Monday, November 17, 2008

Fighting Words

I rented Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe yesterday.

You may recall that I did not have high expectations for this game. So, unlike Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, I was actually pleasantly surprised.

First things first, I realized while playing MKv.DCU that I hadn't played a current-generation fighting game since, like, Street Fighter Alpha 2 on the Sega Saturn. I'm not entirely sure why; as a kid, I loved fighting games, but I haven't played one in years--with the exception of the Smash Bros. series, which is pretty far removed from the Street Fighters and Mortal Kombats of my youth. I think a lot of my love for that genre was because every game was a multiplayer title, and it didn't take long to make it through several rounds. These days, that niche in my life is usually filled with Halo 2 or Rock Band. It's interesting, though, realizing how the limitations and developments in technology have influenced my taste.

Back to the game, it's more or less what I expected. All things considered--the ludicrousness of the concept, the bloated pretentiousness of the Mortal Kombat storyline, the general quality of DC Comics games--the plot for the Story Mode is actually pretty good. I only played the DC half of the plot--I frankly have no desire to explore the Mortal Kombat side of things--so I'll give you the basic run-down. Superman blasts Darkseid with some heat vision, destabilizing the Boom Tube he's in and ultimately causing the DCU and MKU to start merging. Heroes are trading places with Mortal Kombatants, and all the while characters are getting infected with a glowing yellow rage energy that causes them to see friends as foes and attack ruthlessly and indiscriminately. Our heroes and villains team up on a quest to save the two universes and stop Dark Khan--the nasty amalgam of Darkseid and Shao Khan at the top of the whole thing.

The graphics are good. We've come a long way from the motion-capture characters of the early Mortal Kombat games, who had something like five stiff animations each. None of the characters, I'm happy to say, are simply recolors of other characters with slightly different powers. When characters get hit, their costumes show damage, so by the end of a three-round fight, the fighters can look pretty torn up. As you jump around the room, your opponent follows your movements. The animation is done very well; the special abilities look good, and overall the gameplay graphics are pretty well awesome. There are still some issues; the characters in the cutscenes often look oddly-proportioned--faces too small for heads, heads too small for bodies, long necks. The knockout moment tends to be kind of funny; you'll hit the character, who will then recover, resume the fighting stance, and then fall rod-straight backward onto the ground. I wish they'd put as much effort into making that not so goofy as they did into making sure that Catwoman's breasts jiggled in the cutscenes. There's a lot more blood than I expected there would be, though not nearly as much as was in the old-school Mortal Kombat games, where every character was a thin-skinned hemophiliac with skyrocketing blood pressure.

The voice acting is...off. It's not terrible, but all the characters sound kind of weird and flat. It could be the dialogue, which was often terrible. Also, Liu Kang makes nearly the exact same goofy noise when doing his bicycle kick that he made back in 1992, and I'm pretty sure I heard Raiden say "Hadoken" at one point. The Joker, though, is pretty much spot-on, somewhere right between Mark Hamill and Cesar Romero.

Gameplay hasn't changed much at all since those days. And I'm not entirely sure why. Either the controls or the characters are sometimes a bit sluggish, reacting just a little more slowly than you'd expect. The weirdest part of the whole thing is that the game required me to use the D-pad rather than the analog stick. The D-pad controls normal motion, the left analog stick controls sidestepping and other "3-D" motion, and the right analog stick sits unloved next to your button-mashing thumb. I've never actually played a next-gen console game that required me to use the D-pad to move around, including the '80s games I've downloaded from XBox Live Arcade. Fighting games used to be designed for joysticks, which were basically big analog sticks; why on Earth would this one force me to use the awkward and generally pointless D-pad? Why not assign the "3-D" motion to the right analog stick and normal movement to the left stick?

All I know is that for the first time in years, I have the makings of a blister on my thumb. It's nice nostalgia, but it's kind of a pain in the...thumb.

I played a bit of the Arcade Mode to start, and after each fight it gave me the old "Finish Him!" routine. In my entire history of playing Mortal Kombat (which, admittedly, stops after the fourth game--Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3) I think I've only been able to pull off one fatality, and that was one of Sub-Zero's early ones. I simply don't have the patience to learn the ridiculously complex button sequences and practice them enough to pull them off reliably in the short time frame. Meanwhile, there's nothing in the game or the manual about the fatalities, and GameFAQs doesn't have anything about the game yet, so I'm at a loss. I wondered briefly how people found out how to do fatalities in the days before the Internet, then I realized that that was the entire reason for magazines like "Tips & Tricks."

I do wonder about the game's difficulty. I've never been particularly awesome at fighting games, so I'm always a bit wary when I do well early on (also, shooters. It's because I was so good at it that I realized what a crappy game Darkwatch was). I don't think I lost a round until Scorpion, the first of the MK characters, showed up in Story Mode. After that, I found that the MK characters generally seemed a little tougher, faster, and stronger than the DC ones. Your mileage may vary on that one, though. Even though I had to play several fights repeatedly (Dark Khan especially), the Save feature made it easy to return to where I left off (though it kept making me watch cutscenes over) which was nice, and I was able to breeze through the story mode pretty quickly.

Bottom line, if you're fond of fighting games and fond of the DC characters, you might give this one a rental. I don't know how well this will play with the Mortal Kombat fans, given the toned-down blood and gore. But I do know that it's far, far better than Justice League Task Force. And as long as you're not expecting too much from it, it's fairly fun.

1 comment:

Sea_of_Green said...

The D-PAD??? My thumbs are aching at the very thought! Still, it sounds like this is worth checking out. Thanks for the review!