Midway Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe

Check your brain at the door and you'll enjoy this campy, ludicrously over-the-top fighter.

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Midway Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe
  • Midway Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe
  • Midway Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe
  • Midway Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe

Pros

  • Feels like a true Mortal Kombat game, Freefall and Klose Kombat bring variety, low learning curve, online mode has little lag

Cons

  • No alternate character costumes, uneven visuals (particularly environments), some infinite combos and imbalances, gore is somewhat toned down

Bottom Line

Though far from a technical fighting game, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe exceeds expectations by delivering a solidly enjoyable casual fighter. The Mature-rated gore is missed, but the core combat here feels more confident and energetic than it has in years.

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There are several ways to judge a game like Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. One way is to compare it to top-tier, tournament-grade fighting games such as Soul Calibur IV, Tekken 5, and Virtua Fighter 5. The problem is that Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe is miles away from a technical fighter — it's not even remotely trying to compete with those games. To judge Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe on its technical merits is to miss the point entirely, as this is a fighting game designed to be played by a broader, more casual audience. Taken in this context, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe is largely a success.

When Worlds Collide

The storyline is laughable, yet retains a campy, bumbling charm that can be hypnotic. In the opening cinema, a battle between Superman and Darkseid triggers a kind of "resonance cascade" scenario in which several dimensions begin to collide, with predictable brand-crossover results. Now warriors from the Mortal Kombat universe, including ninjas Scorpion and Sub-Zero, are prowling the streets of Gotham City and Metropolis looking for trouble. Making matters worse is that the DC and MK heroes are being possessed by "Rage," a mysterious affliction tied to the merging of the two worlds, which makes them uncontrollably attack friend and foe alike.

The Story Mode is a minor innovation in that it enables you to play from the perspective of either the Mortal Kombat or DC characters as they attempt to set their universes straight. And while the plot and dialogue are ludicrous in both storylines, the two distinct perspectives do provide genuine incentive to replay the single-player game -- a rarity in the fighting genre. Voice acting in the cinemas is a hit-and-miss affair, with characters such as The Joker and Batman sounding dead-on, and others sounding just, well, dead. Series villain Shang Tsung has a particularly eye-rolling vocal performance — the graceless voice actor croaks and wheezes his lines like Marcus Fenix after a night of hard drinking. Depending on your sense of humor, you'll either find these moments to be hilarious and endearing, or painful and embarrassing.

Kore Kombat

Despite the presence of DC Comics characters such as Wonder Woman and The Flash, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe is firmly rooted in the gameplay tradition of Mortal Kombat. The fights are a blend of both the old and the new from the MK series, combining the simpler 2D pleasures of the early games (jumpkicks and fireballs galore) with the deeper combos and strategies of the later 3D titles such as Deception and Armageddon. The resulting gameplay feels fast, fluid, and fun, and it's definitely a step in the right direction. It's not the deepest combat system ever, but the barrier to entry is low and you can pick up a character's basic techniques in under a minute. The result is a game that's perfect for parties and lazy Sunday afternoons — you won't have to strain your brain to enjoy this fighter. Perhaps most important of all is that MK vs. DC feels more like Mortal Kombat than the Tekken-ized 3D trilogy that graced the PS2 and Xbox.

MK vs. DC also introduces a few splashy new gameplay wrinkles, and the results are visually impressive but easy to perform. The first is called "Klose Kombat," and it's executed as a special grab move. In Klose Kombat, the camera zooms in tight while the characters pummel each other at close range with headbutts, elbows, and knees. Klose Kombat looks snazzy, nicely showing off the detailed character designs, but it's a gimmick that's easily countered by matching your opponent's timed button presses. "Test Your Might" returns as a mid-match button-tapping frenzy, as you smash your opponent through a series of walls and attempt to inflict maximum damage. Finally, "Freefall Kombat" fares best of all, enabling you to bash your opponent off a cliff and whack away at him in mid-air. It's during moments such as these, with two characters struggling for the upper hand as they soar hundreds of feet through the air, that MK vs. DC shines brightest. Freefall Kombat has some balance issues that crafty players will surely exploit online, but the premise is fresh and exciting, and a natural step forward for this storied series. I hope to see it return for the next Mortal Kombat game.

The Death of Death?

MK vs. DC is the first Mortal Kombat game to carry a toned-down Teen rating, which means that the series' infamously gruesome fatality moves are off limits. But MK vs. DC pushes that Teen rating to its breaking point, and the result is a game that's far from squeaky-clean: Broken necks, blood spurts, and full-body incineration are all present and accounted for. Though many of the new finishing moves -- fatalities for MK characters and DC villains, "heroic brutalities" for DC heroes -- are disappointingly tame, there are a few gems to be found (especially if you pick up the European PS3 version, which has less censorship). None of the finishing moves are nearly as impressive as Sub-Zero's spine rip from the first game, but considering how unremarkable the fatalities were in Deception and Armageddon, the finishers in MK vs. DC come off rather well in comparison. The good news is that Mortal Kombat creator Ed Boon recently told me that future MK games will likely return to the bloodier Mature rating. In the meantime, MK vs. DC's cleaned-up presentation is less disappointing than many (myself included) had feared. If you're a more casual fan of the series, you'll barely notice the difference.

It Has Begun

There's no escaping the fact that some longtime fans may be disappointed by the game's new Teen rating and the introduction of DC Comics fighters. This is to be expected. But the ultimate paradox is that by stripping away the signature spine-ripping gore, Mortal Kombat made a surprising discovery: its identity. MK vs. DC isn't the best Mortal Kombat game, not by a country mile, but for the first time in years this series feels relevant and energised. It's silly, it's frivolous, and at times it's downright unbalanced, but it's also unapologetically Mortal Kombat. As long as you keep your expectations firmly in check, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe is good, goofy fun.

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