In April of 1985, the first issue of the ground-breaking, twelve issue Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was published. This event, which was easily the biggest in DC Comics at that point (and for many years), saw the destruction of the “Multiverse”, an infinite number of parallel worlds, and the awkward establishing of one unified DC canon. Over the years, DC have returned to this concept again and again, retconning it, expanding upon it, and milking it to the point of excess but that doesn’t change how influential this massive crossover was. To celebrate this momentous event, I’ll be taking a look at multiversal crossovers every Tuesday in April in an event I call “Crossover Crisis”.
Released: 16 November 2008
Developer: Midway Games
Also Available For: PlayStation 3
Mortal Kombat (Midway, 1992) stood out from the competition at the time with its focus on gore and violence and unique digitised graphics; the game was a massive success for Midway and the first real competition for Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (Capcom, 1991) in arcades and on home consoles. However, while the franchise went from strength to strength during the 2D era of gaming, Mortal Kombat struggled to find a footing in the emerging 3D fighter arena, leading to the developers desperately trying to be innovative and appealing in an increasingly competitive business. Since Capcom had seen some success with crossovers with Marvel Comics and other fighting game developers, Mortal Kombat co-developer Ed Boon scrapped plans for a back-to-basics reboot of his violent fighting series in favour of a crossover with DC Comics. While incorporating popular DC characters like Bruce Wayne/Batman and Clark Kent/Superman had the potential to broaden Mortal Kombat’s mainstream appeal, the license carried many restrictions for the developers; Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe was hampered by a “Teen” rating, which substantially neutered the series’ trademark violence. This, as much as anything, greatly contributed to the game’s mediocre reception; while some found the title surprisingly enjoyable, despite its bonkers premise, others found the gameplay and variety frustratingly tedious. Although the game received a “Kollector’s Edition” release, this was Midway Games’ last project before they went bankrupt and plans for downloadable content were subsequently scrapped. Thankfully, this wasn’t the final nail in the coffin for the franchise; the association with DC’ s parent company, Warner Bros, saw Midway being purchased by Warner and restructured into NetherRealm Studios, and the ultra violent was not only soon back on track but the new studio also eventually found success with the DC license in a separate series of fighting games.
After Raiden and Superman repel invasions from both their worlds simultaneously in their separate universes, villains, Shao Kahn and Darkseid are unexpectedly merged into “Dark Kahn” and the two universes to begin merging, with catastrophic events. With characters from both universes wildly fluctuating in power, representatives from both worlds come together to stop the merger by any means necessary.
Mirroring the style and presentation of its mainline series, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe is a 2.5D fighting game in which players pick from a roster initially comprised of twenty fighters of iconic characters from both franchise’s and battle through the game’s single-player story mode, fight one-on-one against another player or computer-controlled opponent, battle their way through an arcade ladder, or take on a series of increasingly difficult combo challenges. By default, fights take place in a best-of-three format and against a time limit but you can alter these settings (and many others, including the game’s difficulty and the use of blood) in the game’s main options menu to speed up gameplay or make it more accessible to you. Rather than employing different fighting styles and weapon combat like its predecessors, or properly incorporate different variations like in the later games, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe takes a very barebones approach to combat and gameplay options: controls are fully customisable but, by default, you can throw with X or Y, kicks with A or B, toss them aside with a generic throw with Left Bumper, block incoming attacks by holding the Right Trigger, dash towards (but not away from) your opponent, jump in or crouch down to attack or avoid incoming attacks, and string together combos by quickly pressing the attack buttons alongside directional inputs. The game includes a practice mode to help you get to grips with this, and a “Kombo Challenge” feature that helps you practice the game’s tricky combo system, but you can bring up your fighter’s moves at any time by pausing the game. It has to be said that combat is quite a hurdle here; you’ll sometimes jump or dash when you don’t mean to, even when using the directional pad, jumping punches can be very floaty and often miss, and the game seems weighted in the CPU’s favour even when playing on the easiest setting as they have no difficulty pulling off some of the ridiculous combos on offer here.
