One of the most critically lampooned video games in recent memory is the ambitious but failed Mortal Kombat vs. The DC Universe. It was an attempt to appeal to both fans of the hyper-violent and melodramatic fighting game series, the fans of the comic book characters. The game feels phoned in, an incomplete and unsatisfactory attempt to blend the violence with the more (expected) marketability and “user-friendly” nature of the comic characters. It is usually reviled in most fandom circles of fighting games, which is why the success of the recent 2013 Injustice: Gods Among Us could be seen as surprising. Why is “just another” fighting game starring the DC comics characters so popular, when it’s predecessor failed? It all involves the success of Injustice’s story-telling techniques and video game redefinitions.
Injustice simply works on a metatextual level by embracing it’s comic book origins, allowing itself to become a respectful and loving adaptation of the source material as opposed to simply shoehorning the characters into a crossover game (which, also served as a disservice to the Mortal Kombat characters). Injustice has a rich backstory which redefines the characters the familiar DC Universe, and creates new and original directions of development towards which to push the characters. Simply put, it’s more than “just” a fighting game, carrying a rich, new history and world, that serves as both a tribute, adaptation, and reworking of the actual comics. It’s an intimate, personal relationship with the comics, and why the game is more of a form of storytelling as opposed to Mortal Kombat vs. The DC Universe, which simply threw the characters into the ringer to fight (link here to my previous blogpost regarding the importance of comic book based video games challenging and recreating the sources when adapting).
As said in this article, Injustice also works by redefining how to play a fighting game, going past the storytelling and into the gameplay. It’s a much more interactive, interesting set up (where you can actually interact with the scenery and background characters). The game also developed new means of actually fighting (new control uses, new techniques, new styles). It freshened up the fighting series, shaking up the formula. Still what you pay for, but fresh, a new flavor. Mortal Kombat vs. The DC Universe offered nothing new, and feels by my friends to be just a much weaker retread of older, superior games.
NetherRealm Studios, the company responsible for Injustice (and for rejuvenating the Mortal Kombat with their 2011 reboot) created a game which changed the format of fighting games, managed to give the fans their fill of violence without alienating or distancing a possible wider audience, and managed to create a work that challenged the storytelling which is its source. Injustice was successful due to daring to change and renovate. Mortal Kombat vs. The DC Universe failed because it tried to be far too safe, and failing to live up or recreate any interesting storytelling. Fighting games, yes, are not great literature, but Injustice lives up to the literary and storytelling elements of the comics it so lovingly changes, tears up, and fights to the death.
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