When Ed Boon said the next Mortal Kombat game would be completely different, nobody knew quite what to expect. We had visions of a futuristic Mortal Kombat game with brand new characters and mythology. Or maybe an origins story that went all the way back to the birth of the Mortal Kombat competition. Everybody had a theory, but I will bet you money that nobody would have guessed that Sub-Zero and Scorpion's next challengers would be Superman and Batman. But that's exactly what we get, because the first Xbox 360 game in the franchise is none other than Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe.
When I first heard about this match-up I was a bit skeptical, the pairing didn't feel very natural and the idea of these monstrous killing machines going up against DC's biggest heroes (and villains) had me scratching my head with a whole new set of questions. Would the game retain all of the blood and gore? Would it feel like a silly cash-in? How could any one of the Mortal Kombat characters actually beat somebody like Superman? These are the questions that kept my anticipation for the game at realistic level. I was excited, but I was sure that pairing these two would eventually blow up in everybody's face.
Thankfully I was wrong, because Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe is a fantastic fighting game that may not be the next revolution for Ed Boon's popular fighting franchise, but manages to stand on its own as a great alternative to the current fighters already on the Xbox 360. Even though this is an unlikely pairing, this brand new Mortal Kombat game is by far the best DC-related video game product in years.
Told through two different stories (one for each side), we learn how the Mortal Kombat universe can collide with the DC universe. Oddly enough, both the Mortal Kombat fighters and the DC superheroes are just as confused about this pairing as we are. The story begins with both groups meeting a representative from the other side, almost by accident. Realizing that a simple handshake isn't going to get the job done, the two groups start fighting the other side in hopes of saving their world. Before long they discover that both sides are being controlled by an outside force, giving the fighters "rage" (denoted by their yellow glowing eyes). As if being controlled isn't enough, the combatants realize that there's more at stake than just winning a three round fight. If they don't figure it out what's going on soon then both universes are going to collide and rip the very fabric of their being apart. I hate it when that happens.
This story is told over eight different levels, each featuring a different fighter for you to control. Don't think that just because there are eight levels that means that you only have to beat eight different fighters, because each level will have you sparring off against three, four and even five different fighters. And they aren't always fighters from the other universe, you will routinely be forced to battle your own friends and peers. When the "rage" infects you, you start to see the world differently. It's not Batman standing in front of you, it's Baraka from Mortal Kombat II. It's not Lui Kang standing in front of you, it's Lex Luther. It's not Sonya standing in front of you it's ... oh, you get the point. The introduction of "rage" allows friends to fight friends, which at least keeps the story moving.
As I mentioned before, there is both a Mortal Kombat story and a DC Universe story. Both of these stories play out in a similar fashion, even merging the plots at the very end. Considering this is a fighting game you will likely be a little surprised at how many cinemas there are in Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. After every single fight you are treated to a brief cinema that cannot be skipped. Thankfully the voice acting is solid and the graphics do a good job of conveying the different character's emotions. Neither of the two stories will win Midway any awards for script writing, but they are right in line with your standard comic book narrative.It's strange to sit here talking about the story of a fighting game. I don't remember mentioning anything about the stories in either my Virtua Fighter 5 or Soul Calibur IV reviews. Heck, I can't think of the last time I spent three paragraphs talking about the ins and outs of a fighting game story. But Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe is not your usual fighting game. That's not to say that this isn't a solid fighting game, but to say it's as serious as the other fighters on the Xbox 360 is like suggesting that the Fantastic Four movies are as serious as The Dark Knight. This brand new Mortal Kombat game is extremely easy to learn, quick to master and is perfect for those gamers turned off by the more hardcore fighting games on Microsoft's system.
But it's also a lot of fun. Much like Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe shows us that you don't need to frame count or learn every move to have a great time playing a modern fighting game. In fact, I would go as far as suggesting that this game is more of a throwback to the 2D roots of the Mortal Kombat universe. Sure the game is presented in 3D and using detailed polygons to make the world come to life, but for all intents and purposes this is a 2D fighting game. If you use the D-pad to control your character you'll find that it feels almost exactly like Mortal Kombat II, which is deemed by many (including myself) to be the peak of the franchise.
Fans of Mortal Kombat will feel right at home while playing this game. We still have the standard four-buttons for attack (two for punch, two for kick), a button to throw your enemy and the all important block button. The rounds are still set-up exactly the same way, with each person trying their hardest to KO the other person and, eventually, finish them off with some sort of fatal finishing move. All of the hallmarks are here, including being able to bust through the arena's walls and continue your fight on another level. Just about everything you love about Mortal Kombat is here in all its glory.