Each fighter can pull off a number of unique special moves with simple button and directional inputs (back, back, X, for example, or left, down, B); while these can be stringed together with combos, they can’t be enhanced like in subsequent games as your “Rage Meter” only allows you to pull of the ever-annoying breakers to interrupt combos and attacks when filled to the first tier and activate the game’s “Rage Mode” by pressing RT and LT at the same time. This will put you into “Rage” mode, which powers up your attacks and coats you in a glowing armour that weakens the damage you receive, shrugs off projectiles, and keeps you from being stunned or knocked over. This doesn’t last for very long but it can easily make short work of your opponent, and activating it will even see you unleash a burst of energy that knocks your foe away, so properly timing the burning of your Rage Meter can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The game also features a few unique gameplay mechanics: if you grab your opponent with the Right Bumper , you’ll activate “Klose Combat” mode, which sees you pummelling or breaking your opponent’s limbs with successive presses of the face buttons. They (and you) can counter these attacks by pressing the right button at the right time, and these quasi-quick-time events (QTEs) also crop up in the “Free-Fall Kombat” and stage transition moments. In some stages, you can send your opponent plummeting down to a new part of the arena; while in free fall, you can mash different face buttons to deal damage and finish them off with RB, but they’ll turn the tide against you if they hit the right buttons. Similarly, some stages allow you to charge your opponent through a way, whereupon you’re asked to “Test Your Might!” in a tug-of-way style button mashing sequence that inflicts more damage the more of the bar you manage to fill. These mechanics can be fun ways to spice up the somewhat lacklustre in-game combat and definitely open up the otherwise bland and empty arenas a bit more since you can literally smash your opponent to new areas, but they’re a far cry from the stage transitions seen in the Injustice series (NetherRealm Studios, 2013 to present).
Sadly, that’s about it for in-game options; some stages very destructible elements you can smash into, and all of the game’s characters sport special moves befitting of them (Sub-Zero’s ice blast, for example, and Bruce Wayne/Batman’s Batarangs) but, since the game is hampered by a lower rating, there is very little blood and none of the gore you’d expect from a Mortal Kombat. That’s not to say that Fatalities aren’t present, however, they’re just…what’s the word..?…oh yes! Shit. Unlike in subsequent games, you can’t view your character’s finisher inputs from the pause screen, which makes finishing your opponent a real chore, but very few of these moves are even worth your time pulling off. All of the Mortal Kombat characters can execute two Fatalities that will see them murder their opponent in the most PG way imaginable; while some leave the opponent an exceptionally dry and clean skeleton, most boil down to you simply stabbing, shooting, or crushing them with very little bloodshed. The more morally pure DC superheroes will opt to finish their opponent with one of two “Heroic Brutalities”, though many of these would no doubt leave the foe severely crippled or dead since we see the likes of Clark Kent/Superman driving them into the ground and Barry Allen/The Flash pummelling them at superspeed. Unlike in previous (and subsequent) Mortal Kombat videogames, there are no mini games to distract you and is no in-game currency to earn, no player profile or fighter card to customise, and no Krypt to explore to send your coins. There aren’t even alternate skins for the fighters beyond a very minor palette swap when choosing the same character, and the best the game offers is allowing you to view bios, character models, and endings in the “Extras” menu, all of which makes for a very stripped down title even compared to its predecessor, Mortal Kombat: Armageddon (Midway Games, 2006).
