Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe – 360
Platform: Xbox 360
Release Date (NA): November 16th, 2008
Developer: Midway Games
Publisher: Midway Games
Nerd Rating: 6 out of 10
I’ve been wallowing in MK-ness in a while now, and after going through the Story Mode of Injustice again, I decided I wanted to go back and give Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe (hereby shortened to MK vs DC for the duration) a good look. I never played it all that much when it first came out…and now I remember why.
Officially, MK vs DC would become “Mortal Kombat 8,” tiding us over until 2011’s reboot. Ironically, the reboot hinged on crossing dimensional barriers, and that’s exactly the premise behind MK vs DC as well! The storyline is very comic book-esque, with the reality of Mortal Kombat and the reality of the DC Universe (one of them anyway) beginning to fuse together, ultimately threatening the existence of both. Various forms of magic are invoked that allow these characters to go up against each other, such as the Joker squaring off against Raiden or sending Liu Kang to subdue Superman.
Overall I think the story works well and I had fun watching it unfold even if it did seem crazy to see these two worlds intersecting. As far as character selection, Midway did a decent job of picking out fan favorites and staples of the MK series, though it wouldn’t have hurt to throw a few curveballs in. Things are pretty familiar on the DC side of the roster as well. The familiarity here is initially a draw, but it also saps away some of the game’s lasting power – these are all folks we’ve seen before in some way or another, and it doesn’t feel like there’s enough “new stuff” in MK vs DC.
Of tantamount importance in any fighting game is the fighting. There’s nothing overtly wrong with the mechanics and styles found in MK vs DC, but I’ve always felt a certain lack of “flow” when playing. Superheroes lack the graceful maneuvers of martial artists, and our MK characters just aren’t built for handling things like the Green Lantern’s constructs or Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth. The magics involved with fusing the realms is supposed to bring equality to it, but it still feels a little off to me.
Simple button mashing has been toned down and there’s not much a player will be able to do accidentally. Thanks to some very tricky kombos, dial-ups take a backseat to complex maneuvers that combine special moves and regular attacks and distill them into an ultra-precise package that few will be able to realistically use in a fight. Special moves are pretty easy to pull off for either side, but I still can’t help but feel a huge disconnect between playing as MK characters versus DCU characters.
The big question on everyone’s mind was that of fatalities. Mortal Kombat is notorious for its gruesome depictions of death and dismemberment, while many in the DC Universe have sworn never to take a life. MK vs DC has done a reasonable job of surmounting this hurdle by allowing characters on the MK side (and some DC villains) to “Finish Him/Her!” as usual, while the DC heroes perform “Heroic Brutalities” whereby the opponent is beaten severely in flashy, stylized sequences. It’s a good compromise, yet it also further highlights the differences between these 2 worlds. To some people these differences may have been the whole point of MK vs DC in the first place, but I don’t like the out of place feeling.
In fact, the longer I play MK vs DC, the more it strikes me as “MK Lite.” It feels less like a melding of the 2 worlds and more like a strange backdoor introduction to the Mortal Kombat franchise; it’s Mortal Kombat for people who aren’t fans of Mortal Kombat. As a staunch Mortal Kombat fan, I’ve always felt a little jilted by MK vs DC because it doesn’t have the dark, orientalist-influenced sword-and-sorcery feel of MK and instead seems to take root in the homogenized fantasy meets sci-fi meets horror that pervades the comic book world.
What a game like this really needs is a strong story to prop it up: and it has that for a little while at least. As I said, the story is fun to play through and it does put an entertaining perspective on the meeting of these 2 worlds. But once that’s over, the magic starts to dwindle. The game doesn’t really offer up anything after the story aside from basic multiplayer functionality, an endurance mode, and tried and true arcade ladders. Without the framework of the whimsical story to provide context to the fights, that weird out of place feeling settles in fairly quickly. The player does have the option of only going up against one faction or the other (or both) and while this provides a quick fix for the disparate thematic elements, it also feels like a complete retread since we’re dealing with both the most popular MK and DCU characters. Throwing the 2 realities together is novel in and of itself, but it isn’t quite novel enough to carry an entire game. What we need are new characters….
And we only get one…and he’s actually pretty cool…and we can’t play as him. Dark Kahn, the melding of MK’s Shao Kahn and DCU’s Darkseid, is a thoroughly menacing and worthy adversary by either universe’s standards. He’s probably the brightest spot in the entire game, but again, it ain’t enough. Perhaps MK vs DC would’ve felt fresher if Midway had created an all-new cast based off of MK/DC amalgamations: imagine a Baraka-Deathstroke hybrid (I imagine something similar to MKX’s Erron Black), or a Raiden-Flash combo (or should it be Raiden and Captain Marvel?), or the cybernetic homicidal clown “Jokano,” or better yet, a vigilante anti-hero mashup of Scorpion and Batman?
Conceptually, MK vs DC may be one of my least favorite things to come out of the world of Mortal Kombat, but as a game it isn’t too bad once you look past the thin supplemental content and frustrating combo system. The graphics are clean (unfortunately everyone looks pretty much how the looked the last time you saw them) and there are some impressive visual effects used from time to time. One innovation that I would’ve have minded revisiting and refining in later games was the “Klose Kombat” and “Falling Kombat,” where one player had to “out press” the attacking player in a sort of odd minigame. It wasn’t pulled off as smoothly as it could’ve been in MK vs DC, but I did like the idea and I still think it could be useful in future fighting games if handled a bit differently.
Even though the events of MK vs DC are considered non-canon (at least in the MK universe proper (although according to DC continuity these events probably have transpired on Earth-30991 or something)) (and don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we don’t have to seriously discuss where the likes of Catwoman and Lex Luthor fall in MK continuity), one of my favorite bits of the game are the various endings. The endings do a really great job of integrating the various mythos of both worlds, with the MK characters generally coming into contact with the cosmic forces of the DC world and vice versa. One that really sticks out is Captain Marvel’s ending, where we actually get what may be our first real glimpse of the mysterious Elder Gods themselves. Even if you don’t have any interest in the game, you should at least check out the endings; they’re one of the best reasons to play through this title. Sub-Zero’s is pretty damn cool too.
Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe is an okay game, but it just fails to wow me the way other MK games have. It doesn’t really mesh the two concepts together well enough to become more than the sum of its parts, and the parts themselves are a little too representative of their respective franchises. I won’t say there’s absolutely no entertainment value to MK vs DC, but it doesn’t much feel like a Mortal Kombat game, and that’s what bugs me most of all.
Reviewed by The Cubist
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