A lot like the downloadable extras for Injustice: Gods Among Us, this review is better late than never. The Wii U version of NetherRealm Studios' superhero mash up has sailed well and truly under the radar. This is largely thanks to three factors affecting the Wii U version of the game: it was delayed in Europe, there was confusion over whether it would receive DLC, and there were rumours of it being inferior to other versions of the game.
The latter two issues can be cleared up right now. As of last week, Injustice DLC is accessible on the eshop, and the only things missing from the Wii U version are a lobby system and iOS support. Reports of long load times and noticeable video compression are inaccurate. Now that that is out of the way, it's on with the show.
Injustice: Gods Among Us is the second time NetherRealm Studios has had its mitts on DC's catalogue of characters. The first attempt, Mortal Kombat Vs DC Universe, wasn't so great. Thankfully, Ed Boon and Co have brought their A game to this second attempt at a superhero smack down. The key reason Injustice succeeds where MK Vs DC Universe failed, is that Injustice doesn't feel like a neutered, family friendly Mortal Kombat.
It feels like its own game, rather than a spin-off. This is due to a combination of elements; the first being that fatalities are no longer included. The philosophy of, "If you can't do something right, don't do it at all" really pays dividends here. If non-fatal finishers were included, players' minds would drift from, "This is kind of cool," to "Remember so-and-so's finisher from Mortal Kombat 3."
Instead of spending time and money on what happens after a match, NetherRealm has wisely put its resources into making the battles themselves as entertaining as possible. The main area where improvements are noticeable is in the level of interactivity within a stage. Each arena is now made up of two locations. To switch between areas, a player simply has to Falcon Punch his or her opponent through a wall. Yes, 'Falcon Punch' is the technical term. Once an enemy is sent flying, a short transitional scene occurs. This is where NetherRealm scratched its fatality itch. Everything from getting hit by a train to being beaten up by a couple of sparring giants happens between areas.
As well as flashy transitions, each stage contains unique interactive objects. Depending on what type of character you're using characters will use said objects in different ways. For example, an agile character like Nightwing is able to ride the motorcycle outside Wayne Manor. A powerful character like the venom-fuelled Bane sees the same bike as something that should be thrown across Bruce Wayne's driveway.
On top of being able to use items in the foreground and fling enemies through arena walls, objects in the background can also be put to use. At the tap of a button, players can smash their opponent into helicopters and statues. Dismantling vehicles and sculptures with Lex Luthor's forehead, while fun in its own right, actually serves a practical purpose. It turns out bouncing an enemy off a helicopter is a great way to extend a combo past its usual limits.
In terms of how characters are controlled within these levels, Injustice has quite a bit in common with Tatsunoko Vs Capcom. Holding back on the control stick will cause the character to block. Standard attacks (light, medium and hard) are set to three of the face buttons. Pressing a combination of two directions and a standard attack will unleash a special move. Where Injustice differs from most fighting games is in how the final face button is used; it activates a character's special ability.
Some characters like Wonder Woman and Nightwing gain access to a second move set. Other characters like Bane and Superman get stat buffs. Hawkgirl gets the ability to fly, The Flash slows down time, Sinestro gains a combat drone, and Catwoman charges up a combo as she scratches her opponent. These abilities give everyone a unique play style, and with the exception of one or two (looking at you, Joker), they're all very useful.
The big difference between most traditional 2D fighting games and the titles produced by NetherRealm Studios is how open they are to new players. Where games like Street Fighter ask players to perform a finger puppet ballet to execute a character's ultimate attack, Injustice asks that two buttons be pressed at the same time. It's so simple and allows a novice to bypass the 30 - 50 hour learning period, where swearing at the controller because Guile isn't doing what he is told, is pretty common.
With solid game play mechanics as a base, NetherRealm has built an impressive house and the art department has decorated it well. The art style used resembles that of the Batman Arkham games. Compared to the bright and hyper colourful Marvel Vs Capcom 3, Injustice is subdued and realistic. The way the artists draw female characters is still a little questionable (the words 'slutty' and 'mannish' come to mind). That said, overall, the jump from comic book to video game has gone well.