This also means that there are no challenge towers or option combat modes like “Test Your Luck” or tag-team combat to spice up multi-player gameplay; you can play locally or online (well, I assume you can’t do this latter any more) in ranked and “King of the Hill” style matches but the arcade ladder is a standard, ten-fight challenge where the extent of the game’s variety is offering you the choice between facing all Mortal Kombat or all DC Universe opponents or a mixture of the two. Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe does, however, feature a single-player story mode but, strangely, it only allows you to play as up to eight characters from either side. After picking either the Mortal Kombat or DC Universe story, you’ll take control of a specific character and battle anywhere from three to five opponents as part of the campaign. This remains a great way to familiarise players with the vast majority of the game’s fighters and their unique combos and special moves, but you cannot perform finishing moves when playing the story mode. Although you can’t skip any of the cutscenes, or jump to specific chapters and fights after completion, you can save and quit…which is definitely something, though the game’s difficulty can become frustrating as the computer-controlled characters love to block your attacks, uppercut you out of nowhere, and jump-kick you out of the air, and can seemingly juggle you in an inescapable combo at will! Unlike in later NetherRealm Studios games, the story mode is as basic as it gets; the only time it actually tries anything remotely different is during Major Jackson “Jax” Briggs’ chapter as you’re forced to battle Diana Prince/Wonder Woman without your machine gun, which means you’re robbed of on of your ranged attacks. If you’re defeated, you have ten in-game seconds to choose between continuing and quitting, which is true of the arcade and two-player bouts as well. Unfortunately, winning or losing in two-player mode simply dumps you back to the fighter select screen and, as far as I could tell, there isn’t even a way to select your stage let alone input Kombat Kodes or activate anything interesting to make the fights less of a chore.
Graphics and Sound:
Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe looks pretty good, for the most part; the character models are very similar to those seen in Mortal Kombat (NetherRealm Studios, 2011), meaning they hold up about as well, but some suffer more than others. Women, for example, look particularly off; sure, it’s great seeing Selina Kyle/Catwoman’s amply cleavage and Lieutenant Sonya Blade’s nipples poking through her top, but they’re all impossibly sexualised and their hair is very blocky and static. Unlike later NetherRealm Studios offerings, character’s don’t have unique intros or dialogue with each other before a fight; the camera simply pans the arena and zooms in to find the combatants ready to go and, while they do have little animations between rounds, these don’t seem particularly unique to any fighter. Post-fight animations are a little more unique, but there’s a definite lack of variety and character in each fighter which reminds me of the cut-and-paste job seen in Mortal Kombat: Armageddon (with the exception of the Joker, who dances and prances all over the place at every opportunity). On the plus side, characters do take battle damage; you’ll see their clothes rip, blood and bruises form on skin, and even uncover Scorpion’s skull as inflict damage on your opponent, which is fun, but the lack of any alternate attires or skins is a major tick in the “Con” column for this barebones title.
There are some other notable little details on offer, however; when you toss Kano’s dagger at an opponent, it’ll stay stuck in their chest for a bit, you can sheath and unsheathe Baraka’s arm-claws with a press of B, you’ll see Sub-Zero’s icy breath, and there’s even a reference to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Meyer, 1982) thrown in for good measure. Another thing in Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe’s favour, however, is that the CGI cutscenes are basically indistinguishable from the in-fight graphics; while the character models might be a little less detailed than in later games and have that action figure sheen that is common in this generation of games, it’s still impressive that there’s little distinction between the two, though the voice acting leaves a lot to be desired (the DC Animated Universe this is not!) and there’s very little to inspire you in the soundtrack, either. Similarly, stages are quite a let-down; the majority of them have this half-and-half theme going on where the DC Universe is split or merging with that of Outworld, NetherRealm, or Earthrealm but, even with that, there’s hardly anything to see or do and the stages are disappointingly bland and empty considering how big they are and the fat that you can navigate them in a 3D space. The likes of Oa, Themyscira, and the Fortress of Solitude probably stand out the most and have a few things to see in the background, but there’s a distinct and disappointing lack of Easter Eggs and visually interesting stages. Probably the most interesting one is the asteroid stage that sees you transitioning above and below thanks to the messed up gravity, but the game continues to bug me with presenting all these passable CGI cutscenes and relegating the arcade mode endings to a series of still pictures with narration.
