I like comic books characters. I like fighting games. A demo of a superhero fighting game came out. I kinda have to give impressions, ya know?
I love fighting games in general. I have my tastes within the genre but overall I would try just about any fighting game once or twice depending on how bored or curious I am. I’m of the generation where this toys starting blowing up in the arcades, spearheaded by a certain thing called Street Fighter II, and succeeded by all sorts of titles looking to scratch that 1v1 itch we fighting gamers have under our skin. Now the basis for this kinda-sorta review of the demo comes from my belief that there is a clear design difference between Western fighting games and Japanese fighting games. Long story short Japanese devs got us by a couple of miles. That’s just how I feel and no, I’m not padding this write-up with a preemptive excuse about my opinions. I just wanna add the context that a lot of my issues with this fighting game come from old pet peeves about how fighting games from our side of the ocean – particularly from Midway/NetherRealm – that exist still. These observations are another blog entirely but rest assured I even still approached this game with a fair shot. Also bear in mind I’m not including presentation reviews, even though that’s very important for a licensed game (for me it could turn a so-so game into a great game), because I wanna rest on the gameplay exclusively. Let’s go.
Let’s be real here, we’re playing a slightly modified Mortal Kombat. This is not a bad thing. A great many fighting games from Capcom pretty much break down into either modified Street Fighter or Children of the Atom (itself a wild mod of Street Fighter so… yeah). Street Fighter x Tekken is more or less Street Fighter 4 with fun added, for instance. I have no problem with this. It seems, however, that NetherRealm in fact does. During interview rounds and media dumps for this game NetherRealm made very strange appeals to the ‘Capcom Fighter’ crowd. You can make the controls motion style, and the blocking mechanic requires you to hold back instead of pressing a button. There’s cross-ups, oh so hilarious cross-ups, in a NetherRealm game. So what that means is we have a Mortal Kombat game trying to cater to Street Fighter players, who historically thought little of Mortal Kombat games. This reminds me of the odd additions of EX and Super attacks in SoulCalibur; how much is it worth drawing in gamers from a completely different kind of fighting game? Is it worth alienating your core audience?
A Dog Chasing Cars:
One could argue that blending conventions is a form of innovation and exploring new avenues for fighting game systems. Not only do I understand that, my personal future depends on such a concept. I believe fighting games can do a lot by adopting concepts from other fighters – other genres even. But Injustice falls short of this, not blending concepts to form a new vision, but instead trying to cater to certain fighting gamers. In the end I play the demo feeling like these normal attack strings and jumping attacks are meant to break a button based guarding system, but me and my opponent are holding back to legitimize one single convention. Cross-ups are about relationships with hitboxes. If Injustice uses the same hitbox area philosophy as Mortal Kombat (and MKvDC for that matter), then there is no actual reason to have cross-ups in this game unless you program it in. Mortal Kombat had plenty of interesting ways to open up a guarding opponent, there was no technical need to change this on top of a modified Mortal Kombat game, merely to appease Street Fighter players.
Injustice is not honest with itself.
Let’s compare that to special and super cancels in this game. Special cancels were a recent addition in Mortal Kombat, but it worked because it fit soundly in Mortal Kombat’s kinetic target combo system introduced in Mortal Kombat 3. Ground bounces joined juggles to further expand Mortal Kombat’s combo system, readily present in Injustice. But the addition of a Back-2-Block mechanic, forced cross-up attack, and motion+input options does nothing to help Injustice’s cause. Maybe you’ll attract Street Fighters just like maybe SoulCalibur V attracted them, but the cost is a strange playing fighting game that has no vision of its own. I simply do not know what they’re going for; I know who they’re going for, but their gameplay thesis eludes me.
Like Mortal Kombat, with both players versed in the combo system and their characters movelist, Injustice can look very fast. This is an effect of how NetherRealm/Midway handles hitstun and blockstun historically. Whereas a link combo or block-string in Street Fighter is due to the relationship between hitstun/blockstun and start-up/recovery of normal attack, NetherRealm uses preset combos that simply connects so long as the preceding attack starts it off. What that gives us is something like a Marvel game where there’s a lot of movement with guys trying to ‘touch’ their opponent, rather than waiting out a block-string or punishing mistakes on the ground. This is cool, I like the ‘hoppy’ nature of MK, and Injustice pleases me in that sense.
