Review: Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe (360)
Genre: 3-D Fighter
Developer: Midway
Publisher: Midway
Release Date: 11/17/08

Last week our Editor in Chief Alex Lucard wrote a review about the PS3 version of Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. This week I get a chance to cover the Xbox 360 version of the game. Lucard liked the title a lot, even going as far as to say it was one of his favorite fighting games this year, but he isn’t really the biggest fan of the Mortal Kombat series in general. I am. Mortal Kombat was one of the first fighting games I played as a kid, and I still have good memories of my friends and I getting together and sweep kicking each other to death while snickering about all the blood and the fatalities. Since then there’s always been a place for Mortal Kombat in my heart and in whatever game system that I own.

Being a large fan of a series is a two way street though, it means I’m one of those people who enjoy the games but will also complain when any drastic changes are made to the series. Just as I was getting used to the multiple fighting styles of the last few games, now Midway has changed direction with Mortal Kombat again, this time adding in characters not even from the Mortal Kombat universe, completely changing the fighting system, and toning down some of the gore.

So how should a long time fan of the Mortal Kombat games react to all of these changes? Read on.

One of the first things you’ll notice when you play MK vs. DC is there are fewer modes than in the previous Mortal Kombat games. No Puzzle Kombat, Chess Kombat, Kart Kombat, Krypt, or Kreate-a-Fighter. In terms of different modes this is a much slimmer game than some of the previous entries in the MK games. In the single player side of things for MK vs. DC there is a Story mode, Arcade, Kombo Challenge and Practice.

Instead of a sprawling beat-em-up mode like the one found in Armageddon, or the open world of Deception, the Story Mode in MK vs DCU shows up bunch of cutscenes and jumps in between characters. The game is seperated into two different story modes, the Mortal Kombat side and the DC side. Both have similar beginnings, the Mortal Kombat side of things starts right after the events in Mortal Kombat II with Shao Khan and Shang Tsung trying to regroup after being defeated. Raiden confronts the two and when Shao Khan tries to leave through a portal Raiden blasts him. In the DC side of things Darkseid has failed once again to try and conquer the Earth. Darkseid also tries to escape away from Superman through a portal but the portal gets blasted by Superman’s heat ray. Portal from both universes become unstable and end up merging Darkseid and Shao Khan into one entity, Dark Khan. This also leads to a merging of the two universes, with disastrous results.

The only thing that really needs to be said about the story is that it is absolutely great. Sure, it’s sort of goofy in some places, but considering the fact that Mortal Kombat is about a tournament where fighters decide the fate of realms through a tournament to the death, DC is full of costumed super heroes, the story is actually less far fetched than you’d think. It all comes together really well, and on the Mortal Kombat side, previous history between characters comes into play, as well as some different alliances and betrayals.

As far as the DC side….I’m amazed. I’m not really a comic book fan, and the DC comics do read tend to fall towards the Vertigo line of comics instead of the main stars of DC like Superman. However I’ve had enough exposure through movies, friends, and what I’ve picked up as a kid growing up when other kids debated who would win a fight between Batman and Superman that I’ve absorbed a good deal of information about all of the characters involved. The amount of detail and respect paid to the different characters of the DC Universe is something that shouldn’t be understated. The DC side of the story is full of little details for each character and a lot of references to past history. Any DC fan couldn’t ask for more than what this game has accomplished with these characters, this transcends a simple tie-in product; it’s proof that the people involved with making the game did as much as possible to do justice to characters from both franchises.

The Arcade mode is exactly what you’d imagine it to be. You choose a character and then work it up through the different tiers from easy to hard until the final boss. What’s a nice addition is the fact that if you are a Mortal Kombat fan or a DC Universe fan who just doesn’t want to deal with characters from the other franchise the game give you an option to either have you fight all DCU characters, all MK characters, or a mixture of both.

Then there’s the Kombo Challenge. At first this seems like a nice addition in order to learn the different moves, and string of moves for each individual character. Unfortunately it just becomes an agonizingly brutal experience. At the top of the screen the game will display a specific combo for the character you have chosen and pulling off that combo will complete that challenge and move you onto the next one. Sounds pretty simple right? It’s not. The game will display combos with specific timing and will even have symbols that tell you when you are supposed to pause, unfortunately it does tell you how long you are supposed to pause. This leads to nothing but confusion and frustration. As Baraka I’m instructed into doing the Chop Chop Blades into the Blade Slide, except the game doesn’t tell me when during the Chop Chop Blades I’m supposed to actually input the next button sequence.

