Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The first of many posts on Mortal Kombat

So, yesterday I picked up Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, because, come on. The first ad was a movie of Sub-Zero fighting Batman. Beating each other up in mid-air. I rest my case.

Anyway. The good: it's an old-school MK game. Not like Deadly Alliance, Deception or Armageddon. Not even like MK4 or the MK3 clusterfuck. It feels like MK2. Well, no. It feels like a version of MK2 designed by Capcom or Namco, a team more competent than ambitious. It's MK3 and 4 with all the gimmicks well implemented and balanced. It's simpler than any of the last generation MKs, easy to pick up, and a blast to play. The DC characters are well designed and narratively consistent (aside from the obvious Superman Problem, the graphics are gorgeous, and--let me say it again--Batman can fight Sub-Zero.

The story mode pretty much plays the MK universe as a superhero comic, in a way that actually helps iron out some of the narrative oddities of Boon and Tobias' little world. The comic association also makes it easier to swallow that MK has, over eight "main" games and two spinoffs, played incredibly fast and loose with its own continuity. The complete failure of MK's narrative is a multi-level train wreck I refer to as "The Mortal Kombat problem," a case study in how not to run a fighting game franchise, and it could easily fill several blog posts. And it will. Because, seriously, have you seen my output on this thing lately? It's not like the D&D, God of War and Jane Austen posts are writing themselves. If I don't pick up the pace soon I'm going to have to outsource this thing to grad students in unpaid internships, and even my supply of those has been threatened by recent events.

There isn't much bad to be had, aside from the lack of big New Features. Then again, after the run button, vs. screen "kodes," clumsy weapons and the most truly boring use of 3D movement yet seen in a fighting game, I hope we can agree that the MK team ought to have stopped bothering with New Features somewhere around 1993.

The one thing I will say in this post: this whole fatality business. Fatalities, as a gameplay device, only make sense in the context of arcades. They should have been radically revamped as soon as MK went console-only. And while that hasn't happened yet, a curious thing happened with MK vs. DC. Due to DC's stranglehold over portrayals of their IP, there were initially rumors that the game would have no fatalities, or that the DC characters would have no fatalities. Fine; whatever. It's not like anyone actually ever dies in either universe, anyway. They settled on the DC villains having fatalities, and the whole MK cast, but not the heroes. Instead, they have..."heroic brutalities."

Read that again.

Heroic. Brutality.

I appreciate the effort, but really, guys, you need to hire a lit major. Someone who could tell you that, unless we're openly embracing fascism, those concepts are antithetical.

While we're on the subject of violence, a parting shot--supposedly the Joker's famed gun fatality has been edited for the American release, but remains in the European release. I haven't tested it myself, but here's what amuses me. In America, it was edited so the game could get a Teen rating, and avoid legal hoopla. In the UK, where people beating the crap out of each other is, in and of itself, enough to be considered graphic violence, it got by with a 16+, which apparently presents no such hurdles.

So, in short, America gets the less violent version of the game because we are more tolerant of violent media.

Go figure.

(PS--I like that Liu Kang has something resembling a Chinese accent, but why does Kitana sound like the actress actually recorded her dialogue while wearing a mask?)