DC Comics' iconic stable of superheroes and villains find themselves in the throes of Mortal Kombat in the third-person fighter Injustice: Gods Among Us (Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and NetherRealm Studios, Rated Teen, reviewed for Xbox 360, $59.99).
This comic-book lover's dream allows the control of two-dozen superpowered legends, compiling many members of the Justice League of America, Teen Titans, Injustice League and Legion of Doom, as they duke it out in one-versus-one matches.
That translates into side-scrolling, jaw-dropping fights rendered in destructible, three-dimensional locations including Wayne Manor, Ferris Aircraft (a Green Lantern hangout) and the Fortress of Solitude between stalwarts such as Superman, Batman, Joker, Green Arrow, Catwoman, Killer Frost and Sinestro.
Besides the awesome confrontations, the game's other treat is an incredibly dark story tied to a tragic mistake made by Superman, set in motion by the chemical expertise of the Joker and Scarecrow.
Played out in an "alternate universe" our more evil Man of Steel acts a global dictator on his Earth One and it will take heroes from a parallel universe to contain him.
Thus begins a rousing solo campaign taking warriors through the tale, one fight at a time, often slugging it out with alternate version of the same character or pairing some rather unlikely combatants.
Before you blather on about how can Superman fairly fight the Joker or Cyborg challenge Catwoman or Green Arrow crush Black Adam, let's just chalk that up to the finessed plotlines that keep the powers more balanced with use of Kryptonian technology.
Unfortunately, my problem with fighting games persists and to paraphrase Moe Howard "my nerves," and I'll add "my poor, blistered thumbs."
NetherRealm Studios mimics its complex reboot of Mortal Kombat's finger-twisting attack conundrums to a point that only Mister Mxyzptlk could consistently duplicate.
Pulling off a generous number of incredible moves (from using Superman's heat vision to Deathstroke firing a rifle to Joker tossing exploding laughing gas canisters) is infrequent at best for me and often accomplished through panicked button-mashing.
A huge saving grace is some of the cooler attacks are easily accomplished by tapping only a few buttons.
Some hits interact with the environment allowing a character to grab a car and crush an enemy, fire a weapon (like missiles form the Batmobile) sitting in the location or break off a pipe full of liquid nitrogen to shoot at and temporarily freeze an opponent.
Also, the right combo attack will bust a battle through the current arena and take it to a new location with some incredible animation along the way.
For example, a correct kick on a character near the edge of the screen in Joker's Asylum blasts him through the wall of a main hall into another room where he gets pummeled by Killer Croc, Penguin, Two-Face and Riddler before being knocked into another room where the fight continues.
For a treat, a player can finesse his assaults to fill up a meter and perform a Super Move, a true highlight of the action.
Some of the character powers and Super Moves worth savoring include;
* Batman can plant a bomb on the back of opponents and watches them helplessly try and react it before it explodes. He also can call in the Batmobile to run over an enemy.
• Superman often glows red and can literally punch an opponent into the stratosphere.
• Our water-logged hero Aquaman can stab with his trident and actually cracks a glass barrier that lets the sea into the Atlantis arena along with a massive shark that eats his enemy.
• Solomon Grundy pulls a tombstone from his chest and beats a foe with it.
• Green Lantern uses his ring to construct a mallet to hit an opponent in the head, two buses to crush him and a salvo of jet fighters and missiles that crash down upon the unlucky warrior.
Additionally, it's hard not to giggle with giddiness while watching Bane deliver a bat-breaking move on the Dark Knight or Doomsday pummeling Superman into the ground.
The small touches to detail throughout the action are priceless such as Martian Manhunter floating in the background of the JLA Watchtower, Cyborg letting loose with a "boo-yah" after an especially brutal punch and Darkseid stopping by to pound a character into submission.
Heck, developers were even smart enough to pull in the voice over talent of favorite DC Universe cartoon stars including Kevin Conroy as Batman, Tara Strong as Raven and George Newbern as Superman to make the narrative very memorable to fans of the animated shows.
All of the above clearly expose the passion NetherRealm's brings to this colorful and volatile universe and will endear Injustice: Gods Among Us to any DC pop culture fan.
Once the solo adventure concludes, the game offers an avalanche of extra content.
My favorite is over two hundred extra missions at S.T.A.R.S. Labs of varying difficulty and execution that play out as almost mini-comic book moments such as
• Superman must defeat a Lex Luthor mind controlled Batman who has kryptonite batarangs at his disposal.
• A player must follow the buttons sequence to unleash a more powerful heat beam fro his Man of Steel than the alternate counterpart.
• Batman must beat Raven while the Scarecrows fear toxin overtakes him (the screen turns a glowing red orange and confuse the Caped Crusader).
I'll also briefly mention the online multiplayer action. Not to be missed is a WWE type mode called King of the Hill where up to eight players can participate in and watch matches in progress.
Now, winning in any of the above scenarios allows the player to level up and collect Armory Keys and Access Cards used to unlock alternate costumes (mostly from the alternate world but also look for ways to find classic garb including Blackest Knight Batman or Red Son Wonder Woman), concept art and music.
I was only slightly disappointed by some of the computer-animated cut scenes as they were not as impressive as seen in such titles as Marvel Ultimate Alliance.
However, the overall dynamic action resonates through every pore of my comic-book geek sensibilities and certainly makes Injustice: God Among Us one of the most enjoyable superhero-themed games of the last few years.
Parental advice: The ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board), after watching Joker slap Harley Quinn in the face and Lex Luthor get run over and ground into a pulp by a large tunnel-digging vehicle, decided to label this game "T" and that stands for teen — children 13 years and older need only try to conquer Injustice: Gods Among Us. So don't let your 9–year-old convince you that "it's just like the cool cartoons like you grew up with Dad. Remember "Super Friends?'" The game contains some brutal, slightly bloody combat against meta-humans (although losers bow to defeat and do not die) often set off by outrageous cartoony violence but never as nasty as Mortal Kombat fatalities.
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