NetherRealm Studios is going in a new direction.
The longtime developer of the classic fighting game series Mortal Kombat saw a resurgence as of last year, with a reboot of the blood brawler that downright destroyed expectations as well as sales numbers.
With a focus on a cogent, well-crafted single player experience, as well as a tournament-approved fighting engine, Mortal Kombat was a shock on all levels, easily taking home fighting game of the year from most news outlets.
Ed Boon, president of NetherRealm attributed the game quality to the fact that the studio wanted to shake up the expectations of what a Mortal Kombat game had been in the past. The reboot ditched the pseudo-three dimensional arenas, wonky weapons combat, and face-palmingly bad story lines of the past.
With all of this positive mojo going for them, one could not begrudge NetherRealm for wanting to strike while the iron is hot. However, the developer has opted to avoid the traditional 'churn-out-another-sequel- route in lieu of something new.
That something new is Injustice: Gods Among Us.
Many will remember that NetherRealm (formerly Midway Entertainment) has gone down the licensed fighting game route before. Mortal Kombat vs. DC is largely considered to be an absolute mess in every regard. The fighting engine seemed to take the worst parts of the 'almost-3D' engine of prior games. The graphics engine seemed to make the figures look like they were covered by a layer of shiny plastic. The most grievous error, however, was that the single-player story mode was awful.
Really, the game was an excuse to have heroes fighting heroes, and didn't even manage to reach that goal.
What makes Injustice different? NetherRealm has learned from their mistakes.
Injustice will take a cue from Mortal Kombat, with a deeper focus on single-player than the majority of the fighting game genre. Additionally, players won't be doused with a watered-down cast of characters. Sadly, MK vs. DC didn't leave a lot of room for roster experimentation, and the final roster slots were reserved for the most expected choices.
Injustice has the advantage of being the product of trial and error from previous titles. The game won't be as much of an experiment in what does and doesn't work like it's spiritual predecessor of last year.
Each character in Injustice will fall into a 'strength' or 'speed' or 'gadget' catagory, changing how that particular character can interact with weapons and traps in the environment.
Finally, a game where I can use the Batmobile in the middle of a combo. Missiles, debris, cars, and more are at players' disposal. Each type of character will also interact differently with context-sensitive objects in the arenas. Using your gimmick button next to a car while playing as Superman will result in Big Blue picking up the vehicle and chucking it at his opponent like an angry child throwing LEGOs.
That same car can be rigged to explode with the same push of the button if you are playing as Batman. Harley Quinn will repeatedly slam an opponent's face into the car with the same action.
Taking a cue from the 2D fighter BlazBlue, each character will have a specific gimmick that can be activated with the push of a button. Batman can activate mechanical bats that can be used in a wide variety of ways, ranging from forming a shield around the Dark Knight to juggling an opponent to continue a combo. Harley Quinn's gimmick button will cause Mr. J's gal Friday to chuck random explosives and weapons at her opponent. This same gimmick button will make Wonder Woman switch between using a sword and shield and her Lasso of Truth.
It certainly seems that NetherRealm is really making an effort to have each character play differently from each other.
All of these game engine implements are interesting, but the most talked about aspect of the game — as with any fighting game worth it's hype — will be the roster. Being a DC title based around the Justice League, we can expect to see staple characters such as Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, and many more. However, NetherRealm has been known in the past to take chances with their character selection and do unique things.
I count myself in the group that considered Mortal Kombat vs. DC''s roster to be far too safe. One can hardly blame them for wanting to represent the classics. Injustice, however, will be a chance to flesh out the roster with new faces and unexpected fighters.
The following are my sleeper choices to make the final roster of Injustice: Gods Among Us.
3 – Larfleeze
Larfleeze, better known as Agent Orange to the rest of the cosmic DC Universe, is the sole member of the Orange Lantern Corp. Each different color of Lantern Corp represents a different emotion, and Larfleeze is the ultimate embodiment of greed. Larfleeze has been in control of the Orange Lantern for billions of years according to lore, and thus is one of the most powerful beings in the galaxy. However, his overwhelming instinct to steal and covet has typically kept him distracted and occupied on his home planet of Okkara.
