Injustice is exciting; it’s one of those games that a lot of people are hyped up for, but also one they weren’t sure they wanted or thought would even happen before it did. One would think that after the historic tragedy of Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, DC Comics would have been spooked and snatched away its license before you could say, “get over here!” Nevertheless, here it is! It’s a thing, you can buy it, and even play it. Here’s the kicker: it’s actually pretty good! Unfortunately, this is a NetherRealm game, and it’s still running on the usual Mortal Kombat framework. You should know by now what that means.
I won’t take up too much time in this review drawing comparisons to MK vs DCU, but when it comes to presentation, knowing how sloppily Injustice’s predecessor handled the property makes its successes much more monumental. Injustice is very much a love letter to DC fans, albeit a slightly misguided one. Tonally, NetherRealm insists on everything being dark and angry. Yes, DC’s flagship character is Batman, and Batman is a dark and angry guy, but does the rest of DC need to be dragged down with him? Does every big DC game really need to have a ridiculous dystopian/post-apocalyptic setting? It would be so nice to play a DC fighter that doesn’t feature everyone snarling at each other the whole time.
Additionally, the character design at times can be questionable. Most of the female characters other than Wonder Woman and Hawkgirl (and later including Wonder Woman) are grossly oversexualized, and at least half of the male cast have garishly overblown costumes with far too many extra doodads and pointy bits that remind me much more of Digimon than comic book heroes. They aren’t as noticeable in the heat of a match of course, but during cutscenes, everyone looks so… stupid.
Regardless of my issues, however, Injustice still somehow nearly perfectly captures the feeling of the DC universe. Each character looks and feels unique, animations generally capture the essence of each character (and are also surprisingly smooth), and an amazing cast of voice actors featuring both Justice League veterans and other big names in the industry make the game a great deal of fun to experience despite its goofy problems. The story is even pretty fun. It insists on justifying why everyone is fighting for some reason, but it does what it does well with the tools DC allows and even has a neat twist or two by the end. Don’t read the prequel comic, though. Just trust me on that one.
Mortal Kombat is always a game I think I’m going to be excited about, but once I sit down and play, the sloppy fundamentals quickly remind me my my preference of fighters is what it is. With Injustice, NetherRealm has completely bamboozled me and changed almost everything about the nuts and bolts of the experience, making Injustice the most accessible and playable fighter it’s ever made… for what that’s worth.
Injustice tries to have its cake and eat it too, which causes some weird problems in the end, but what it ultimately does is throw in the towel and finally take a page or two from the Capcom school of thought. It’s a much better experience for it. The dedicated block button has finally been tossed out, and replaced with the much more sensible “hold back” mechanic of every other 2D fighter ever. Rejoice! The basic button setup is also much simpler, with a light-medium-heavy (that you will immediately want to remap) attack scheme as well as a BlazBlue-esque special button that has a unique effect for each character. For example, Aquaman douses himself with water and Bane juices up on venom. Some of the abilities can be kind of obtuse and awkward, but the option is there and for much of the roster can be a game changer.
Finally, the elephant in the room. An “alternate control” setting exists, which if activated entirely changes the way special move inputs work, shifting the directional inputs to quarter circles and their brethren. For the first time in history ,you can play Mortal Kombat in a way that isn’t designed exclusively for a Super Nintendo controller. It’s awesome. In a world where fight sticks and controllers with terrible d-pads exist, having to hit awkwardly specific directional inputs quickly and without error is not a fun thing to do. Admittedly, the new control option relies a little too heavily on half circles, but as a whole it works splendidly and I will never, ever go back.
Now, aside from the great new controls, Injustice isn’t without the expected quirks. Even with the fancy new inputs, the game can still be a stubborn jerk and refuse to respond properly to your commands. When a couple of guys with years of fighter experience are flopping around like dummies trying to throw basic fireballs, you know something is wrong. It also features the traditional Mortal Kombat stiffness and clunkiness that refuses to go away, no matter how much the series evolves presentationally. The pre-mapped combos still require speed over timing and rhythm, though the new button layout helps streamline them a little. Slight improvements with each release isn’t going to change much without a full reinvigoration, but if the new controls are any indication, NetherRealm is at least looking in the right direction.
Injustice is among the first major simultaneous releases of an AAA game on the Wii U. Knowing that, I picked up the Wii U version and it does have a few notable differences, for better and worse. Most notably, of course, is the GamePad. You can play off-TV, and it is amazing. Injustice looks great and runs flawlessly on the device. I loved being able to lie down on my couch and goof around with what is essentially a handheld version of a console fighting game with zero cutbacks. I still hope for a Vita version, but it wouldn’t be nearly as cool as this. If you don’t care about that, you can also set it to display a basic move list, which can be very helpful. Additionally, the extra RAM of the Wii U also puts a slight edge on the look and performance of the game proper. It runs at a (very) slightly higher framerate, and sports a little more detail and clarity than the other versions of the game.
Unfortunately, Injustice on Wii U is also lacking in a lot of major features for no discernible good reason. Online play has no lobby system, meaning no spectating, and also no customization or playing with friends. DLC is also nonexistent, including compatibility with the iOS app that brings in some extra costumes. Word is that a (nondescript) patch is on the way, but the fact that any of this is absent at launch is mind-boggling. A reasonable explanation may exist, but I fear that this will hurt the Wii U’s reputation in spite of the other unique features it possesses.
Injustice is a big game, for more than just the fact that it has Batman in it and he can punch Superman through a building. It marks a big change in fighting game design theory on NetherRealm’s part, and while it still isn’t without problems that have plagued the Mortal Kombat series since its inception, I for one am now much more optimistic for the future. In the meantime, I’ll continue happily playing Injustice, because it is still quite a bit of fun.
Pros: Great new controls, tons of DC Comics flavor, GamePad play is great
Cons: Typical MK hangups still linger, messy character design