Marvel vs. Capcom Not.
I remember a time when Mortal Kombat had a reputation to defend as the bad boy of fighting games. It was new and scandalous to the bloodiest degree. Moms, teachers, even Congress rallied to protect the nation’s youth, lest we become crazed heathens driven by homicidal urges into lives of plushophila. What the authorities failed to realize is that we would grow up and look back at the tough-guy posturing with the same humiliating nostalgia reserved for bowl-cuts and JNCOs.
[image1]MK was never known for its superb fighting mechanics. It was a shock-value title filled with unabashed gratuity for sleepovers and college parties, but the series couldn’t keep up with the demand for skill over spectacle. It approached the problem of waning popularity like a bad plumber with a roll of duct tape, temporarily patching the leaks with weapons, mini-games, and go-karts. After Armageddon, Midway vowed to overhaul the series and thrust the MK name back into the spotlight.
Let’s be honest. Is anyone really waiting in breathless anticipation to see Sonya and Raiden go at it again, for the thousandth time? Probably not, unless you’ve been aching to see Sonya’s newly enhanced mammaries jiggle and flow like mini-waterbeds in high-definition. For the rest of us, who know where to find dirty pictures of human boobs, this is the chance to finally settle those nerdy, superpowered brawls conjured up at the comic stands. If you’re a MK diehard, pounding Superman senseless with Sub-Zero is extra frosting atop a scrumptious little cake. Either way, this is definitely DC’s show.
There are 20 main characters and 2 unlockable ones, all split half-and-half between both universes, and the roster reads like a high school yearbook of popularity. I’m sure we’ll here plenty of fanboys crying about the dismissal of Hawkman, Johnny Cage, and the dozens of second-stringers, but you have to draw the line somewhere. Baraka and Joker made it, so at least I’m happy. Joker is especially fun to play, with his gentlemanly style of fisticuffs, electrified joy-buzzer, and smiley-faced bombs. For much of the cast, it’s back to the classic MK pose – stiff, upright body and arms outstretched to air out their pits.
[image2]For better or worse, basic combat still has an old-school MK feel to it, despite some changes. Midway opted for a streamlined approach to combos so that players can make their own on the fly, linking punches, kicks, and elbows together. Custom combos have a nice flow and they add a layer of personal style, but thus far, lack the improvements I had been hoping for. First, you can’t develop the reactionary tactics to know which moves work best in a situation, and second, the lack of decent counter-moves means that players still get trapped in flurries of high punches. Perhaps the final release will show more depth.
Similarity was always my biggest complaint with the MK series. No one would ever compare Zangief to Chun-Li, or Yoshimitsu to Marshall Law. In MK, an uppercut with Liu Kang has always been the same as an uppercut with Scorpion. Now you can add Flash to that list as well. Did he learn to fight by playing in the arcades of the ‘90s? He’s a little more angular than the rest – Batman has his scowling hunch and Superman is the poster-child for posture – but their differences are mainly cosmetic. I was only able to try half of the characters, but once again, it looks as though special moves of the back-back-forward variety are still the foundations of combat.
The MK fighters have a few new tricks, and Midway nailed the DC lineup with batarangs, Catwoman’s scathing whip, and Superman’s heat vision. A new Pro-move system allows for quick successions of specials and makeshift combos if you can get the timing down. Lead Designer Brian LeBaron showed how Flash could spin Shang Tsung with dizzying speed, and then blast him back and forth with multiple uppercuts. Since I only managed to pull off one Pro-move the entire time, it looks like the system will effectively separate the masters from the mashers.
[image3]That’s not to say that button-mashing isn’t a part of MK vs DCU, though. Some of the stages let you grab your opponents and piledrive them horizontally through building after building, while the players madly tap their buttons for the final blow. Even better are the Klose Kombat and Free-fall instances seamlessly blended into the matches. The attacker presses a button and the defender has a split-second to match it or suffer the consequences. If you don’t get excited by the idea of plummeting through the Bat Cave while exchanging blows with the Dark Knight, you’re looking at the wrong game to begin with.
Staying true to its roots, MK vs. DCU is all about gratuitous violence, raucous nights of passing controllers between friends, and of course, Fatalities (or Brutalities in the case of our upstanding superheroes). Midway wasn’t willing to show much, but you’ve already seen the best of what I saw. MK vs. DC Universe won’t replace the likes of Soul Calibur IV, but if the Joker’s brutal murder of Kitana is any indication, it’ll still be a bloody good time. And for the record, yes, you can kill Superman.
Maybe DC doesn’t win…