I’m not really a fighting game fan but even I know that Marvel vs. Capcom is one of the best most beloved fighting franchises out there. So when I heard that Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe was coming out, I let forth a mighty scoff in Midway’s general direction. Well, after getting my grubby hands-on the game during some one-on-one time with some of the good folks behind the game, I really must lessen that scoff…slightly. This is far from the cash-in game I thought it was going to be, but from only playing with six characters and a handful of levels, it’s hard to say if this is going to be a truly great fighter.
Let’s start off with what caught me by surprise. To begin with, even though the game is a three dimensional fighter it really plays far more like a 2D one. If you use the d-pad (like any good fighter should) you’ll notice that jump and crouch are mapped to up and down instead of moving you up and down. This makes the player feel like they’re in a 2D fighter but still have the option to side step when they want to with the left analog stick. It’s an interesting design and one that I think makes the game feel a bit more true to the MK roots.
What is completely different from those roots is the grab system. While there are still regular grabs, you can also go into one that triggers a sort of QTE action system. The player who initiates the grab will be able to press one of the four buttons and trigger an attack that is played out on the screen, while the player who was grabbed presses their own buttons in order to attempt a counter. If the grabby presses the same button as the grabber, he’ll counter and knock the grabber back before he can execute all of his moves. It’s basically chance, but it adds a bit more to the game than standard fighting fare.
Similarly, if one character is hit off the stage into another arena like DOA, a brief game like this will pop up. For one stage the two pairs were falling and the attacker could press any button to raise a power bar that had appeared. Raise it enough and he could execute a special, raise it more and the special got more powerful. However, the opponent is constantly hoping to counter by pressing the same button so the greedier the attacker gets, the more likely his victim is to hit the same button and turn the attack around, slamming the now victimized attacker into the ground. Another stage had the two fighters slamming through the walls of a building, with the attacker pushing their opponent through the walls. Both players had to tap one of the buttons repeatedly, the attacker trying to cause more damage and the victim attempting to reduce his or hers. For die hard fighting fans this may all seem like cheap gimmicks and poor design that takes you out of the fight, but for someone like me it was a nice break from having to memorize moves.
Hardcore fighting fans should not worry though, special moves are still in there and they’re pretty cool. The three DC heroes I got to play with (Flash, Batman and Superman) all performed admirably and used their signature powers, though I have to give a tip of the hat to The Flash whose speedy moves were my favorite. I also got to play as Sonia, Sub Zero and Scorpion, all of whom perform most of their standard moves along with a few new ones. It started to feel like a pretty standard fighting game once I got past the coolness of playing with DC heroes and the surprise of the nifty QTE-esque events.
Finally, what put me off the most was Superman’s brutality. All the characters have finishing moves. The MK ones still call theirs fatalities, but the DC characters have brutalities. The only ones set up for show were Scorpion’s and Superman’s, and while Scorpion’s was the classic fire breathing skull, Superman’s was just plain odd. It was explained that they wanted to keep the brutalities within the context of the characters but all Superman did was pound his opponent into the ground like a nail while his eyes glowed yellow. It seemed really harsh for the man of steel and I wondered what context it fit into. I guess Midway is stuck there though – with fans crying out for MK fatalities and coming up with appropriate actions for heroes who don’t kill people, they’ve got some tough work cut out for them when they finalize all the brutalities for the DC characters.
[See also: Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe gallery]