Category Games

Leveling the WoW Playing Field

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I love playing WoW, but there are seriously some parts of it that are so terrible. On my server, there are people who sit in trade all day and talk about rape, say fucked-up racist shit, rant about politics and the n-word president, and are generally just awful examples of humanity all around. I’ve got an ignore list as long as my arm. Unfortunately, the same guys just keep turning up so I guess blocks are not permanent or they keep rerolling with very similar names. And then you’ve got the guys who will follow your low level characters across an entire zone, killing them instantly every time they resurrect and struggle to get away until you log out in frustration…and sometimes they’re still there the next day. And the day after that, because they have dedicated their shitty little lives to griefing. These people deserve one another. Decent players don’t. Please, Blizzard, give us the Poopstain Debuff.

“I’m going to Disneyland!” “Really? Because I’m a travel agent and I’ve heard nothing but bad things.”

Our hotel was essentially right down the street from Downtown Disney, so even though we didn’t visit any of the Disney parks on our trip, they still got plenty of our money. Downtown Disney is essentially a Disney-themed mall, with restaurants, shops, an arcade, a theater, and blessedly, free parking. The main impetus behind our first visit to Downtown Disney was one of their themed restaurants, The T-Rex Cafe.

 

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The T-Rex Cafe is operated by the same company that owns The Rainforest Cafe, so if you’ve been to the latter, you know the schtick, except in this restaurant, they have a bunch of animatronic dinosaurs and there’s a meteor shower every twenty minutes instead of a thunderstorm. They also don’t seem to operate with the same slogan as The Rainforest Cafe, “Fun until it isn’t,” because our food was actually pretty damn good, lacked any sort of embedded hair, and they even had cocktails made with cotton candy which made Jason extremely happy. Actually, the restaurant is quite similar to Jurassic Fork; they don’t let you order your meat “medium roar” at The T-Rex Cafe, either. Luckily, they also don’t have any rules about feeding a hungry animatronic stegosaurus an onion ring so long as no one sees you do it.

 

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One day, Jason thought it might be nice to see Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 at Downtown Disney. I don’t want to point fingers, but this was, hands down, the worst idea he’s ever had. After we paid for our tickets and went into the theater, a herd of the world’s noisiest children flooded in and sat directly behind us, kicking our seats, screaming about whether they should get popcorn or nachos, arguing about the trailers, and doing everything in their power to drive me goddamn insane. We didn’t even make it to the movie proper before getting up and asking for a refund, which we were given without so much as an “I told you so” from the theater employee.  I was confused at this level of restraint and politeness from a Disney employee; one of the only things I remember from my family’s trip to Disney World when I was 11 is an altercation at Epcot Center. We’d stopped in the France Pavillion to split an eclair. All they had to drink was whole milk, and we were used to drinking skim, so my mom asked if they had any skim, to which the employee replied “You’re all already fat, what does it matter?” Very few things can put me off an eclair, but that’s one of them, even if that surly French teenager had a point.

 

 

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These are some next-level candy apples. I can’t even get the caramel to stick to the damn apple!

Every evening we visited Downtown Disney over the course of our stay, they had live music in the streets, which definitely added to the overall festive atmosphere. Among the more entertaining performers was Dominic Gaudious, a guy who plays a double-neck didgeridoo and a double-neck guitar. I’m always impressed by didgeridoos, as my mom used to have one hanging on the wall and about the only thing I ever managed to make it do was slowly dribble my spit out the other end.

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We spent the better part of another day at the DisneyQuest Indoor Interactive Theme Park, relishing in both its air conditioning and the unlimited play games. Their virtual reality games were terrible, with graphics, headsets, and controls straight out of the early 90s, and neither one of us could handle them for more than a minute or two. I made it all the way through Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Ride, but Ride The Comix was so horrendous that I ripped off my dorky helmet and walked out in the middle. Sorry teammates, but my laser sword didn’t work anyway, so it’s not like I could have helped you regardless.

 

Literally everything else was much more fun. They had a classic games area, a pinball machine room, skeeball, air hockey, a bunch of music game machines, even a bank of playable Fix It Felix from Wreck It Ralph! My personal favorite was a driving game I’d never seen before called “Dirty Drivin'” which involves some of my very favorite things: revenge, explosions, and customization. It would probably lose something in translation from arcade to console game with the loss of the steering wheel/gas pedal/revenge crank controls, but I would still buy it in a second. I would pay full price. What I can’t pay is $7700 for an arcade machine. $15,000 if I ever want to play with another human being. Please port it!