Meter Maid of Might:
I like how they handle meter in this game, particularly the EX attack mechanic. Unlike the recent Mortal Kombat, you ‘mod’ your specials with an extra input like SoulCalibur V, only it feels 70% more natural. Also there’s no big special effect when an EX attack is used like in Street Fighter or SoulCalibur (or King of Fighters 13), merely the different result of the special move. I love that, because while I don’t mind aesthetic visuals differentiating a fireball and an EX FIREBALL there’s actually very little reason for it, and perhaps there’s some gain for the metagame if you mask EX attacks. The super attacks have the super flash cut made famous my Capcom fighters (though I still wonder how important they really are), and I think they last a few nano-secs too long but it’s all good.
I’m So Special:
Every character has a Drive button in the same sense that BlazeBlue uses it. It offers your character special exclusive abilities that do add a lot to the battle. I would have made it the A-Button (X-Button for you other guys) and left the primary attack buttons cover it around from the top (speaking as a pad warrior). Pressing B for the special abilities feel awkward and I just felt like kicking should be out to the right end of the face buttons. That’s just how I feel. Similarly Dead or Alive’s default face buttons just feel off, I always put Block/Free on A-Button given the chance. Which reminds me… no controller config for the demo? Really?
The special ability I played with was The God Damn Batman’s robo-bats. I personally wouldn’t have went with that from a design standpoint and would have did something with his utility belt but fine whatever. The robo-bats can strike your opponent at will and even surround you Strider/Virgil style and absorb attack. Together with specials moves down with the attack buttons, you have a lot of ways to get at your opponent or ward him off your back. With all these systems at play, some dirty stuff may come out very soon after release. So I ask again…
Playing Your Lois Lane:
There are stage hazards in this game, though not the random type you’d find in Smash Brothers. They’re more akin to Ring Outs in certain fighting games where position must be taken into account, as well as how a character can use that position for himself or against you. Positional advantage/disadvantage is as old as getting caught in the corner versus a rushdown character in other fighting games, so even before ringouts and Smash there was an element to this. Still, stage interaction and the lengthy stage transitions speak to me a certain kind of fighting game that, honestly, would rarely be widely taken seriously. This goes back to the identity crisis of Injustice; they are hellbent on getting this game taken to competitive levels in the Fighting Game Community. Spoiler: It’s probably not going to happen, barring some corporate influence from WB (likely that way).
Any game could be played at hardcore levels, from Bomberman to Starcraft. To an audience that understands what the metagame entails and what the competitors are thinking, the game could be as compelling as anything seen in EVO or MLG. The only difference then is how large that community is and what the demand for… say… a Tetris World Championship would be. And yeah, there is a Tetris World Champion; but no, it will never be at MLG. Will Injustice rise in the fighting game community as something to be seen at a grand stage on a main screen? Let’s be real here, if SoulCalibur V got dropped, if Dead or Alive 5 never got a shot, Injustice may not get that spotlight. And about Dead or Alive 5…
Clark & Kal-El:
When I play fighting games, I tier them a certain way based on my personal standards and what they’re ultimately going for. Injustice is, frankly, something of an arena fighting game on par with Smash Bros. or Power Stone. I would not pair it with Tekken or even Mortal Kombat. This would be fine, except NetherRealm wants you to do just that. Then I’m playing this demo… enjoying it at a specific kind of level – but not that kind of level. Injustice is a more technical Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm, a game that’s more honest with itself. Dead or Alive 5 marketed itself as Fighting Entertainment. That’s not just a cute buzzword, it’s a smart ploy. You see Dead or Alive (despite ironically being a better fighter than NetherRealm/Midway offerings), recognized its place in the genre. It’s like how WWE started labeling its product with Sports Entertainment. What does that mean? It means, “We’re fake, we don’t care, you don’t either, buy our PPV.” It’s an honest stance without depreciating yourself or your product. You’ll never see Smash or DOA go out of their way to try and appeal to Street Fighter players, they’re comfortable with their vision overall. Clark and Kal-El are both Superman, but one’s pretending to be human and the other is like “I’m an alien, I have a house in the Artic.”
Injustice For All:
So what I’ve played here is a game that may have been a big hit with casual fighting gamers with the gimmicks at play, but muddled its vision with appeals to people who probably don’t find stage transitions becoming of a hardcore fighter. Hopefully it works out for them and they find an audience down with games built by committee, but I would be hard pressed spending $60 on something that bares the dark side of servicing multiple vastly different consumer types.
Batman’s special has his Batmobile running down his opponent, though. That’s cool.
My favorite thing about this game is the movelist menu. Why I love it is something that bleeds into my thoughts on fighting games as a genre and as such requires its own blog. Be on a look out for that one soon. Teaser: It’s completely embarrasses every movelist that came before it, Japanese FG or otherwise.