When Midway first announced the Mortal Kombat vs DC games, I believe my exact words were: “Eeeeeee!”
As a huge longtime fan of both series (admittedly my DC fandom is bigger than my MK one), it would finally be a chance to experience the DC roster in a good, respected fighting game; not that garbage title that came out two years ago. Thankfully, I didn’t end up disappointed as Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe is a game that not only successfully delivers the DC Comics license, but turns back the clock on the Mortal Kombat franchise and reminds people how it used to be.
If you’ve played any of the recent MK games, you’re well aware of the change in combat systems. Gone was the simple yet effective 2D combat, and in its stead stood a poorly conceived 3D fighter with different combat stances and weapons to use. It was like Midway tried to turn MK into a legit, complicated fighter – which it has never been, and should never be. In this latest title, MK takes a step back. While it still utilizes 3D movement, the weapon and fighting styles are completely gone, and the old-school 4-strike layout makes a triumphant return.
Before I get to the meat of the game and the awesome story mode, let me get one of my biggest gripes out of the way: Midway couldn’t decide if they wanted this game to be 2D or 3D. This is reflected by the fact that the d-pad and left analog stick control completely differently. Using the d-pad, you’re playing classic MK; down is duck, left is left, right is right, and up is jump. Want to move forward and backward in the 3D plane? Hold the left trigger and push up/down. With the analog stick, however, left is left and right is right, but up and down move your character along the Z axis, rather than the Y axis. It’s unfortunate, because it’s a much harder game to play when you can’t easily jump and duck without switching where your thumbs are. So you’re stuck either using the 3D controls (which any good player can easily exploit to avoid the slow moving missile attacks), or you’re stuck using the much superior controls but on the Xbox 360’s inferior d-pad. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Control schizophrenia aside, the gameplay feels, for the most part, like the MK we grew up with and loved during the era of arcades and SNES. It’s simple to learn, but hard to truly master.
While I love the switch back to the traditional MK gameplay, my favorite part of MK vs DC is the story mode. It won’t win any awards for Best Writing, but as a huge fan of the DCU I can honestly say the story is on par with some of the two- and three-parters we saw in the two Justice League series.
Basically, both sides have their own story, and you don’t get the full picture until you’ve beaten both, which will take anywhere from 3-5 hours depending on how many times you have to re-try certain fights. On the DC side of things, Superman has finally beaten Darkseid (who teamed up with Luthor) and stands facing his enemy in the war-torn streets of Metropolis. Trying to escape the last son of Krypton, Darkseid activates one of his portals, but at the last minute Superman shoots him with heat vision, the portal fluctuates wildly, Darkseid screams out the cliché “Noooo!” and vanishes.
On the other side of the box art, Raiden and the other earth warriors have finally beaten Shao Khan, and Quan Chi opens a portal for him to escape. Khan tries to get through it, Raiden shoots it with lightning, and since it was presumably at the same time Superman shot Darkseid’s portal, things go horribly wrong.
The two stories share similar focuses, but the unique characters and confrontations make each one a different experience. Ultimately, both sides tell of how that world reacts when the heroes (and villains) learn that their universe is being “invaded” by a foreign one, bent on contaminating its inhabitants with a form of supernatural anger known as Rage, which sends even Batman and Liu Kang into murderous rages against their friends and allies.
And, in case you were wondering how someone like Superman is on equal grounds with other various DC heroes and the non-magical MK people, the answer is fairly simple (even if it’s never fully explained): the merging dimensions split his power among the participants of the game. This is particularly amusing when The Joker figures out he suddenly gained superhuman strength and decides to go beat up people he never could before.
Of course, with the inclusion of the DC characters, sacrifices and additions had to be made for the MK engine. For starters, the overly violent fatalities are gone. While I really don’t care, there are some who will refuse to buy any MK game which doesn’t feature them, so it’s worth noting.
The other new additions to the gameplay weren’t specifically labeled as being added for the benefit of DC’s characters, but given how different they feel from regular MK play and how they seem to cater to the cape crowd, I can’t help but feel they were. The first, Free Fall Kombat, takes place when you knock your opponent through a wall or off a higher plane to a lower one. By pressing attack buttons, you pummel your opponent until you build up enough momentum to unleash your strongest attack: a usually spectacular-looking move which will leave a Superman-like crater in the ground. If you’re on the receiving end, guessing which button the striker will push next will reverse the fall, and suddenly the attacker becomes the one who takes the damage. It sounds good on paper, but playing against other players results in very little action, as neither wants to push a button and give away their gameplan at the risk of adding to damage they can inflict on themselves. On the flipside, the computer almost always manages to guess your attack, and 4/5 of the time will reverse it.
In a similar vein, Klose Kombat also involves pressing attack buttons and trying to counter by pushing the correct corresponding button. By grappling with an opponent, you basically enter a wrestling-like “we’ll both hold each other and grunt” stance. Pushing buttons beats your opponent with various hard-hitting and costume-shredding attacks, but once again the computer always seems to have the advantage in terms of countering.
If there’s any weak point in the game, it’s that there just isn’t much to do once you’ve beaten the story. While you can go through the Arcade Mode and unlock the endings for all the characters, all you’ll get is a picture and a voice-over saying what your choice did after they won the MK Tournament. Unlike pretty much every Mortal Kombat game before it, MK vs DC has absolutely zero unlockables. No alternate costumes, no actual hidden characters (only Shao Khan and Darkseid as unlockables for beating the respectful story modes), no music – nothing. It severely limits the staying power of the game, because once you’ve seen the story and know how it ended … There’s really no reason to keep playing.
For that reason, I’d highly recommend MK vs DC to fans of both DC Comics and Mortal Kombat – but as a rental. The combat is fun in short bursts, but the lack of things to do once you’ve beaten the 5 hours of story makes it impossible to recommend a purchase for anyone but the most extreme Mortal Kombat fans who were going to get this game regardless of how it turned out. I’m still shocked Midway managed to pull it off and make it work so splendidly with both licenses, but even Batman and Superman can’t keep a game fun and meaningful when you’ve experienced all there is to do in the first 5 hours of play.