Video game announcements are a difficult time for comic book fans. Even if the game sounds fantastic, there’s always the chance it’ll bomb at release. For every “Spider-Man 2,” there is a “Superman 64,” for every “Batman: Arkham City,” there’s an “X-Men: Destiny.” Although comic fans have been blessed with a run of excellent comic-book-based video games including “Arkham City,” “Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3” and “The Walking Dead,” we’re not out of the woods yet. Yesterday, DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Games announced “Injustice: Gods Among Us,” a DC fighting game in development from “Mortal Kombat” studio NetherRealm. NetherRealm found massive critical acclaim with its complete reboot of the “Mortal Kombat” franchise and it plans to bring that success to the DC Universe.
This isn’t the first time characters from the DCU have made the jump into the realm of fighting games — in fact, “Mortal Kombat” creator Ed Boon worked extensively on “Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe,” which pit the fighters in the Mortal Kombat tournament against DC’s famous heroes and villains. “MK vs. DCU” released to somewhat mediocre acclaim, but it was clear DC fans wanted to see more. With an acclaimed studio at the helm and a wealth of experience from “MK vs. DCU” to draw from, “Injustice: Gods Among Us” has the opportunity to bring DC characters to consoles in a big way. Here are just a few things DC Entertainment, WB Games and NetherRealm can learn from the past.
FIRST TIME’S THE CHARM
Marvel vs. Capcom 3″ was a huge success, gaining extremely positive reviews and building on the massive following of “Marvel vs. Capcom 2” — but 9 months later, a new version, “Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3,” was already on shelves, boasting fixes to balance issues and 12 new characters. This frustrated fans to no end, who supported the game at initial release only to be told less than a year after purchase that a better version will be on sale for $39.99. In fact, the “Ultimate” version of the game was announced less than 6 months after “Marvel vs. Capcom 3” launched. Needless to say, fans were disappointed by the lack of support for the original product only 9 months into its life cycle — especially considering “Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3” was far more complete, showcasing not only 12 new characters but also whole new modes of play.
One of the many things that 2011’s “Mortal Kombat” did extremely well was offer good post-launch support for the original disc in the form of paid downloadable content to unlock characters. While Capcom’s “Marvel vs. Capcom 3” offered only two new characters via DLC (then greatly expanding its roster with a whole new disc), “Mortal Kombat” offered four new characters including Freddy Krueger. While creator Ed Boon has gone on record saying no more characters will be available for “Mortal Kombat,” NetherRealm and WB Games offered a complete product at the outset, sticking to their guns and making sure players were satisfied with their purchase. “Injustice: Gods Among Us” needs to follow in the footsteps of “Mortal Kombat” and make sure the game players purchase is the absolute best version followed by excellent DLC support to extend its lifecycle and value.
GO BIG OR GO HOME
One of the major reasons fighting games succeed so well with comics is the ability to include a staggering number of playable characters. For example, “Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3” includes the ability to play as 25 characters from the Marvel Universe (out of the 50 total playable characters), each with their own voices and signature move sets. By contrast, “Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe” included 11 playable characters from the DC Universe (of the 22 offered). NetherRealm has to step up its game to include the breadth and variety of the DCU — especially considering the New 52 has so many more options for unique characters.
25 is definitely the number to reach, if not beat. Since “Injustice” will use the “Mortal Kombat” engine, the 2D fighting plane should give NetherRealm a little more wiggle room in expanding the roster — something the developer proved by including an impressive roster of 27 fully-rendered 3D characters at launch with “Mortal Kombat.”
The other major reason fans were disappointed by “Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe” was the tamer versions of Fatalities executed by the DC characters. This time around, NetherRealm should probably think about stepping up the violence level. The title of this game is “Injustice: Gods Among Us” and if there’s one thing the DCU has proved, it’s that Gods are vengeful and violent. Hopefully players will see a little more of Christian Bale’s Batman and a little less of Adam West’s.
IF IT AIN’T BROKE, DON’T FIX IT
NetherRealm have brought veteran comic writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray back to write “Injustice,” which is a great choice and a prime example of bringing over aspects of “Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe” that worked. Palmiotti and Gray did a fantastic job of crafting an Elseworlds-like story where the two universes could meet and convincingly fight. While some of the DCU’s flagship characters — like Batman, Superman, Flash and Wonder Woman — should get a makeover both in character model and move set, there are quite a few who would be fantastic additions as they were. The Joker had an inspired design and moves in “MK vs. DCU” and Deathstroke was a welcome addition in such a brutal game.
Similarly, the “Kombat” part of “Mortal Kombat” was fantastic and if NetherRealm is looking to simply transfer the gameplay of the 2011 hit to the DCU, the studio should change very little.
THE FAN IS KING
A certain amount of fan service can do a lot to help comic book video games succeed. Whether it’s including a fan-favorite character (Rocket Raccoon in “Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3” — Who saw that coming?) or adding a special feature to help further draw players into that world (The “web rush” mechanic in “Amazing Spider-Man” looks fantastic), it’s all about gauging what the fans are looking for in a DC fighting game — and while “Avengers Vs. X-Men” might have cornered the market for superhero battle royales at the moment, “Injustice” will actually allow players to live out their favorite DC Universe showdowns — which means the game has to include both the popular heavy hitters and a few more obscure, but beloved, characters. Can you imagine Kevin Kho OMAC versus Batman or Jamie Reyes Blue Beetle going up against the likes of Superman? What about Cassandra Cain duking it out with the Flash? The best part about fighting games is that no matter what character you’re facing, there’s always the possibility of victory. Including a few underdogs is a great way to appeal to the fan who just wants to see Ambush Bug defeat the entire Justice League.
“Injustice: Gods Among Us” will be available for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii U in 2013. Stay tuned to CBR for more news on the title.