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DOH-pad: A visit with MK vs. DC on Xbox 360


I confess. I haven't touched the Mortal Kombat series since Trilogy on N64, and even then my interest had waned. The peak came in 1993 or thereabouts with MKII, so you can imagine the eyebrow raise when associate producer Hector Sanchez told me Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe was taking it back to that iconic memory. Stopping short of digitized sprites and random outbursts of weirdness, MK vs. DC does succeed as an accessible fighter that's mostly contained on a two-dimensional plane. Call it "casual" -- Midway does.

Game development has become ridonkulously expensive, and if you're creating a project within a niche genre, like a fighting game, you'd best sell out if you want to be around long enough to make another game. That's a harsh way to qualify what's happening all around the industry -- and let's be clear: MK vs. DC in no way stoops to the level of Castlevania Judgment -- but somehow "casual" has become careless, as if developers are afraid ordinary consumers won't appreciate good art. A certain amount of color, call it the "Noob Saibot" effect, seems wiped from the MK canvas. Gone is that unsophisticated humor that was always charming, if not entirely professional. (Where's that "Toasty" guy? What ever happened to reverting opponents to diapered infants?) With this in mind, and DC legal breathing down Midway's neck (we wouldn't want Supe's golden-boy reputation tarnished, not with a movie reboot possible, would we?), the team is tiptoeing to a final release.

Stiff. That's how Kombatants have always looked and felt to me, and MK vs. DC is no different. There's a deliberate slowness to the characters' movements that's off-putting to a first impression. The DC element only serves to enhance this nagging sense of: Wow, that's not how I imagine dudes with superpowers throwing down. There are "Flashes" of appropriate brilliance, and there's certainly a sense of power, not unlike two super heavyweights planted firmly in the ring, slugging it out. Ironically, Midway nails it best with the Joker, a character that historically avoids hand-to-hand combat. His celebratory jig is especially alive on-screen.

Gallery: Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe | 50 Photos

It is exciting to tear through the game's relatively small roster (uh, not quite on par with this one) and discover which special moves made the cut -- and which didn't. But after the initial unwrapping, after the first dozen times you involuntarily shout DA-YAMN! as Superman homeruns a fool into the concrete or Green Latern drops a hammer on dude's dome, you're left with an uncomfortable wanting. And with only two unlockable characters (that's what Midway's telling us, anyway), you might drift off into: What if? What if Aquaman...? What if Hawkman...? What if Firestorm...? (I'm sure you've got your own, very personal wish list.) You'll notice I'm not firing off missing Mortal Kombat characters, and those that are featured definitely take a backseat to the DC class. I still think this crossover is silly, and committing to a deeper explanation (Story Mode!) even sillier. When did Mortal Kombat start taking itself so seriously? Just make it a DC Comics fighting game from the gang who brought you Mortal Kombat. I'd be satisfied leaving the MK influence at a couple of unlockable fighters -- Scorpion and Sub-Zero, obviously.

"Next time bring the PS3."

There's contradiction here. A friction that hurts the product. It's as if Midway is apologizing -- or worse: attempting to explain -- to the fans this "careless" mash-up. Just let it be. The soul of a fighter is in the button presses. The D-pad twirls ... Oh the D-pad twirls! "Next time bring the PS3," Sanchez joked to PR across the room. No, but for real, advantage PlayStation 3. (The build I played forced D-pad use; the retail build will have an option to use the analog stick.) The essential gameplay is surprisingly functional on the Xbox 360 gamepad, but Fatalities ... not so much. I'm sure some of it was performance anxiety, flashbacks to missed opportunities at the arcade fifteen years ago, but after numerous miscues -- I pressed "Down," why am I jumping! -- you come to believe something is truly broken on the hardware end. Are those improved pads really "limited edition," Microsoft? Why is that again? (For the record, I exectured one whopping "Heroic Brutality" out of a few dozen wins.)

Clearly, fighting games have drifted to the industry's peripheral. MK vs. DC isn't going to change that designation, but I do think it will be successful. It's entertaining, if not missing the true throwback candor fanboys (and perhaps, only fanboys) would appreciate. It's not intimidating, mostly relying on classic "Street Fighter" commands, and it's mashable -- I can't speak to its depth -- and there are some well-integrated "mini-guessing-games" mixed into the gameplay. Now there's a game I could throw on for my casual-fun-seeking friends and kill a few hours with, I thought. Sounds like Midway hit its goal.

Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe will be released on November 10th for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

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