When I first heard the idea of a versus game using DC Comics' characters and the Mortal Kombat stable of fighters, my initial reaction wasn't exactly positive. While that magic worked well for Capcom and Marvel, I just couldn't see MK making the same connection with comic books that Capcom had managed to pull off quite some time ago. I wasn't sure whether that was due to the art style or the gameplay, but I just knew that it didn't sound right to me.
It turns out that Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe is quite a bit of fun, and while it's not as deep a fighter as the more polished front-runners like Virtua Fighter, Tekken, and so on, it's a giant step forward for Mortal Kombat in relation to the last few entries. It's also the most fun that I've had with the series since the third game.
The story line works well enough, and there's not a whole lot of unnecessary junk outside of just getting these two universes together. The idea is that Darkseid of DC fame and Shao Kahn end up merging, along with their respective universes. Like a lot of crossover events in comics, a bit of misunderstanding pits the heroes and villains of both worlds against each other, and the battle royale begins. There are some other elements that end up changing the abilities and powers of everyone involved in order to put them on an even scale. This is why someone like Catwoman can go toe-to-toe with Superman and come out on top, and some of the matchups might be a bit of a stretch, but try to not overthink it.
The story isn't the main draw of most fighting titles, so let's focus on the actual gameplay instead. If you've played any of the 2-D Mortal Kombat titles, then MK vs. DCU is going to feel really familiar. It's not quite a full-blown 2-D title because you can still step between the foreground and background, but it's not utilizing the entire 3-D plane in ways that previous Mortal Kombat titles have, so moving back and forth doesn't feel very useful. The characters and environments are 3-D to an extent, but the game really feels like a decent throwback to the older titles.
Move sets for each character are a bit more identical than I would have liked; they all have different special attacks, but a lot of them are performed the same way. Also, I felt that the moves used the face buttons a lot more than the d-pad, which is a change from previous titles and took a bit to getting used to, but once I got the hang of things, I was able to string together some decent combos. A few characters have some moves that are fairly cheap, like The Flash, and you'll see these flaws pop up on occasion when it comes to online play. For the most part, the devs have done a decent job of balancing a lot of the characters, and although I'm not sure this will bring in a big crowd of tournament players, it's definitely fun enough for casual play.
The actual arenas have some neat things going for it, and while it's not exactly fresh to have an arena that can be breakable and reveal a new floor beneath it, the way MK vs. DCU makes use of this mechanic is pretty fun. Basically, if you're breaking through in a vertical sense, you'll enter a mini-game of timed button presses during your fall. Your opponent can try to tap the same buttons, which allows him to counter the attack and yields some interesting results, depending on your reflexes. A few stages allow you to break walls on the horizontal plane, which brings up a slightly different mini-game where you button-mash against each other in an attempt to fill up a meter at the top of the screen. Whoever dominates the meter will cause a certain amount of damage once you make it to the new section of the arena. The locations in which you play seem to be taken mostly from the DC side of things, but they're altered a bit to keep in line with a MK aesthetic, since the two universes are supposed to be merging.
The main single-player mode is the story mode, where you'll side with either Mortal Kombat or DC. Story mode doesn't allow you to select a character, so you'll end up playing with the entire roster over the course of the story, with a small cut scene before getting into each fight. There are no gimmick fights here that you might see in titles from the Naruto or Dragon Ball Z franchises that use a similar story setup, so the game doesn't unnecessarily change up things from a typical arcade mode. If you'd rather select a character, you can play in the arcade mode, which is set up in a ladder structure similar to previous Mortal Kombat titles, with short endings for each character. There are 22 characters in all, a couple of whom are unlockable, and they're evenly split between the two groups. This might be a bit small for an MK roster, but they've made great selections on both sides, so they've really just trimmed a bit of fat.
In addition to the story and arcade modes, there's a training mode to help get you familiar with the new move sets against a dummy CPU. The online mode also works really well; it consists of your standard one-on-one matches, and with the PS3 version, you'll find opponents in an online lobby, which isn't always ideal compared against straight-up matchmaking, but it mostly works out fine. I never came across serious lag issues, and quitting a match appears to award the win to your opponent, so you won't find too many people willing to quit when they're behind.
Visually, it's a pretty decent-looking game, and the art design works well for both sets of characters, making the integration between the two worlds feel pretty seamless. I wasn't exactly won over by the soundtrack, which I found to be largely forgettable; it's never offensive to the ears, but it didn't stick with me after I'd put down the controller.
Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe was really enjoyable and one of the better fighters I've played this year. Even if the concept seems ridiculous, it's worth picking it up if you enjoyed the previous Mortal Kombat games from the '90s; I feel that this title is comparable to Mortal Kombat 2 and 3. If you've never been a fan of the series, then this isn't going to be the game that changes your mind, but if you've never tried the franchise before, then MK vs. DCU is the best MK title in recent memory. Definitely give it a shot, even if it's only as a rental.
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