In a way, it feels as if many fighting game characters have stepped right out of the pages of a comic book. They wear bizarre costumes, spend a lot of time punching and kicking other people, and possess inexplicable powers. Pitting fighting game characters against comic book heroes and villains has been done before, and in Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, the meshing of Raiden's crew and Superman's posse makes for some pretty exciting action--especially online. But even as the game moves the series back toward the fundamental strengths of Mortal Kombat in some ways, it departs from the series' essence in others. As a result, longtime fans may be left with mixed feelings, and newcomers drawn to the series for the first time by the inclusion of DC characters may find it hard to get a handle on things.
Fans of the DC characters will be pleased with how well they've made the transition to a fighting game.
The story that explains just how these two distinct sets of outlandishly attired, superpowered beings clash is such pure, unabashed comic book silliness that you'll have a hard time not being won over. Simultaneous mishaps involving Darkseid in the DC universe and Shao Kahn in the MK universe result in these two evil beings merging into the exponentially evil Dark Kahn. Dark Kahn's power causes the two universes to begin fusing, and the heroes and villains on each side of the universal divide mistakenly blame the weirdos from the other side for invading their land. This merging of universes also causes severe imbalances in the powers of some characters, and serves as a convenient excuse for how the Joker can go toe-to-toe with Superman and have a fighting chance. As you play through the game's two story mode offerings, the flimsy excuses that cause the unlikely matchups almost become something of a running joke, and help make these modes fun for the few hours that they last.
Unless you've somehow managed to avoid playing a fighting game for your entire life, you'll immediately grasp the basic concept of MK vs. DC: punch, kick, throw, and otherwise bludgeon your opponent into submission before they do the same to you. While some Mortal Kombat games have offered two or three fighting styles per character, MK vs. DC does away with that, creating a back-to-basics feel that switches the emphasis back to the special moves that really differentiate the characters. And while the action takes place in 3D and you can move left and right in the environment as well as back and forth, sidestepping is slow and only occasionally useful. The majority of the action takes place on a 2D plane, which also contributes to the game feeling very much like a solid return to the roots of the Mortal Kombat series. The action is fast-paced, controls tightly, and is just a lot of fun.
With a total of 22 playable characters, the roster may be a bit short compared to what fans of the series have come to expect, but it makes up for that by making each character play very differently from the others. The 11 Mortal Kombat warriors on hand are all top-shelf, and while one or two of the DC characters may seem like odd choices the majority of them mesh surprisingly well with the MK crowd. While the powers of some DC characters have been toned down a bit as a result of that darn universe-merging fluctuation of energies, the characters themselves have been created here with a great deal of loyalty to the source material. Their personalities are intact, and the arsenals of special attacks at their disposal are impressive.
While the core gameplay is largely a return to the feel of the early Mortal Kombat games, there are some elements here that are pretty minor when taken individually, but add up to make MK vs. DC distinctly different from its predecessors. There are a few minigames that pop up when certain circumstances occur, and they all blend in to the action seamlessly. For example, if you're close to your opponent, you can attempt to grab him or her and initiate Klose Kombat. If you're successful, the camera will pull in, and for a short time, you can perform a variety of painful-looking moves by pressing one of the four face buttons. There's a great risk-versus-reward dynamic at play: your button presses are displayed onscreen, and if your opponents match them, they'll counter your attack with powerful blows of their own and escape from Klose Kombat in the process. It's a cool system that gives the attacker a decent advantage but still offers the defender a pretty good chance of turning the tables.
A very similar minigame is initiated any time one player knocks another to a lower level of the arena. As in Klose Kombat, the attacker can pummel the defender by pushing face buttons, and the defender can turn the tables by matching the attacker's inputs. In Free Fall Kombat, the attacker is able, after a damage meter has been filled to a certain point with standard attacks, to execute a special move that sends the opponent flying into the ground below in a particularly painful, damaging way. Like Klose Kombat, there's a good risk-versus-reward principle at work here, and the fact that these fisticuffs are taking place while the characters dramatically plummet through the air gives the action a larger-than-life, comic book feel.
Last and least among the minigames is Test Your Might, which occurs in certain areas when one combatant lands a powerful attack on the other and sends the opponent flying back against a wall. The initiator then charges at the defender and propels the latter through the walls of the office building or dungeon. Both parties then pound on the buttons as furiously as they can. If the attacker out-pounds the defender, more damage will be done, while the defender pounds buttons in the hopes of reducing the amount of damage he or she suffers. The simplicity of this minigame makes it less compelling than the other two, and only three of the game's 14 arenas have the horizontal arrangement for it, so it occurs far less frequently.
One final, important addition to the action here is the rage meter, which fills up as you take damage or are blocked by your opponent. Your build-up of rage can be used for one of two things. If the meter is halfway full or more, you can spend one full segment of it on a combo breaker, immediately putting a stop to the flurry of attacks your opponent is unleashing. If both sections are full, you can opt to spend the whole thing to enter rage mode, which allows you to pummel your opponent uninterrupted by his or her attacks and fight your way through his or her blocks, though you'll still take damage from any blows he or she lands. Either of these can turn the tables in a fight if used well, and since using rage for one purpose sacrifices your ability to use it for the other, this seemingly simple feature calls for some significant and often split-second decision-making.