Practice mode is exactly what it sounds like, if you want to just beat up another character while practicing moves, than this is the mode for you. I really wish this game had more of a tutorial mode though, there’s a lot of depth to the combat system that is really unexplored unless you spend a lot of time trying guessing the timing of different moves until you get it right. Sure, that’s the way most of us figured out how to do certain combos years ago with Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and other fighting games, but video games have moved beyond that point. If the new fighting system was like a pool, then the game only ever asks the players to step into the shallow end, it will take a dedicated fan to try and get a better understanding of the deeper mechanics to the game like the pro-moves, and the blame for that falls squarely on the developers for not including a more intuitive mode for learning the different fighter’s combos.

Of course since MK vs DCU is a fighting game it’s the multiplayer where things really get intense. There’s offline multiplayer, which works exactly as it sounds, and online multiplayer. The online is pretty straight forward, you can play a ranked match, a player match, or a private match. There’s supposed to be a chat server that allows you to challenge other people online, however at the time of this writing (one week after the official release of the game) that is currently not yet up and running. Thankfully the other types of matches work wonderfully with the ranked and player matches connecting you with other players near your TrueSkill rank.

Online works fairly well, though mostly it depends on how the online connection between you and the person you are playing against. There seems to be some slight latency even if both connections are good, but other than some very slight latency on a good connection it’s the next best thing to playing against someone in the same room. In a private match you can invite people from your friends list an play against them. It all works fairly well and reminds me a lot of playing in the arcade when I was younger and playing against complete strangers.

Overall while there are fewer modes than some of the other recent Mortal Kombat games, the story mode is stronger and the arcade and online modes will still last you for quite awhile.

Graphically this game is amazing, though there are also some less than stellar areas. The character models are all nearly perfect, especially with some of the DC characters. The Joker is just a great example of the work put into making the character look great, and not only that animate with such personality that it adds an extra dimension to the character. The Joker looks like he popped straight off of a comic book page (this is the DC comic book Joker, not the recent Batman movie version) and every movement the character makes is infused with both joy and violence that it adds extra credibility to the fact that we are controlling Gotham City’s Most Wanted.

That same dedication goes for all of the rest of the characters as well. Jax moves like a powerful character while The Flash can string together some ultra-fast move in quick succession. The only exception I can think of is Wonder Woman who has some…unique moves in her arsenal, but I really don’t know much about the character to judge whether or not this is normal or just odd for the character. On top of all that during a fight you can see the damage that is being done to the characters. Bruising, cuts, and costumes will be shredded as the fight goes on, and after a close fought battle both competitors will look like they’ve just been through hell.

There are some parts of the graphics that aren’t as good though. What is keeping Kitana’s mask on? It just seems to stop right around her ears. Some of the backgrounds have dull areas or flat textures, this however is severely nitpicking the game since most of the time the player will be so focused on the action that they’ll never even notice these details.

The same amount of work was spent on making sure audio portion of the game was on par with the graphics. The audio is stellar. I don’t say this because the background music is good, it is just okay and the usual soundtracks that you’d hear in any Mortal Kombat game. I’m talking about the voice work for the game. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Midway may have done the best job they ever have with the voice acting in Mortal Kombat vs DCU. Batman sounds like Batman should sound like, instead of the weird hoarse porn actor style of voice that Christian Bale lends to the character in the recent Batman movies. Every character sounds like they should sound, whether it’s a Mortal Kombat character or a DCU character.

The background music and sound effects sound much like any other Mortal Kombat game. These sounds fit the experience of the game, the sound effects aren’t overbearing and yet they’re over the top enough so that an uppercut sounds like you snapped the neck of the other fighter. The only suggestions I could possibly make for future installments of the game would be to add some audio cue for when the Rage meter is filled.

So the story of the game is incredible, and the game both looks and sounds wonderful, but this is a fighting game, and no matter if the graphics and story are stellar it all comes down to how the game actually plays. Thankfully fans of Mortal Kombat have nothing to fear, for Mortal Kombat vs DCU is not just a great fighting game, it is perhaps the best Mortal Kombat game ever. What’s weird is that it’s also possibly the best DCU game ever made at the same time.

The fighting engine of the previous titles has been completely thrown out. When I first heard this I was disappointed because while I wasn’t a big fan of the 3 fighting styles system that was present in Deadly Alliance and Deception (and to a lesser extent Armageddon) it certainly was unique to the Mortal Kombat games and if some of the balancing issues had been worked out I was always hopeful that it would turn out to be a really good fighting system. That’s all changed with MK vs DCU.

MK vs DCU is played on a 2D plane even though the arenas and fighters are in full 3D. The character you play as is controlled with the D-Pad of the controller, and can move in the 3D plane with either the left joystick, or by holding down the left trigger. There are no multiple fighting styles to switch between. There are just the regular moves and special moves to use during a fight.

Thank god.

