Review: “Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe”

By Todd Kistler

Some games push the limits of their genre to defy expectation and create a unique experience.

“Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe” is not that kind of game. In fact, it doesn’t even try.

Midway’s newest fighting game is solely for the converted: The game should appeal to fighting-game fanatics and DC fanboys but not many others. There’s simply not enough new or interesting to justify spending $60 on an experience this shallow.

The game’s built-in audience will recognize the cast of characters. Ten “MK” warriors — gaming veterans such as Liu Kang, Kitana, Shang Tsung and Sub Zero — do battle with 10 stalwarts of DC comics, including Batman, Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor and Catwoman.

There’s an opportunity for something we haven’t seen before as the DC characters all get “Mortal Kombat’s” patented fatality moves, but most prove a disappointment. The game tones down the creative carnage to preserve its Teen rating. It’s just as well: The game feels pretty juvenile, anyway.

The action breaks down into Story Mode, which shoehorns a semi-coherent story into a series of fights; Arcade Mode, in which you pick a character from either universe and fight your way through a series of increasingly difficult adversaries; and online play, where those who spent hours and days playing the original “Mortal Kombat” games in an arcade can play one another (and they won’t even have to beg their parents for more quarters).

If these experiences sound redundant, that’s because they are. There are a few wrinkles to spice up the fights, but they don’t require much finesse. Whereas the fights themselves require patience, timing and effective use of combos, the Free Fall Kombat, Klose Kombat and Test Your Might minigames require little more than button mashing.

One nice innovation to combat is the use of Kombat Rage. Performing power moves will increase your Rage meter, but taking damage in the most consistent way you’ll build it up. When you use Rage, your attacks become more powerful and it becomes easier to break through opponent’s blocks. The result is that even if you’re getting smoked in a fight, intelligent use of Rage can keep you competitive.

The game’s story manages to be modestly entertaining — mostly by being sublimely campy (or is it kampy?). Every line is delivered with sledgehammer subtlety and is chock full of plot review. But at least one character seems to be in on the joke. Batman’s old nemesis the Joker — presented as a cross between Cesar Romero and Ace Ventura — provides an occasional and welcome break from the rest of the game’s forced gravitas.

The combined-universes story does serve the game well in its level design, though. You can fight in the Batcave, at the fortress of Captain Marvel and in many of the fantasy backdrops familiar to “Mortal Kombat” players. The intricate costumes of the “Mortal Kombat” fighters, which show damage as fights progress, also stand out as examples of nice design. Nothing makes you appreciate a hard-fought victory like seeing the cuts and gashes your fighter had to suffer to get there.

In the end though, “Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe” is about the fighting. If you like that, you’ll probably find the game enjoyable and replayable. If you get bored with punch-kick-special-repeat, you’ll get bored with the game and maybe build some rage that isn’t measured on the screen.

Although there is a “cool” factor in a Batman-Superman fight or in seeing Scorpion bellow “Get over here!” as he reels in a superhero, it’s not enough to build a game around. The game ends up feeling shallow to the point that you wonder if the designers thought players could be so distracted by the combined-universes gimmick and the female fighters’ cleavage that they wouldn’t notice that the game doesn’t bring anything new to the table.

Maybe it’s pointless to criticize a game so limited in ambition, but I could do without the condescension.

Score: 6 out of 10
Developer: Midway
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3
Rating: T for Teen