Enemies and Bosses:
Since this is a fighting game, every character will inevitably be your enemy at some point so it can be useful to get an idea of what each one is capable of by playing through the story mode and completing their arcade ladders. However, there isn’t really too much to distinguish each character; you’ think the Flash would be faster and slippery to control compared to Liu Kang but he really isn’t and, while Jax and Billy Batson/Captain Marvel may utilise powerful grabs, they don’t feel any slower than someone like Kano or Hal Jordan/Green Lantern. Every character has a few simple combos that it’s best to learn so you can leap in, mash X three times or X, X, Y and then hit a special move or a throw to deal some decent damage, and they’re obviously made a bit more unique by their individual special moves. Characters will invariably have a projectile or some kind of range attack, a rush or grapple of some kind, and sometimes even disorientating gadgets like flash or smoke grenades. Some have more special moves on offer than others; Shang Tsung, for example, can toss flaming skulls across the screen and from above, suck his opponent’s health to fill his own, swap places (but not bodies) with them, and pull off a slide while other characters, like Batman, Sub-Zero, and the Joker, have parry moves in their arsenal that can interrupt attacks. Some characters are also a little more versatile than others; Superman can suck enemies in for a big punch, rush at them and smack them out of the air, fry them with his heat vision, freeze them with his breath, and perform flying attacks while Lex Luthor relies on his mech suit to fire missiles and blast away from danger. It’s when playing or fighting against the Mortal Kombat characters that long-time series fans will be at their most familiar: Liu Kang tosses his trademark fireballs and flying kicks, Jax grabs his foe and causes shockwaves, Kane launches himself like a cannonball, Scorpion throws his trademark spear, and Kitana uses her fans and dashes about in the air to be her usual annoying self.
The lack of powered-up attacks, unique throws, and the generic effects of Rage Mode mean that you really don’t have to tailor your fighting style all that much against different opponents; Raiden’s abilities don’t really make him all that different from Slade Wilson/Deathstroke as both can be jumped over, ducked under, and attacked even if one has a dash and teleport and the other relies more on ranged attacks. You also won’t have to worry about any secret fighters cropping up in the arcade ladder; what you see is basically what you get but you do have to watch for characters like Sonya stringing together their multi-kick attacks in a cheap-ass combo. The exception to this comes in the form of the game’s big bad, Dark Kahn, who basically just looks like a slightly tweaked version of Blaze from Mortal Kombat: Armageddon and fights with a combination of moves from Shao Kahn and Darkseid. Dark Kahn awaits at the end of the story mode and arcade tower and is easily the biggest challenge you’ll face outside of the harder difficulties and opponents getting cheaper and more aggressive. A lumbering, monstrous foe, Dark Kahn can absorb a great deal of damage, gains armour and invincibility frames, and can drain your health bar to nothing in just a few basic swipes to say nothing of his energy barrier, shoulder charge, rising knee, and Warhammer attacks. Your best bet against him is to soften him up with ranged attacks and projectiles and stay moving; hop in, land a combo, and follow it up with a jump kick and then back away to avoid him stringing together his devastating moves in an inescapable barrage. The same is true of Shao Kahn and Darkseid, who act as sub-bosses in the arcade ladder; individually, they’re almost as formidable as their merged form, with both able to stun you with their hammer, fry you with their eye lasers, and smash you into the ground with a leaping attack. While you can’t play as Dark Kahn or perform your finishing moves on him, you can perform your finishing moves against Shao Kahn and Darkseid but, while both of these characters are unlocked after finishing the story mode (and, confusingly, pressing RB on the character select screen rather than adding them to the roster), neither of them have Fatalities of their own. Ultimately, while these three aren’t as impossible or as cheap as other Mortal Kombat bosses and sub-bosses, none of them really challenge your combat skills beyond relying on hit-and-run and spam tactics much like the previous two Mortal Kombat videogames that just ended with this hulking beast that could wreck you if given a chance rather than something that actually requires a bit more skill.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
There’s absolutely nothing on offer in this regard in Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe beyond the individual character’s special moves; this game is severely lacking even for a one-on-one fighter as there are no codes or options to spice up gameplay, no weapons to grab, barely anything to interact with in stages, and characters don’t even get buffs or anything with their special moves the closest they get is teleporting, surrounding themselves in a damaging aura for a bit, or tossing bombs or grenades either close, mid-range, or far away.
