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Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe
System: PS3, Xbox 360 :: Rating: Teen :: Players: 2
Genre: Fighting :: Released: 16 November 2008

By Damien Wilkens
11 December 2008 — A lot of things just go well together: peanut butter and jelly, Calvin and Hobbes, video game reviews and clichéd openings. Sometimes, however, we are exposed to combinations that just baffle the mind. For instance, who thought it was a good idea to put squid on pizza, or little sweaters on dogs? And who was it that first handed instruments to Nickelback, and a movie camera to Uwe Boll? Along those same lines, when Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe was first announced, my reaction was very much of the bewildered variety. Why would someone ever mix those two universes? Sadly, the answer is all too obvious: Mortal Kombat is a stagnant brand, and something was needed to spice it up.

It should be noted that this isn't the first time comic book characters have entered the fighting arena; what Capcom did with the Marvel license was nothing short of brilliant. Marvel vs. Capcom worked because Capcom simplified the gameplay while making sure they didn't include Marvel properties on name value alone. Instead, they included characters that could actually work in a fighting game. Nightcrawler, as great as he is, wouldn't have translated well, and while most everyone agrees that Marrow is one of the most useless characters in Marvel history, she worked in a fighting game. The point to be made from all of this is that Midway doesn't understand this concept, and it's part of what makes MK vs. DCU break at the seams. The Flash, as a video game character, is utterly broken. Because of this, he's almost unfairly effective in this game. Same idea with Hal Jordan's Green Lantern, who is actually at Catwoman levels of lameness due to his inability to think of anything to do with his ring other than make hammers. One could go on forever, but the truth is that there was a lot of potential here, and some characters, like Batman and Deathstroke, fit right in. It's this very potential that makes the game so frustrating. Frankly, they played softball with the roster. At a mere 22 characters, there was no chance of equaling Armageddon's absurd cast, but when the Mortal Kombat side is filled with nothing but MK2 retreads and half of the DC guys feel like they're from a different game — you can't help but think you've been cheated. Those hoping for favorites like Kira or Havik will be disappointed by the selection, but even I can understand that for a game such as this, there are some people that simply must be in there. The DC side doesn't get the same benefit of the doubt, however. There are five villains, including Darkseid, and three of them have no business in this game; Joker is a pathetically weak character, who is only good for an edited version of a Fatality that we've all seen on YouTube, and Lex Luthor and Catwoman are simply fodder. Dark, tone-appropriate characters such as Lobo and Black Adam are nowhere to be found. The reason given for the choices were that there is a duality to be seen within the matchups; Sub Zero and Batman are mysterious hand-to-hand masters, Raiden and Captain Marvel can both call lighting from the heavens, Sonya and Catwoman both have breasts, etc.

To be fair, the Mortal Kombatants feel the most balanced they've been in quite a while. As always, there are certain moves that can be spammed, but guys like Scorpion have been toned down, while others have been given new attacks and, thus, more of a fighting chance. The gameplay is unchanged, for better or worse. While the character models are gorgeous and highly detailed, they still animate like stop motion puppets with sticks up their asses. As with every installment, certain changes have been made to the fighting system. Fighting style changes and deathtraps are a thing of the past, though combo breakers are still here and cheaper than ever. The new Klose Kombat and Free Fall Kombat features are simply rock-paper-scissors situations in which you try to best your opponent. And the Test Your Might minigame, in which you mash buttons to run your opponent through a series of walls, looks really cool the first time, but does a pitiful amount of damage, to the point that you'll never try it again. The only new feature that seems to change gameplay significantly is the Rage Meter, which allows you to go into a frenzied state that makes most of your attacks unblockable. The problem here, of course, is that your opponent can activate his Rage immediately after you, completely canceling yours out — leaving you helpless. However, all the gimmicks in the world can't shake the feeling that you've done all of this before, and that most of the DC warriors are just palette swaps of old Deception character models.

If this series is to ever become competitively legitimate, it needs a new engine immediately. There's no real depth to the system. The game is so reliant on special moves and dial-a-combos that winning a match has less to do with ability than it does with simply getting moves out before your opponent. Fighting games, above all else, need to be tight and responsive. When I press a kick button as part of a combo, it may be a full five seconds before I finally see that kick executed.

Many will argue that Mortal Kombat has only ever been about the gore and spectacle, but the problem is that there is no gore here. And while there is a certain surreal quality to seeing Superman fight Shao Khan, the novelty quickly wears off. Fatalities still live on, but they are some of the most unimpressive finishers that the series has ever seen. Often, they are so lame that you would rather end a battle with a well-placed uppercut than bother with a button sequence that will make Deathstroke shoot a character off screen. To make things even more kid-friendly, the DC heroes do not have Fatalities. Instead, they have Heroic Brutalities, which are non-lethal finishing moves that make the aforementioned T-rated Fatalities look like snuff films by comparison. The Dark Knight summoning a parade of bats to tickle his foe into submission is not cool; it's someone's poor idea of a practical joke.

Without all of the elements that made Mortal Kombat popular in the first place, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe is a game that must settle for merely being the sum of its parts. It's a remarkably bare-bones package. The Krypt feature of previous games is no more, and the only things to unlock are the bosses. The story itself is what you'd expect: you chose a side, they come up with a very flimsy reason why the two sides are at odds and you fight everyone until the end. There are no branching paths, nothing in the way of replay value and the reward you get for playing as the big baddies is hardly worth the effort. I'll admit, after punching Superman in the face as Darkseid, I muttered, "That's who I am," but that's the high point of the entire experience. Once you beat the narrative, your only remaining options are to fight the AI some more or find some humans to play. But this is not a competitive fighting game, so fighting online is a pointless endeavor, and the AI only knows two speeds: window licker and god.

There is no real reason to play this game. Mortal Kombat fans get none of the blood, story or atmosphere that they expect, and DC fans get lame versions of their favorite characters thrown into a damaged property that doesn't click at all with their mythos. This series definitely needs a hero, but not one with an S on his chest.

Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe gets a 6 out of 10.

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