A scene from the upcoming reality show- Dancing with the Comic Book Stars
Through the sixteen year history of the Mortal Kombat franchise, the series has undergone a number of interesting evolutionary changes. The franchise started as a simplistic two dimensional fighter that garnered attention due to its fatalities- finishing moves that allowed the player to perform over-the-top dismembering moves to the opposing fighter. Little innovation beyond an expanded character roster occurred with the game until 1998, when Mortal Kombat 4 brought the series into the third dimension. Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks saw the franchise ape God of War, and abandon its fighting mechanic altogether.
Last April, developer Midway announced the latest direction the series would take: MK characters would fight personalities from the DC Comic universe, in a brilliant pop-culture mash-up. While the hybridization of the two licenses seemed rife with possibility, one caveat worried gamers: the otherwise visceral MK series would have to tamed in order to achieve a ‘Teen’ ESRB rating. Speculation immediately occurred across message boards of the viability of this modification.
That’ll teach you for staring, buddy!
While a few players may miss the decapitations and Grand Guignol of the series, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe has lost little of its brutality, as characters are thrown though walls and mists of blood punctuate every hit. The title clearly rests of the cusp of a “T” rating. Instead of focusing on the weapon based combat that has permeated the series for the last ten years, MK vs DCU offers a pared-down single fighting style. However, there a few new additions to the pugilistic battling. Once ‘Klose Kombat’ is activated with a press of the right bumper, the screen zooms in on the two fighters. The initiator uses the face buttons to create a sequence that must be copied by the other character. A similar style of dualing comes into play when players land a successful attack near the edge of a vertically stacked arena. ‘Free Fall Kombat’ employs the same mechanic, but has players vying for supremacy while the warriors plunge downward. As players trade combos, they switch positions midflight, until the victor cushions his fall with the other characters body, resulting in a severe loss of health.
Single players have the option to play through arcade, story, kombo challenge and practice mode. In arcade mode, characters move up the opponent ladder in homage to past MK titles. Story mode allows players to select a narrative from either the Mortal Kombat or DC Comic world, as players watch uninterruptable cinemas that set up a series of fights for the player. Player can play either local or via Xbox Live in ranked and unranked matches. Online matches played smoothly, although occasionally hit animations didn’t synch with where players were making contact.
“Man, I can smell that from here! What in the world did you eat?”
Players can select from one of five levels of difficultly. No matter what level is selected, the CPU artificial intelligence seems awaken abruptly during the fifth round of play. Typically, boss battles can be frustrating, and victory is usually found by duplicating the same attacks to assail an Achilles’ heel in the AI. While Mortal Kombat’s graphics have grown exponentially detailed over the years, the fighting algorithms of CPU characters have remained frustratingly stagnant.
MK vs. DCU is an attractive game, with detailed characters that can scale to nearly the height of the game screen. Using the Unreal Engine, players accumulate cuts and bruises to their faces and bodies. The animation and framerate rate are both exceptionally fluid; we never saw the game dip below the sixty frames per second threshold. Sonically, the title still has some of the best low frequencies in the fighting game arena, as hits feel powerful. Series veteran Steve Ritchie reprises his role as the iconic announcer of the game. Sadly, Superman sounds a bit on the wimpy side.
What no faces in the trees, and no “Toasty!” guy? Are you sure this is Mortal Kombat?
While Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe is an enjoyable fighting game, we wish Midway offered a bit more content. Spoiled by Mortal Kombat Armageddon’s enormous six character sixty roster, this installment feels a bit light content-wise. While two unlockable bosses are a nice addition, the lack of any alternative costumes, arenas, or other bonuses feels like a small step backwards. Still, the twenty-two characters offered, along with the additions to the existing MK gameplay, makes this game a superior choice for the fighting game fan.
Good: Pushing that “T” rating with blood, projectiles that lodge in bodies and Sonya’s pokies.
Bad: Stingy amount of unlockable content, playing the 360’s d-pad.
Ugly: The blue midgets from Green Lantern’s world. Catwoman’s bullet-proof boob job.