According to the Chinese zodiac (and those lovely paper placemats), 2008 is the year of the Rat. Well, according to me, it’s the year of the F*cked-up Crossover Fighting Game. The year started off with Super Smash Brothers Brawl, a game that inexplicably featured characters like Mario, Solid Snake, and Kirby all beating the hell out of each other. Then came Soul Calibur IV, a franchise that’s no stranger to weird crossovers, with Darth Vader, Yoda, and “The Apprentice” from Force Unleashed. On top of that, Capcom will be releasing (in Japan, at least) the seventh in their Vs. series, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Cross Generation of Heroes, pairing up the likes of Ryu and Viewtiful Joe with anime legends like Ken the Eagle from Gatchaman. We’ve been dealing with more weird combos than a pregnant woman’s midnight snacks, the weirdest of all could quite possibly be Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. I can’t even begin to imagine how one comes up with an idea this strange, pitting one of the goriest fighting franchises against legendary figures like Superman and Wonder Woman, but somehow Midway made the connection. But did they make it work?
First, let’s get one thing out of the way: the story in MKvsDCU is a joke. It’s your usual crossover claptrap about merging universes due to strange energies blah blah blah that’s been used as an excuse for pretty much every major comics crossover from Amalgam to Deathmate (shudder). However, the game’s story, co-written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray (also responsible for the dreadful story in Dead Space: Downfall) approaches almost zen levels of sheer awfulness. It feels less like a professional script and more like fan fiction, but without all the homoeroticism and with dialogue that’s even more embarrassing. In its defense, however, the painful story does add the interesting wrinkle of a Story Mode to the game, where you play out pre-selected battles according to the story arc. It’s a small addition, but it does bring something new to a stale genre.
MKvsDCU’s gameplay, on the other hand, is a pure throwback. Gone are the recent complexities that muddled the past few MK games (fighting styles, weapons, etc.), instead opting for a hybrid of Mortal Kombat 3 and 4’s focused simplicity. Controls are responsive and tight, albeit a bit difficult to handle on the Xbox 360’s notoriously crap D-pad, and there’s certainly nothing more satisfying than pulling off a particularly nasty combo on your opponent.
Where MKvsDCU does bring something new is in the three new mini-modes: Test Your Might, Free Fall, and Klose Kombat. All three are basically riffs on Dead or Alive’s multi-tiered arenas, except with a tiny bit of mini-game interactivity thrown into the mix. In Free Fall and Klose Kombat for example, you basically hit the four face buttons to try to injure your opponent, whereas they’ll try to predict your move and deliver a punishing counter. Test Your Might is certainly less strategic, as you and your opponent plow through walls, each mashing the buttons to try and tip the damage scales in your favor. It may be a fairly brainless addition, but with lively animations and vicious sound effects, it’s just plain fun.
Which is what MKvsDCU is: just plain fun. I remember seeing initial previews of the game and thinking I would never be caught dead playing it, let alone enjoying it. After all, the MK franchise has gone down the tubes with the last few installments, and crossing it over with the DC Universe feels like a desperate attempt at a shot in the arm. After all, DC’s strict handling of their characters means that heroic figures don’t have Fatalities (they now use Heroic Brutalities) and the violence has been neutered to accommodate for a T rating, and the crossover handling just comes across like a “me-too” response to the excellent Marvel vs. Capcom games from years past. Hell, even the choice of fighters seems odd. Where the hell is Bane, or Doomsday, or Killer Croc, or Lobo? Do you really expect me to believe that Lex Luthor was a better fit for a fighting game than those guys? Odd decisions aside, this is the sort of game that goes hand-in-hand with sleepovers and pizza stomachaches: pure classic fighting game goodness that I haven’t experienced since the mid-Nineties. Now I get to experience it all over again, but with prettier graphics, better sound, online play… and without the ravages of puberty.
That, my friends, is worth every penny.