It's really, really difficult to make a successful superhero game. For every great title in the bunch (Batman: Arkham Asylum), there are multiple unfathomable atrocities (Superman 64, Catwoman and Aquaman: Battle For Atlantis should all be erased from history).
Nonetheless, Mortal Kombat developer NetherRealm will not only take up the cursed mantle of DC Comics, but also create a fighting game in Injustice: Gods Among Us.
Fortunately, Injustice: Gods Among Us pleases comic book fans for its faithful recreation of more than 20 characters from the DC Universe, and gives fighting game fans a worthwhile title for their libraries.
NetherRealm has already proven its clever new fighting mechanics in 2011's hit reboot of Mortal Kombat. But the developer didn't just slap some generic moves onto a Superman skin and call it a day. Every single character in Injustice, from crazed and childlike Joker sidekick Harley Quinn to god of war Ares, has a robust and personality-filled move list that sets each hero apart and gives him individual flair. And their specials pay homage to the DC Classics it never gets old watching The Flash do an around-the-world punch, or catching Raven suck her foes into an alternate dimension.
The experience doesn't throw fighting game newbies into the deep end. NetherRealm does a smart job balancing the mechanics, with a soft learning curve for beginners or casual gamers. Unlike the infamous AI of Mortal Kombat, newcomers to fighting games will be able to successfully complete the Story Mode without being brutalized. And they have a chance to increase their skills via challenges and S.T.A.R. Labs character scenarios, which require the player to perform certain moves or act within a certain time.
That said, experienced fighting game enthusiasts won't be disappointed with the accessibility either. NetherRealm provides a host of interesting advanced practices and tools, such as a combo recorder to really push experts past their limits.
Fighting arenas are just as nuanced and fully-realized as their personalities, though a few sometimes border on too busy. These highly recognizable stages, which include Gotham City, Superman's Cave of Solitude and even the Justice League Watchtower, are packed to the brim with interactive elements. Players can get the drop on their foes and change momentum easily. Even wilder yet are the stage transitions, which knock unlucky characters through treacherous places, landing them in another part of the arena in true comic book style. They're pleasing to the eye, but can be switched off easily, if the flair isn't your cup of tea.
However, for all of its explosion-filled entertainment, the game is not without its hangups. Death is a big draw for Mortal Kombat, and in Injustice, there is none. After all of the punching, stabbing and shooting, the losing character simply wilts goofily onto the ground. The lack of finality at the end of each fight sequence is really anticlimactic, and feels unfinished given the detail and polish of the rest of the game. Can't superheroes at least get knocked out?
Overall, Injustice: Gods Among Us is surprising. The hours-long story mode plays like a classic superhero comic (or movie). Battle challenges are fun an engaging; every character is completely realized and tons of fun to play around with. It's definitely worth snagging if you're intrigued.
Injustice: Gods Among Us is out now for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii U. It retails for $59.99.
Images courtesy of NeatherRealm