GC 2008: MK vs. DC Universe Updated Hands-On

We're all smiles as we check out the playable Joker in Midway's upcoming fighter. Plus four new character reveals!

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He's got that ugly purple suit, the bright green hair, and that painted-on smile that's one part nut job and one part pure menace. And while he might not pack the punch of a Superman or a Scorpion, that doesn't mean the Joker won't be a formidable opponent in the upcoming Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. We had a chance to try out an updated build of the game today to check out the newly implemented "rage" system and play as the Caped Crusader's grinning nemesis.

While he was announced as a playable character back at Comic-Con, we haven't had a chance to play as the Joker until today. As you might expect, he handles quite a bit differently from the more traditional MK characters or the beefier DC heroes. After all, Joker doesn't have Superman's strength or Flash's blinding speed. What he does have, however, is some cunning moves and a few humorous weapons that will surely pack a punch.

The first thing you'll notice is his look. This isn't the bedraggled Heath Ledger version of Joker from The Dark Knight. At the same time, MK vs. DC's Joker isn't the relatively prim and proper version of Joker played in the original Tim Burton Batman film (portrayed by Jack Nicholson). Instead, this Joker draws its influence from the comics, namely the classic Alan Moore/Brian Bolland Batman graphic novel "Batman: The Killing Joke." The Joker's grin is as long and exaggerated as his lean, extended physique. He brings a sort of manic, comic menace to his fighting style, almost as if he's mocking the idea of fighting as he's kicking butt.

And, make no mistake, the Joker can kick all kinds of butt. In addition to relatively weak attacks, he's got a veritable arsenal of weapons at his disposal that you can access by pressing various button combinations. These weapons include exploding playing cards you can hurl at opponents, a joy buzzer that will electrocute your foes, and a comic boxing glove that really packs a wallop. And though we haven't seen the full roster yet, we're willing to bet that the Joker's fatality is the best in the bunch. After pulling a pistol on his dazed opponent, he pulls the trigger and a flag with the word "BANG" appears out of the barrel. Just when you think that's it, the Joker pulls out a real pistol and splits his opponents' wig. It's shocking and funny the first time you see it...just what you want from an MK fatality.

So beyond those handy comic gadgets, why is that Joker (or a similarly underpowered character like Catwoman) goes toe-to-toe with heroes like Superman? You can thank the newly introduced rage system for that. Though rage will tie into the MK vs. DC storyline, providing an explanation for why all the characters in the game are in roughly the same league in terms of power, when it comes to gameplay, rage plays a very important role.

Each character will have a rage meter, just underneath his or her health meter. You build your rage meter by taking and dealing damage or by blocking an opponent's strikes. As the meter fills up, you can use breaks to block an opponent's strikes. If you let the rage meter build up completely, however, you can enter rage mode (by pressing the shoulder buttons). Here, you'll have roughly six seconds to kick as much butt as you possibly can. Your attacks will be more powerful and, more importantly, unblockable. So, as long as you can make contact, you'll be pounding your foe into dust. Just watch out because his or her rage meter will be similarly building. As a result, you'll have to use your rage meter at the right moment (preferably to finish off your opponent). If you fail to do so, you might find yourself on the receiving end of a rage flurry.

While the Rage mode is a bit tactical, the free fall system is as fun as it looked when it was first revealed. When you toss someone off a ledge, your character will dive into the fray after him, resulting in a long plummet where both characters are beating the tar out of one another. The mechanic here is quite simple--the person on top dishes out the damage by hitting one of the face buttons. Countering moves in free fall is simple--the player just needs to guess which button his opponent will hit next. If he does, the characters flip flop in the air and the cycle begins again. It's not unusual for players to swap positions in free fall multiple times, and the player who ends up on the bottom will take the brunt of the damage.

Each of the (currently planned) 11 stages in the game will contain at least one free fall opportunity, as well as a chance to push your opponent through multiple walls while running at full speed. It's basically a button-mashing session, trying to see how much damage you can rack up by slamming buttons as your opponent smashes through wall after wall, with his opponent in tow.

In all, MK vs. DC Universe is looking like a lot of fun. Of course, any fighting game lives and dies with its cast of characters, and today, Midway announced four more characters to its final roster of 22 playable fighters. On the DC side, you'll see Wonder Woman and Deathstroke, while on the MK side, you'll be playing as Raiden and Kano. None of those characters were available in today's demo, but we look forward to seeing how they match up in our next look at the game.

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