First appearance: Green Lantern Vol. 4 #25 (Dec. 2007)
I am a fan of opposites in fighting games. Every character should have a rival, or at the least an obstacle in their path. Ryu has Sagat. Sub Zero has Scorpion. Likewise, Green Lantern, no matter what version they choose, needs a hinderance.
Why not Agent Orange?
Larfleeze has become a fan favorite and at times, an anti-hero. He has the ability to be downright terrifying as well as providing levity. However, his unique ability is why I think he could be an interesting addition to Injustice.
Remember how I mentioned that he was the only member of the Orange Lantern Corp? That is because Larfleeze can create light-based constructs of those he has killed, thus making every person he has ever murdered a potential member of the Corp.
With a press of his gimmick button, Larfleeze could be able to summon members of his Corp to do his bidding, whether it is to serve as a projectile, a shield, or as a deluge of destruction.
I could also see Agent Orange's super attack involving the full power of the Orange Lantern Corp, summoning every construct he can muster to destroy his opponent.
Green Lantern better keep an eye out for the orange.
2 – Clayface
Clayface is best known as a reoccurring Batman villain, used as both comedic relief and to terrify. While there have been many versions of Clayface, the version best suited for Injustice would be shape-shifting monstrosity that most of us have come to recognize over the years. This version has the ability to take the form of anything in a convincing manner, as well as liquefy himself into other forms in order to attack or escape.
First appearance: Detective Comics #40 (June 1940)
I am a firm believer in having a character who can steal abilities from other fighters. This has almost become a trope in the genre, with the best known probably being Virtua Fighter's Dural and Street Fighter IV's Seth. Clayface's gimmick button could allow him to use a random move or ability of an opponent (or maybe even anyone from the roster.) Additionally, Clayface's attacks and specials could see him transform his limbs into swords, clubs, tendrils, or any other weapon the developers could think of.
Clayface would be a great chance for NetherRealm to go crazy in design and throw whatever they wanted to against the wall and see what sticks.
1 – John Constantine
Hardly. Before Neo played Constantine in a Sardonic manner, John was best known from the DC Vertigo series Hellblazer. Constantine is a master warlock of the DC universe, feared by the demons below and sneered at by the angels above. John has a wide berth of connections in the DC universe, ranging from being a magical consult for the Justice League to cavorting around with the likes of Swamp Thing and Kid Eternity.
Constantine has a varied knowledge of the occult, seemingly always having a spell, trinket, or bauble at hand for every situation. Recently, Constantine has been brought into the New 52 universe, joining the occult subset of the Justice League. Constantine is a beloved character, as well as a great representation of the occult and magic-based part of the DC universe that is usually ignored.
First appearance: The Saga of Swamp Thing #37 (June 1985)
Constantine could be a 'jack of all trades' character from a design standpoint. John has always been a figure in the DC universe that is respected and feared for having an solution to every problem and situation he's presented. As such, I think that his gimmick button should change depending on who he is fighting.
Using his knowledge of artifacts, summoning spells, and incantations, the Hellblazer could very well be given an advantage over characters who would clearly have one over on John, since he is just a human. Against Superman, he could summon the animated corpse of someone that died from Kryptonite radiation poisoning, slowing down the Man of Steel temporarily.
Against Wonder Woman, John could recite an incantation meant to disable her weapons of Greek mythology. The Flash could be halted by turning the very floor to rubber or glue. In other words, John's gimmick button would give him just the advantage he would need to spring an attack against any foe, no matter how outmatched in power or size he might be.
Injustice is already shaping up to be my most anticipated title of 2013. With a combination of a smooth and fun fighting engine, a well-craft storyline, and plenty of extras to keep the single-player afloat, we could finally see a fighting game worthy of the DC Comics line.
There will be Injustice for all when this title is released in spring of next year.
Originally posted for Three Pasty Nerds Podcast and Backlog Adventures