There are fifty Achievements on offer in Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe; many of these are obtained simply by playing through the story mode, with Achievements popping after certain chapters and completing each (and both) stories. Simpler ones are acquired by performing a ten-hit combat, initiating Klose- and Free-Fall Kombat, and performing one Fatality or Heroic Brutality. Things get a little more complicated and frustrating when you try to perform all of these moments as a handful of them require you to press up, which makes you jump and interrupts the sequence, and in trying to get the 5G Achievements from completing each character’s Kombo Challenge otherwise, you’ll get Achievements for finishing the arcade ladder with all characters and competing in online fights, which are probably impossible to get these days. These involved standard fare that you might expect, as mentioned, and you can fight locally, but beyond unlocking every character’s ending and trying to finish their Kombo Challenges, there really isn’t anything else on offer here once you’ve finished the story mode and a few arcade ladders. There’s no concept art, character models, or extras to unlock, no gear or skins or arenas to unlock, and no downloadable fighters on offer, making for an extremely barebones and lacklustre fighting title that struggles to compete against others in the genre or even its predecessors.
There was a lot of promise in the concept of Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe; after the success that Capcom had with their ventures with Marvel Comics, this could’ve been a great springboard to a more mainstream audience. Sadly the game is let-down at almost every turn: everything from the music to the visuals and the depths of the combat is just lacking, to say nothing of the additional features and options for replayability. It’s interesting revisiting this after playing Mortal Kombat ’11 since that game was supposed to be the franchise’s back-to-basics approach but it’s hard to get more barebones than Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. Even some of the 2D games had little extras, mini games or cheats or options to tweak the gameplay, but there’s absolutely nothing here, not even alternate skins for the fighters! The story mode is okay; it’s a paper thin excuse to mash these worlds together but it works, but I have no idea why it’s not a twenty-chapter mode that lets you play as each character from both sides. I’m actually a bit lenient on the lacklustre finishing moves; I get that the game couldn’t show spines being ripped out and flash being melted, but I think a little more effort could’ve gone into these and I really don’t like the term “Heroic Brutality”. The Free-Fall Kombat, Klose Kombat, and stage transitions are somewhat interesting, but the stages are so bland and empty that they’re completely wasted here. similarly, the lack of individuality to these colourful characters and the generic nature of their special moves and the Rage Mode really make this probably the most mediocre game in the entire franchise. Ultimately, this feels like a rushed, budget title that was hampered by pressing deadlines and financial pressure and a complete waste of the DC license. If you can get it cheap, give it a try and nab some easy Achievements, but otherwise you’re better off playing NetherRealm’s later games as this is just such a throwaway disappointment of a game.
What did you think to Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe? Were you disappointed by its use of the DC license? What were your thoughts on the game’s story and its depiction of these worlds merging? Which of the game’s fighters was your favourite and why? What did you think to the Free-Fall and Klose Kombat features? Were you disappointed by the lack of special features and the Rage Mode mechanic? Which characters or features would you have liked to see added to the game? Which Mortal Kombat and/or DC Comics videogame, movie, comic, or other piece of media is your favourite? Are you a fan of multiverse stories and crossovers? Whatever you think about Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe, sign up to leave a comment down below or leave your thoughts on my social media and be sure to check back in next Tuesday for more Crossover Crisis content!
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