The move to this new fighting system breathes life into the MK franchise. If any MK fan was bothered by the inclusion of DCU characters into the game, than this change alone should be enough to convince them to buy the game since MK vs DCU plays like natural progression of the fighting system used in Ultimate Mortal Kombat. Each character has specific combos and attacks, but everyone has a sweep and uppercut move. This allows the action to flow fast and is more user friendly than the dial-a-combo system that was previously used. The biggest flaw with this control scheme is not a fault of the developers, but more of a problem with the input device. The D-Pad on the 360 controllers just isn’t very good for fighting games when you need precise control. I found myself jumping far more than I wanted to when I was just trying to move forward. Luckily I bought a 3rd party controller with a good D-Pad awhile back and once I switched to that everything was great. The game also lets you switch around the button settings if you chose to play with an arcade stick. Lucard mentioned lag between pressing a button and the action occurring on screen for the PS3 version, on the 360 version I haven’t notice anything similar, everything reacts perfectly.

Other changes to the fighting system are the inclusion of the Rage meter. The Rage meter is under a characters health bar and contains two slots. The slots are filled whenever you receive damage or when you attack another character and they block. When one of the slots are filled you can use a Kombo Breaker. What this means is that if an enemy is stringing together attacks on you by blocking and pressing toward the attacking player it will break their combo and knock them back. When both slots are filled you can press both triggers to enter Rage mode. For a brief period of time while in Rage any attacks that normally would normally dizzy, juggle or knock back a character will have no effect on you while in Rage mode, plus it also give you the ability to crush through an opponents guard.

This might sound like it unbalances the gameplay, but it works really well. The previous games that had Kombo Breakers in them only allowed you to use them for 3 times during a fight, and while that created tension, against a skilled player you could use them all up pretty quickly then leave yourself defenseless. In MK vs DCU if both players are attacking and blocking well they could end up with several chances to use a Kombo Breaker, and the fact that it knocks the opponent back gives them a second as well to try and recover.

The Rage mode sounds almost too powerful, but it really isn’t. In the game it seems mostly used as a way to punish players who turtle (block all the time) and try to give players who are getting destroyed a better chance. Rage doesn’t last all that long though, and while it’s useful against the computer, online against other player it’s not as useful. They’ll just jump backwards or move around the 3D plane to avoid the attacks.

Then there’s the addition of Klose Kombat, Free-fall Kombat, and Test Your Might mini-games that are activated during a fight. Klose Kombat is initiated by using the Right Bumper or by pressing Y and B together to grab an opponent. Once you’ve grabbed an opponent, or vice versa, the camera zooms in and a button pressing game starts. The attacker presses a button and the defender tries to hit the same button, if the defender doesn’t hit the right button at the same time the attacks continue until either the person defending matches a button press and counters the attack or until the attacker pulls off four moves. At first I didn’t like Klose Kombat that much since the the game moves so quickly otherwise I felt like Klose Kombat just slowed down the pace of the action. Over time though I’ve grown to like it more and more since when the game zooms in you get a chance to really appreciate some of the damage you’ve done to your opponent, and some of the moves are character specific. Joker for example has an eye poke move.

Free-fall Kombat is almost the same as Klose Kombat. Free-fall Kombat is initiated when a character gets knocked through a stage and then both characters fight through the air. The button matching game is the same in this one, only there’s a meter at the side of the screen this time. Ever successful attack builds up this meter and once it’s filled to a certain point you can unleash a powerful attack. On the flipside if the defender matches the button press then they become the attacker and can use the meter to use a powerful attack. There’s a risk factor involved with this mini-game as the attacker, do you go for doing more damage once you can use the powerful attack, or use it right away so that the tables don’t get turned?

Then there’s Test Your Might. One 3 different stages there are areas that a character can be knocked into to start this mini-game. Once the mini-game is starts both attacker and defender mash every button in an attempt to either inflict more damage or decrease the amount of damage. At first it’s a fun throwback to the Test Your Might mini-games that were done in between rounds of the old games, but it becomes annoying pretty quickly. As I said though, it’s only on 3 of the stages so it’s doesn’t happen very often.

As with any fighting game there’s always the question of balance between characters. While as a series Mortal Kombat has never really been known for having the refined balance between characters that other fighting game series have been known for, for some reason the Mortal Kombat game that includes nearly invincible super heroes is also the one that is the most balanced. There are some folks that might actually be offended that Kano can beat Superman in the game, but it’s all very well explained in the story mode (Superman is weak to magic, plus the universes are colliding and the balance of power is all over the place).

For the first time in any Mortal Kombat game there are no useless characters. Sure, some will appear to be more powerful, and in fact if you play online you will see a disproportionate amount of people playing as Captain Marvel, The Flash or Green Lantern due to some special moves or quick attacks that they have, but it’s not hard to figure out a way to neutralize the abilities that these players are relying on. Every character is useful, so a lot of it comes down to player preference for a specific character.

