In the family of fighting games, Mortal Kombat is the middle child who tortures cats in his spare time, but can also dazzle with fits of charisma. The series loves gruesome combat, but pines for the mainstream adulation. When games were less bloody, that was an easy balance to strike. Gouts of gore plus catchphrases ("Finish him!") and the allure of shocking hidden fatalities added up to massive sales and popularity. Now that those elements are commonplace, how to recapture the attention of old?
Throw Batman into the mix, obviously. Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe mixes up the stable of MK fighters with heroes (Superman, Wonder Woman) and villains (the Joker, Catwoman) from DC's comic-book pantheon.
That formula also carries implications. Violence, for one. While the game is relatively brutal, with character models that become progressively battered, the characteristic gore is still toned down. Heroic DC characters, in particular, don't get to rip the spines out of their enemies. Do we really want klean kombat?
With more balanced fighting, the answer might be "Sure, why not?" And while noobs can quickly pummel a few chumps with Superman, long-term success requires combo attacks based on surgical precision. But the game feels a bit too sluggish to make mastery an appealing proposition. Some easy attacks remain overpowered (like Liu Kang's bicycle kicks), and the fighting is just technical enough to dampen the instant gratification of fighting with Batman. Rather than addressing balance, we're tossed gimmicks like free-fall combat based on quick button prompts. That tactic is more ridiculous than the game's basic premise.
Beyond the game: Midway went to DC scribes Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray to justify bringing together the game's two fictional universes. Their idea, that the colliding worlds result in outbreaks of rage, is almost a Dadaist teardown of the superhero mold.
Worth playing for: The Joker's wild-and-crazy moves, which plant the character in some middle ground between Alan Moore's The Killing Joke and Batman: The Animated Series.
Frustration sets in when: You realize the game is best played with an arcade-style joystick, which makes the finishing moves much easier to pull off.
Final judgment: This Kombat would have been more appealing in arcades 15 years ago than on consoles today.