Yes, here I am again playing a fighting even though my finger dexterity and reflexes are crap. But I was never going to be able to resist a fighting game featuring DC’s best known characters. I only realized after starting up this game for the first time that it was made by NetherRealm Studios, who also made the Mortal Kombat reboot games. This made me a bit concerned since I had played the Mortal Kombat Komplete Edition not too long ago and didn’t want gameplay that is too similar. Fortunately my fears were unfounded as it plays very differently (hey look, no dedicated block button!)
- Since this Ultimate Edition of the game includes all of the DLC characters, that’s 30 characters in all. That’s way more than enough. The only omission I regret is Firestorm, especially since Killer Frost is in here. There are skins of other versions of the included characters too for added variety. For example there is both a Dick Grayson and a Damian Wayne version of Nightwing and a Hal Jordan and a John Steward version of Green Lantern, complete with different voice acting. The good and evil versions of Superman even have different intro and outro cutscenes, which is very cool.
- I’m not an expert in fighting games so my opinion is kind of suspect here, but I think the combat mechanics are marginally simpler here than in Mortal Kombat 9. In any case, I found the characters easier to learn and the game easier to play and to win. Each character has one super move, there is no tag teaming and no fatalities / babalities. Each character does have a unique power, which when activated either gives a passive bonus while it’s on or changes the character’s fighting mode. For example, Superman’s power simply causes him to deal more damage with every attack. Nightwing uses it to switch between his twin eskrimas and joining them to form a staff, with each moveset having different basic moves and special moves.
- What really shines about this game compared to previous games in the incredible scale and level of interactivity of the stages. Many stages now have a lower level and an upper level. The fight transitions from one level to another when a character makes a level transition attack on the opponent in the correct corner of the stage. This triggers an extensive, and frequently comical, animation, dealing damage comparable to that of a super move. There are also various elements on each stage that characters can use as weapons to deal damage, such as picking up a car on the street to throw at the opponent. This means true experts must learn the subtleties of each stage in addition to each of the characters.
- Naturally the animations for the super moves look pretty amazing as well. Amusingly enough, it seems that in order to conform to age restrictions, they had to remove blood effects, graphic injuries and death from this game. So to compensate, they ramped the super moves way up. Superman’s super move basically has him hitting the opponent hard enough to launch him or her into orbit, fly up to overtake, and punching the opponent back down to Earth again. As if anyone but a handful of DC characters could have survived something like that. But because there is no death in this game, whenever a character is defeated, even if he or she is knocked down, the character still gets up to a kneeling position. The clumsiness of animation this never fails to crack me up.
- A new mechanic is the clash which can be initiated only once per fight to interrupt a combo. Both characters then secretly wager bars from their super meter and the one who had bet the most wins. The initiator of the clash then regains health or loses it in proportion to how much he or she won or lost the clash by. In practice, this means that characters are vulnerable to a clash after expending the entire super meter on a super move. It’s also visually impressive. I especially enjoyed how different pairings of characters tend to have different dialogue during clashes.
- I remember praising the story in Mortal Kombat 9. Story mode in this game works similarly but because this story actually uses decent, recognizable characters it is way better. The graphical quality of the in-game cinematics isn’t going to win any CGI awards but I love what they do with it. Not only does the story plausibly allow superheroes to fight each other (because they are evil versions from a parallel reality, duh!) but they even make an attempt to explain why someone like the Joker can go up against the metahumans, through the use of Kryptonian nanotechnology that enhances the abilities of all of the unpowered characters. Apparently the story in this game is so well liked that the comic series based on it does very good sales.
- There are some pretty awesome moments in the story. When Wonder Woman confronts her One Earth regime counterpart, she calls her Superman’s rebound girl after Lois Lane’s death. Sick burn. When Cyborg confronts his own counterpart, the two attempt to hack each other’s cybernetic prosthesis before realizing the futility of doing so and engaging in physical combat. Apparently events in the comic series are even more dramatic. The story mode felt short to me, but this may just be because I liked it so much and wanted more of it. I also liked how evil Superman is essentially the end boss instead of some other bullshit boss like in the Mortal Kombat games. He’s tough but he works within the normal rules and so he can be defeated fairly without resorting to cheesy tactics. My least favorite moment is when evil Superman takes down Shazam Captain Marvel without even a real fight.
- There’s also an archive feature that allows unlocks of concept art, music pieces, alternate skins etc. which aren’t terribly interesting to me. I was impressed however by how many levels there are in the challenges, many of which are practically unique mini-games. I don’t think I’ll be finishing them any time soon. There are 300 of them. But it is good to have available to play once in a while for a change of pace. I note that the story mode includes some QTE challenges between matches. QTEs are evil of course but this is seriously one of the best uses I’ve seen of them in a video game and help to portray aspects of superheroic battles that don’t fit well within the mechanics of a fighting game.
- Talking a bit about the character designs, I really liked the costumes, especially the Regime and Insurgency variants. Regime Superman’s costume is especially cool. I also little details like how Wonder Woman has a properly dusky skin tone to reflect her Hellenic heritage. I do not however like many of the character models. Wonder Woman bust is so out of proportion to the rest of her body that it’s grotesque. Even some of the male characters have rather ridiculous proportions, such as Cyborg. In general, faces and facial animations could use some improvement as well.
- There are so many characters that I’ve yet to really play them all, of course, but here are some notes about which ones I like so far. Superman is crazy powerful and has by far the best super move but I haven’t played him much. Aquaman’s trident gives him amazing range and he can do really fast stab-stab-stab attacks with them. I also like Nightwing. In staff mode, he has great range as well but he needs to move to dual eskrimas for mobility. In general, he’s a character with really quick attacks. Batman is really hard to play because he seems to have rather weak normal attacks but has some really amazing combos.
As you can probably tell, this is my favourite fighting game right now. Normally I just uninstall a game immediately after I’m done with it and have written about it here. I just have no interest in replaying games. But this game is just so perfect for short sessions and has so such variety in terms of characters that I know and actually have some affection towards that I’m probably going to keep it on my hard drive for a long, long time.