There are 5 different difficulty levels to set for the computer AI. At higher levels you’ll see the game show off some of the longer combinations and use all of the character pro-moves. The only odd thing about the AI is that it will re-adjust if you use a continue. This is far more noticeable in Story mode where you can get beat down by Superman the first time you come across him, then if you continue he’ll be as easy as fighting a kitten. Not sure why they chose to do this unless they wanted to make sure the player could view the entire story without needing to restart at a lower difficulty, but I like a challenge and trying to figure out how to adapt to a difficult opponent. The Story mode doesn’t encourage becoming a better player this way and I almost wish there was an option to turn this scaling difficulty off.

Another big difference between past Mortal Kombat games and MK vs DCU is the lack of a cheap boss. Sure, Dark Khan is scary looking and powerful, but his patterns are pretty easy to learn and beat. Remember resorting to jump kicking Goro to death? Or cursing whoever designed and created Onaga? No more. Dark Khan is an annoyance at best. He couldn’t hold a candle to Blaze. I’m not sure if it’s a positive or a negative that the final boss doesn’t feel insanely cheap.

Finally let’s get to the biggest point of contention between Mortal Kombat fans and the new game. Yes, the Fatalities have been toned down. I still don’t understand why some of them were toned down so much, Joker and Deathstroke both have one where they shoot the opponent as a Fatality, and it doesn’t show the opponent actually getting shot. This wouldn’t be so odd if it wasn’t for the fact that one of Deathstroke’s special moves is to pull out a gun and shoot the opponent. I can shoot another character in the head over and over again during a fight, but the Fatality that is similar is censored? Huh?

That said it really isn’t as bad as people make it out to be. For one, many of the Fatalities aren’t that different than what you’ve seen in past games, only instead of parts exploding everywhere or limbs being amputated they’re just crushed or reduced to a skeleton. The whole point of Fatalities is to add extra humiliation on an opponent and these Fatalities still accomplish that. Scorpion still sets people on fire (I’m not sure how this is supposed to be less violent than a gun shot), Sonya still has a kiss of death, etc. The DC heroes do not kill people so they have similar moves; only the character on the receiving end is still twitching when it’s done, which sort of seems crueler to me. Hey, they’re heroes and will not kill you, but they’ll beat you to a crippling near death. This is also explained very well in the story mode, and unless you’re one of those people that plays Mortal Kombat exclusively for the gore you will not be disappointed.

The Scores:
Story/Modes: Classic
Graphics: Great
Sound: Amazing
Control/Gameplay: Classic
Replayability: Great
Balance: Very Good
Originality: Great
Addictiveness: Classic
Appeal: Great
Miscellaneous: Amazing

Final Score: Incredible Game

Short Attention Span Summary:
I’ve had my own doubts about mixing the Mortal Kombat franchise with characters from DC Comics, but Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe isn’t just the most fun I’ve had with a fighting game in a long time, it’s also possibly the best Mortal Kombat game, and the best DC video game ever made. The level of detail and respect for both franchises in the story mode is astonishing, and the new fighting engine is exactly what the Mortal Kombat series needed to make an impact again. I sort of hope the next game centers more on continuing the Mortal Kombat storyline from where it left off, but until then I’ll be playing MK vs DCU and stomping Superman into the ground with Sonya Blade.



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3 responses to “Review: Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe (Microsoft Xbox 360)”

  1. ICR Avatar

    Great game but once you’ve completed the story mode, you can’t return to it? What if someone else wants to give it a go after you’ve reached the end? From trailers, it seemed the unlocked characters become part of the story but how do you get there? Is there at least a reset button? Please help, thanks.

  2. Matt Yeager Avatar
    Matt Yeager

    Christ, I missed this comment. Sorry man, you probably already have the question answered by now. If not, yes, you indeed can go back into story mode and replay it once you’ve completed it.

    With the story mode you play as one character a few times, then switch to a seperate character. This all flows well within the story. There are only two characters that are unlocked by playing though the story though.

    There’s no reset button, but also no way to fail the story mode. If you lose, you get a chance to try again.

  3. […] Mortal Kombat Series Why? Two words: Sub Zero. You can’t tell me you didn’t see that coming. Subby and his freezing attacks have been a trademark of the Mortal Kombat franchise since its inception. In fact, Sub Zero appears in every Mortal Kombat game except Mortal Kombat: Special Forces. He even became so popular that he appeared in his own game, Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub Zero. Of course, he alone can’t carry the franchise onto our list, but this ice man needs to be discussed in this list. […]

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