Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe

I played Mortal Kombat II quite a bit back in the day, but did not keep up with the series after that. It was not until Mortal Kombat: Armageddon promised to be the be-all, end-all of MK, what with its inclusion of every fighter in series history, that I even played another installment. After twenty minutes with that game, I wondered what the hell I was thinking buying that trash. Now, they've somehow hooked me again with this latest offering. I must partly blame it on the inclusion of the DC characters, but, even without them, the idea of a pared-down return to MK's roots appealed to a part of me that I simply couldn't deny.

This may well be the purest MK game in years. As stated by the developers, the intent of Armageddon had been to provide a final climax to a series that had become bloated and insular. The game after that would then be a reset of sorts for the franchise, a mainstream attempt to win back the immense audience that the franchise enjoyed during its prime of the first two installments. Of course, I'm not sure, when they decided that, that even they expected it would take this current form.

As part of the strategy to attract former fans, who, like me, lost interest after MKII, the entire MK half of the roster is taken from the first two installments. The select list of all-stars is, however, controversially missing Johnny Cage, the iconic ball-breaker's spot given instead to Baraka. The DC side is somewhat shakier. The Joker is not exactly the first name I think of when it comes to characters I'd like to play as in a fighting game. Batman may have the best rogues gallery in comics, but they're mostly just crazy gangsters who couldn't actually fight one-on-one against Batman, let alone characters with superpowers. Yet this game includes Joker AND Catwoman. The latter was presumably added to give the DC side a second female, and Catwoman is certainly DC's second most recognizable, though I would've preferred Black Canary or Zatanna, or even Hawkgirl. The list is fairly solid otherwise, though when working with only half the allotted slots in a fighting game roster, it's inevitable that many worthy characters will be left out. Where is Aquaman, for example?

As far as gameplay is concerned, gone are the style-switching and weapons. The 3-D aspects have also been toned down considerably. This is the sort of fighting game that regular people could enjoy, though I don't know for how long. Certainly, the game is fun while you're trading blows with a friend, and there's even a mildly-exhilirating mechanic, where the fighters sometimes go flying off the stage and are able to battle in mid-air during their free fall to a lower platform.

The game's weakest aspect has to be its graphics, which just don't strike me as current-gen. The characters look almost like hi-res PS2 models, and the stiff, awkward animation is even worse. During my play, there was one Wonder Woman move, in particular, I remember, where she would do the splits, then grab and flip her opponent over to the other side. It's difficult to convey in mere words, but it was one of the ugliest things I'd ever seen. After witnessing it multiple times, I still didn't understand the physics of it.

Overall, the game is fun. It's especially cool to pit Superman against Captain Marvel, something I don't think any other game has offered. But, in classic MK fashion, it's also plagued by technical shortcomings, and its gameplay basically caters to the lowest common denominator. Even though I've already contributed my dollars, I don't really feel that it deserves the attention that the MK name is still guaranteed to attract, especially with so many other noteworthy fighters on the horizon (Street Fighter IV, Tekken 6, BlazBlue, The King of Fighters XII) or already released (Soulcalibur IV).

Of course, I've only dipped briefly into the story mode, which may well be the highlight of the game.

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