 

 

No, seriously, port it. Or my buddy Ralph and I are going to wreck you.

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“Behold the horrors of the slanty shanty! See the twisted creatures that dwell within!”

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This year at PAX, to deal with their PR problem, they’re adding a “Diversity Lounge”–a safe space where congoers who feel marginalized can go and congregate with the likeminded to talk about issues of diversity within gaming; a con within a con.

Diversity doesn’t just exist in a bubble, though. The solution for people feeling unsafe at the convention can’t be the removal of the people who feel threatened, that’s just further segregating and alienating the marginalized. Marginalized congoers don’t only want to talk about the lack of diversity in the industry, they want to experience the whole con. That’s the whole reason they decided to attend a gaming show like PAX in the first place. They want to walk the floor, play the games, and attend panels like everyone else. All they’re asking is to attend panels without one of the con heads saying he regrets pulling merchandise that poked fun at rape victims. They’re asking that the con management think twice before allowing panels that encourage the behavior of the lowest common denominator. You can’t create one small safe space and call the job done. You need to target the root of the problem to make the con safe and enjoyable for everyone. Granted, you’ll never be able to prevent all negative instances from occurring, like that one time I ran into a former classmate on the show floor who back in the day was quite vocal about his notion that he felt I owed him a blowjob for being female and in his vicinity, but you can at least TRY to implement working safe space policies that apply to the entire convention.

Unless the Diversity Lounge serves drinks. Then I’m all in.

 

El Taco Diablo: The Gunstringer Review

This weekend, Jason brought home a copy of The Gunstringer, borrowed from a co-worker. I had not really heard anything about it (let’s face it, I’m out of the loop game-wise as I find game websites annoying, and conventions like PAX are essentially one of the deepest pits of Hell, as far as I’m concerned. Stinky AND crowded? Wait in line for anything and everything? Near-riots for t-shirts and anything else being given away for free? Dudes cutting in front of me in line to play a game because my vagina makes me invisible? Oh boy, when does the fun start!? Can you believe I PAID to get in here?!!?) except for a marketing email from Microsoft, which immediately rendered me suspicious. Microsoft does a poor job marketing games to their consumers, especially with the wealth of information they have. Yes, I have a Kinect, and you can see I’ve spent a lot of time playing Dance Central–that does NOT mean I’m the target market for Kinect Sports. You can see my game library, Microsoft. I don’t own any sports games, so odds are I’m not a fan of the genre, even if I enjoy dancing around like an asshole in the game room. The marketing email for The Gunstringer told me the game has:

*Multiplayer in-room co-op action *A full suite of collectibles, unlockables, rewards, and more *The first game to support seated Kinect gameplay *Offers a free add-on pack, the Wavy Tube Man Chronicles *Includes a code for the full downloadable version of Fruit Ninja Kinect

That’s it. Essentially this marketing email told me that there was nothing to tell me about this game. In fact, one of the only selling points they found for it was that it includes a DIFFERENT game. When people whose entire job revolves around making consumers want a product can’t find a single thing to say, it conveys an extremely negative impression. So my overall hopes for the game weren’t high.

Then we played it. I was immediately charmed: by the premise, by the narration, by the art direction. You play as a marionette (who is unaware that he is a marionette), out for revenge against his former posse who wronged him–and each act of his revenge is part of a play viewed by an audience, who cheers your successes and boos your failures. As such, each level is constructed to look like a set full of props–trees are made of corrugated cardboard, paper towel tubes, and lincoln logs, cattle are beercans with horns, and your trusty steed is a pushpin with a felt head and yarn hair.

The story was well-written and very funny; Jason and I cracked up laughing a number of times while playing. The end of the story was executed very cleverly, and left us howling with laughter. The narration, like recognizing prop materials, served to increase the feeling that you’re performing in a play, unlike the narration in Bastion, which I found annoying.

The game itself is rather short, no matter how sweet–we played through in a couple of play sessions. Although it’s marketed as a multiplayer game, the second player only serves to aid the first player, and there are several levels where the second player is left standing idle while the first player gets all of the action.