The realistic aesthetic also compliments Injustice's narrative. The developers have taken the somewhat brave decision of making DC's most overpowered superhero turn to the dark side. It's a wise move because if the good guys have a team member who is all powerful and practically invincible, it kind of undermines the drama a little bit. The story works well, not just because the Man of Steel is a legitimately tough opponent, but because the explanation of why he's suddenly gone coco pops is actually believable.
Once the credits do roll on Injustice's somewhat short story mode, there's plenty more to see and do. Each character has an ending to unlock via the Battles mode, and then there's also the S.T.A.R.S mode to finish. No, it's not a mode where Raven and Cyborg tackle a zombie outbreak in Raccoon City. As cool as that would be, S.T.A.R.S mode is akin to the Challenge Tower found in Mortal Kombat. Hundreds of character-specific missions are included, varying from Street Fighter-esque 'Destroy the Car' mini-games, to winning a match with unique conditions. Each of these missions has three objectives, and for every one completed, a star is gained. The more stars acquired, the more missions that open up. It's a nifty little extra, and the developers have done a good job of injecting some personality into them.
There's a lot of content in the game for soloists, but where most fighting games shine is in multiplayer. Injustice is no different; kicking a friend into an exploding oil tanker and seeing them fly through the sky like Team Rocket on a bad day is tres satisfying. For the folks whose friends refuse to play with them, maybe because they get a little too excited when Scarecrow slams Batman through a ceiling, there's always online play.
Injustice features three types of match to participate in online: Classic 1 v 1, King of the Hill and Survivor. King of the Hill is winner stays on, so the King will fight a challenger, while everyone else watches on, until it's their turn. Survivor is similar, except the King starts with the health he had at the end of his last match. If the King completes certain challenges, he can recover some of his health. Survivor is a great mode for levelling the playing field a little; it makes it harder for the top players to dominate.
The online modes are a lot of fun but there are a couple of issues; the main one being that the community is quite small, so finding a match, especially in Survivor or King of the Hill, can be a little challenging. Making use of Miiverse alleviates the problem to a certain extent. The other over sight is the lack of 'friend battles.' It's sad there isn't a feature that allows players to challenge people on their friend list.
Fun from the outset, this cocktail of new and refined ideas comes together to create an experience that feels fresh. How often does that get said in the realm of 2D fighters? The biggest compliment that can be paid to Ed Boon and his team is the battles are so action packed and dramatic, that no one misses Mortal Kombat's fatalities. Injustice succeeds in standing on its own two feet, and doesn't use past glories as a crutch.
In terms of graphics, Injustice: Gods Among Us swings between two extremes. The stages are lovingly designed and brimming with intricate details that comic book fans will love. The characters are also full of personality and look great. The one area where it isn't so pretty is in Story mode; some of the environments between battles look a bit rushed. The detail found in other areas of the game go AWOL and what are left are backdrops which would look right at home on the PlayStation 2.
Voice acting legends Kevin Conroy and Tara Strong reprise their roles as Batman and Harley Quinn from Arkham City. Firefly stars Alan Tudyk and Adam Baldwin deliver great performances as Green Arrow and Green Lantern. From the all-star voice cast, to the brutal sound effects, to the grandiose soundtrack, it's clear Warner Bros. has spared no expense to help deliver a compelling experience.
In recent years NetherRealm Studios has been competing with Masahiro Sakurai, in regards to who can cram the most content into a fighting game. Injustice continues this trend with a Story mode, a Battle mode with unique endings for every character, plus a Challenge mode with hundreds of character-specific missions. Alternate costumes for each character are just the cherry on top of an already tasty dessert.
With a well told story, brutal combat, great voice talent, an impressive cast of characters, and more content than the average bear, Injustice: Gods Among Us is a pretty irresistible package. With Super Smash Bros. not quite visible on the horizon, this is the perfect game to scratch that crossover itch. Just like Nintendo's brawler, it's easy to learn, hard to master. For fans of superheroes and fans of fighters, this is a very shiny product. With more characters confirmed to be joining the roster, it's only going to get shinier.