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Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe

Brutality, served up with a slice of cheese. It’s a combination that hasn’t mixed well over the years. Oddly, it’s a parody that is well placed to describe the Mortal Kombat franchise, especially if you have seen any of the humorously absurd films. Ever since the first battle between Liu Kang and Shang Tsung, the premise has been ridiculous and largely comical. To further propel the outlandish narrative away from any credibility, that comical feeling comes back with a mightily macho bang. Mortal Kombat isn’t alone anymore; a much gruffer, camper, tighter lycra wearing group of enemies are waiting. And yes, they do show off their underwear with an unprecedented amount of pride.

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For a title that has incorporated many fan-favourite superheroes, it’s surprising to see that Midway have reverted back to the classic gameplay that made the series an instant hit over a decade ago. Granted, the inclusion of Batman, Superman, The Flash and others injects a vital boost into the increasingly stale Mortal Kombat formula, but it takes more than that to return a previously heroic franchise back to the limelight of such a supported genre.

Out of all the nonsense that has ever taken place in the MK world, the arrival of an overly muscular group of superheroes is surely the most absurd. Many felt that combining the two franchises was a way of guaranteeing a large amount of sales (and hell, they may be right), but it’s excellent to see that the DC characters fit in right at home here. In fact, it’s refreshing to fight against opponents that should never meet, especially with the easily recognisable controls and combos. Unlike the hardcore Street Fighter series, this simple tuning is not only instantly accessible, it’s much easier.

“Out of all the nonsense that has ever taken place in the MK world, the arrival of an overly muscular group of superheroes is surely the most absurd”Throughout Mortal Kombat’s last generation lifetime, there was always something missing. Although an obvious step forward was taken with the additional production and graphical power, the series began to lose its focus and direction, most notably with Shaolin Monks. Ever since the beat ‘em ups golden days of the mid ‘90s, gamers have been calling out for a Mortal Kombat title that excelled (or at least matched) the style and prowess of the series’ early incarnations. Somewhat surprisingly, MK vs DCU isn’t far off, as it marks the most enjoyable, outrageous, and wholly ludicrous entry in a long time.

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It’s to the developers credit that MK returns back to adequate form. Gameplay is hugely reminiscent of early titles, as players can be sure to barbarically take on their opponent in an intense one-on-one showdown. The series has always lacked the depth of its main rival but more than made up for it with an insane amount of gore and over-ambitious fatalities. It won’t be long before you once again take control of favourites such as Sub-Zero or Scorpion and manage to produce a bone-cracking, spine-shattering array of deadly manoeuvres. There is something so satisfying about landing a brutally accurate and forceful fist to the face, as blood splatters over the floor like scarlet encrusted rainfall. When it comes to vile injuries and unruly knockouts, MK has always held the upper hand. In a cheeky wink to the past, fans of the first three incarnations will feel hugely content with the system here. Ironically, after such troubled teenager years, the series feels as fresh as it did back in primary school, as it returns to basics with a mature coming of age.

“There is something so satisfying about landing a brutally accurate and forceful fist to the face, as blood splatters over the floor like scarlet encrusted rainfall”Of course, it wouldn’t be Mortal Kombat without some kind of utterly preposterous plot. Being able to choose your alliance, playing as MK or DC heroes will provide the player with an inter-locking, and loosely woven view on events. To say each cut-scene and interval amounts to pure gibberish would be an understatement, as Midway have ensured the movies look like Oscar nominated innovations in comparison. Even though the cut-scenes are produced in a decent manner, the narrative begins to grate somewhat instantly. Littered with deep-voiced, territorial characters, the story has been seen thousands of times over, often with more intelligence and depth. When the final section is in full flight, the game suddenly switches to a slide-show style presentation, meaning you lose any immersion or involvement you once felt. This is hugely sloppy, and results in a poorly constructed finale that will anger many players.

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Attempting to dismantle the threat of Dark Kahn from their respective worlds, both the MK and DC saviours aim to destroy the sadistic villain. As the evil leader controls many warriors with “Rage”, there is some attempt to connect the narrative and new gameplay aspect together. If gamers manage enough powerful hits and combos, their meter will build up, ultimately allowing for a rampage of unstoppable attacks to be unleashed. When “Rage” is full, your onslaught is difficult to block, and is far more effective than standard attacks. Interestingly, the galvanisation of a character doesn’t necessarily mean you will win the battle instantly, as Midway have ensured a good balance remains intact throughout.

As if the DC characters needed to be enrolled into the MK universe, they have been granted their own form of fatality. Know as the “Brutality,” these are largely more respectable moves that a superhero can perform to finish off their opponent. Of course, if you are a ruthlessly barbaric psychopath, the iconic fatalities are back, and as disgusting as ever.

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If you’ve ever played a Mortal Kombat title, you’ll be familiar with the insistent mini-games that force you to “Test Your Might.” Interestingly in MK vs DCU, these are integrated into each fight, rather than as an extra afterwards. By grabbing your opponent, the camera will zoom onto the top half of each player, as you randomly tap buttons to launch graphic and soul-destroying attacks. If your foe presses the same button at the same time, they will block, evade, or even counter proceedings, stopping any advantage you had. Furthermore, if you successfully throw an opponent against a wall or barrier, you will fly through it at colossal speeds. Once in the air, you are forced to tap buttons in order to attack. As these are reversed in exactly the same way, the depth is rather questionable. A slight addition to this section, if you hit enough times while falling you’ll be prompted to press RB, ending with a superbly crafted move that is sure to heavily damage the enemy. It’s all standard fare and is reminiscent of the encounters incorporated in games such as Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit (although not as graphically superb).

“Littered with deep-voiced, territorial characters, the story has been seen thousands of times over”Once the story mode is hastily over, the amount of replay value this title holds is down to the individual playing. Two characters are unlocked, but this will hardly be enough to keep many coming back for more. Hardcore players may want to take part in the combo challenge, but that will not entertain or attract many. Essentially just a training mode with instructions, most gamers are sure to cartwheel towards the online arena before heading here. The online mode is extremely simple, and often prone to players utilising the unnecessary speed of The Flash, a character who is virtually impossible to fight against. In my experience online, I would connect to a game quickly without any lag, and then face the same character yet again. It’s not that he is particularly powerful, it’s that he has a certain move that switches sides and then unleashes a flurry of rapid punches. Hit this a few times and your enemy is doomed. Mortal Kombat is far better off played against someone in your household, so the trash talk and competition can hot up nicely.

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In the Christmas rush to release every game under the sun, Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe has come as a surprise. Granted, the usual camp undertones and cheesy dialogue remains, but that is part of the series’ appeal. If you haven’t come to love the style and characters by now, then you never will. The way in which the addition of the finest DC heroes instantly feel welcome to the franchise makes their inclusion strangely more appealing as a whole. For hardcore fans, the returning gore and rewarding combo system will no doubt satisfy ever last drop of their bloodlust. For newcomers, you have yourself an accessible and forgiving game that doesn’t chuck you into the deep end like previous titles (if you can stand the excessive use of the letter “K”). It seems that with the aid of their superhero counterparts, Mortal Kombat is back, and in better skull cracking shape than before.

7 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in September 2007.

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