And it's not just limited to the series' best gameplay elements; Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe also features a cast of some of your favorite fighters. On the Mortal Kombat side we have Baraka, Jax, Kano, Kitana, Liu Kang, Raiden, Scorpion, Shang Tsung, Shao Kahn, Sonya Blade and Sub-Zero. On the DC side we have Batman, Captain Marvel, Catwoman, Darkseid, Deathstroke, The Flash, Green Lantern, The Joker, Lex Luther, Superman and Wonder Woman. There are some noteworthy missing characters (what, no Goro?), but there's more than enough great characters here to keep just about every fighting game fan happy.
Given that this is the first time the Mortal Kombat characters have been featured on the Xbox 360, it's natural to be excited to see how each of them look. After all, the last time we saw them they were using a somewhat outdated graphics engine on the PlayStation 2. The good news is that all of the mortal kombatants look amazing. The detail is outstanding, and as they get hurt while fighting you can see gashes and bruises pop up on their body. Unfortunately not all of the DC characters look as good. There are a few worthwhile characters in the bunch (The Joker looks as loony as ever and Batman is really cool looking), but there are a few characters that just look ridiculous. I mean seriously, what is Catwoman wearing?
Each of the 22 fighters have a lot of fun moves, including the kind of over-the-top weapons that you could only get in a comic book fighting game. Superman has his patented eye laser beam, Batman has all of his wonderful toys and Wonder Woman has that amazing whip. However, it's not the superheroes that have the coolest special moves. In fact, it's none other than the super villains, including The Joker and Lex Luthor. These two characters have some of the greatest attacks ever seen in a Mortal Kombat game, including a hand buzzer that electrocutes your opponent, cartoon bombs, a missile launcher, and even the big red boxing glove of doom ... I'm not joking. That's not to say that all of these moves are as effective as they could have been, but there's no denying how fun it is to win a battle by shaking hands with your opponent and electrocuting them to death.While the different moves deliver, I was a little disappointed by the game's "fatalities". The truth is I have to couch that in quote marks because half the time they aren't actually called "fatalities". To be fair, when a Mortal Kombat character kills somebody they use that F-word. But the same cannot be said about the DC Universe characters, mostly because of limitations given by the comic book publisher. Instead the DC superheroes kill their opponents with something called a Heroic Brutality. That phrase doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, if you know what I mean. Oddly enough, the DC super villains have fatalities, just not the superheroes.
The problem is more than just about the name you give the kill move; it's also about what each character does to the other person. Fans of the Mortal Kombat franchise will probably notice something unusual on the front of the box; it's a "T" rating. That's right, Midway was able to tone down the violence enough to get a teen rating ... something that is unheard of in a Mortal Kombat game. What's next, an E-rated Grand Theft Auto game?
But I digress. The game does offer blood, just not at the same level as what you've seen in past Mortal Kombat games. The finishing moves are equally sanitized, to the point where some of their cheesy fun has been taken out. For example, in past Mortal Kombat games Baraka would use his two sword-hands to cut somebody's head off or rip the guy to shreds. In Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, Baraka is only able to impale his enemy, which is decidedly less exciting than watching Superman head's get chopped off. I understand why they did this, but part of me wishes we lived in one of those universes where DC and the ESRB weren't sticklers for what is obviously cartoon violence. Still, the game isn't nearly as clean and inoffensive as the sanitized version of the first game on the Super NES, so I guess it could be a lot worse.
While the story modes won't take too long to beat (around 90 minutes per story), there are plenty of other reasons to throw this game in the system and give it another go. If you're all by yourself you can play through the arcade mode, which has you playing a standard Mortal Kombat game, complete with brand new endings. There's also a Kombo Challenge mode, but that's more of a training center for learning complex kombos. You can also go up against a friend in the multiplayer mode, or try your luck online in both ranked and unranked rooms. Like the combat itself, the game isn't nearly as deep as some of the other fighters on the Xbox 360, but it's still a lot of fun to play with friends.
Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe could have been a disaster of epic proportions, but it manages to bring the goods and offer a solid alternative to the 3D fighters hogging the spotlight. The game's graphics are great, the backgrounds are really creative and the story isn't half bad. I also enjoyed playing as some of my favorite super villains, even if I don't have a clue who Deathstroke is. All in all this is everything you expect from a Mortal Kombat game, all the way down to the less than fluid animations and the silly WWE-inspired dialog. This brand new Mortal Kombat game is just different enough from Virtua Fighter and Soul Calibur to warrant a look, even if it's not the revolution of the franchise that people expected.