At first glance Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe looks like either a novelty side-step for Mortal Kombat or a precursor to Injustice, NetherRealm’s superior superhero fighting game using its Mortal Kombat engine.
When first released in November 2008, this spin-off saw the best-known Mortal Kombatants face off against each other, along with a selection of heroes and villains from the DC Comics universe. A modest commercial success, MK diehards were disappointed by its fewer options, the absence of more gore and a general feeling of not being a full Mortal Kombat game.
There is some validity to those assumptions: Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe has a smaller roster, just ten fighters on each side with fan favourites absent, and without the same depth that was being built in to fighting games at the time. It is a bare bones fighting game, but it is executed so well that it escapes that feeling it is a stop-gap or a precursor to a better game, making it able to stand and be recognised on its own.
In terms of playability, the game is identical to any other in the series. The characters have all their signature moves – Sub-Zero freezes opponents, Raiden calls upon lightning as a weapon, Scorpion shouts “GET OVER HERE” when performing Hell Hook – while the game also creatively comes up with some MK-inspired moves for the visitors.
The integration of DC super heroes into the Mortal Kombat landscape is the most interesting aspect of this game. A product of the pre-Marvel Universe time (which the DCU has noticeably tried to emulate ever since), it has a very different feel to it now and is worth noting that the characterizations stick closer to the comics than to any filmic version – some of these characters had yet to receive a live-action incarnation.
As such the game is not going for a cinematic presentation, while the integration of DC characters into the NetherRealm is done with creative flair, the developers turning signature elements from each character into moves: batarangs, super speed, the lasso of truth. With the arsenal of weapons he carries around, Deathstroke has the most scope for fight moves while the developers had the most fun creating techniques for the Joker, incorporating gas, bombs and an extending boxing glove into his move set.
Despite all the effort gone into the little details, Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe gives players few options to see them all. There is a story for both MK and DCU sides, an arcade mode and multiplayer, but that’s it. Within fights there is some innovation going on, this games includes a close-combat function where players can strike directly or counter attacks, as well as moves where where you can do damage to opponents by forcing them through the environments.
There is no doubt that Injustice 2 is a better game, more refined and with far greater depth than most of its genre have or should do. Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe however is still worthy on its own merits as a back-to-basics fighting game that succeeds mainly on being solid but no less spectacular than any other game in the series.
Playing Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe fifteen years later is a bit like going back in time to when fighting games where far less serious and much more free-flowing; a time when people weren’t quite so serious about superheroes. If you are a fan of either, this is definitely worth seeking out in all the usual places. There’s an Xbox Store page for Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe too; it’s just a shame that the Xbox 360 listing is no longer available.