and two kick buttons, the universal uppercut remains in classic form, and while finishing moves were neutered, special moves are still visually interesting and inventive.

The DC side actually brings some interesting techniques to the table, even if it seems like everybody and their mother has some kind of teleport. The emphasis on key special moves makes the long list of named combos and commands similar to what you'd see in other 3D fighting games mostly useless. It doesn't help that so many attacks often whiff up close.

A rage meter lets you turn on extra damage or break a combo, but it’s not the game-changing trump card it aspires to be. Meanwhile, wonky damage scaling and seemingly arbitrary timing make lengthy juggle combos far more trouble than they're worth.

The fighting works on a basic level, but most of the additions don't add anything worthwhile. In-fight mini-games that utilize Simon Says mechanics or button mashing pound your opponent off a cliff or through a wall are gimmicky, but they're still among the better additions. And at least they look cool.

Even if you're looking at ugly characters, Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe is a good-looking game. Cinematic touches during the fights themselves are obvious, but the way you can see the damage on the characters themselves is subtly impressive. If only the fatalities were a little less subtle.

And if you like cutscenes, the twin story modes have hours of material for you to take in. The voice casting seems to match the right voices to the right characters for the most part, and the music suits both the MK and the DC sides equally well. Unfortunately you never hear the phrase "toasty" pop up, but there's still some cheese to appreciate.

A respectable roster, goofy but generally fun fighting, and the bridging of two universes with an actual coherent story line makes MK vs DC appealing for casual players. But if you're looking for a true Mortal Kombat sequel or the next super-balanced tournament fighter, this watered-down, crossed-over spin-off isn't your game.