The control scheme generally feels natural. I felt the Kinect recognized our movements better while standing than while seated, however, and those who have arranged their living rooms to have enough playspace for dancing and sports games may find that the Kinect cannot see them at all when they’re back on the couch. Navigating menus was a bit wonky, especially in the bonus store section–you need to hover your hand over an item to read the description, but hovering also initiates purchase, so it’s hard to see what something is before you buy it. Granted, players will usually end up buying most everything eventually regardless, but since players are offered their choice, it would be better if the game more easily facilitated making discerning choices.

Overall, I really enjoyed playing The Gunstringer–its humor and style has led me to seek out other titles by Twisted Pixel, and I’ll more than likely acquire a copy for myself in order to do another playthrough on hardcore mode. Gunstringer is proof that fun games CAN be made for Kinect, and in my opinion, MS did this game a huge disservice by trying to sell it as the same old crap. This game made me like a PUPPET, and that is damn remarkable.

Your Shape: Fitness Evolved, a review in which the word “helpfully” is used sarcastically more than once.

I’ve long been a proponent of at-home fitness activities; the reasoning being that if you have to travel somewhere to work out, if it’s anything less than perfectly easy and convenient, you won’t do it consistently. I’ve enjoyed workouts like Turbo Jam and Chalene Extreme, which encourage me to jump and punch and kick without worrying how I look in front of a class of fit people and lift weights without some bulging dude grunting like a rhinoceros directly behind me, respectively. But with DVD workouts, you aren’t getting any feedback, unless your partner is sitting behind you on the couch, eating oreos and helpfully pointing out that you aren’t squatting low enough. Thus is the appeal of a game workout like Your Shape: Fitness Evolved–the Kinect sees your movements and can correct your form.

That is, if it worked properly. Apparently no one on the team of Your Shape has ever seen a fat or a short person, much less a short fat person, and my experience with the game was nothing short of extraordinarily frustrating. Supposedly, the program scans your body at the outset to determine arm and leg length, and to automatically sign you in, but even though I wear the same workout clothes and have my hair the same way nearly every time I play, the game has never once recognized me. My frustrations began with the personal trainer program. Like I’ve indicated above, this is not my first aerobics rodeo mimicking the movements of an instructor, so it’s annoying and frustrating to move exactly on beat, following the trainer precisely, and yet be punished by the game for being “out of rhythm”, during which your calorie count does not change even though you are performing the activity. Sometimes the game will indicate that I am in and out of rhythm six times over the course of one move, though my movements are indistinguishable from those of the onscreen trainer. With every move, I am berated to “move my legs farther apart”, and even when I widen my stance much more than the trainer, to the point of having to hop from foot to foot to perform the move, I am still instructed to widen my stance. Other times, I will be told not to raise my arms so high, so I will lower them a little, and then immediately be told to keep my arms up. The trainer will then helpfully repeat these useless suggestions at the end of each exercise, in case you didn’t hear them the first six or seven times. It’s here that the calorie counter really falls short, as having a she-hulk nuclear meltdown tantrum on the floor due to 6 contradictory corrections in the course of ten seconds burns way more calories than a simple step-touch.

When you aren’t being told to correct your form one way and then corrected the opposite way immediately afterward, the space in between is filled with “good!” “that’s right!” “you’ve got it!” “keep up the good work!” “you’re doing great!” “that’s it!” “That should feel much better”, one right after another. If the virtual trainer were a person, her friends and relatives would all tell you that she just likes to hear herself talk. It is incredibly annoying and distracting and there’s no way to turn it off. That’s right, I came to the game looking for feedback, but now that I’ve got an earful, I’d pay extra to disable it, since I’m getting nothing beneficial from it and it’s actively detracting from my experience.

In the fitness classes portion of the game, they have two different classes you can take: Cardio Boxing, and Zen, though they helpfully include all of the other workouts you can purchase for more money onscreen, as apparently the sixty dollars you paid for a workout game was merely enough to pay for the framework of the game and the workouts themselves have to be purchased piecemeal. The cardio boxing class is a joke. I’ve given myself a higher heart rate carrying in my sack of fast food from the car to the couch than I have during any portion of this “cardio” workout, even in the advanced classes. Now, I may be used to Turbo Jam’s style of cardio boxing, where after a workout, I can squeeze buckets of sweat out of my clothes, but then again, this is a workout game. Shouldn’t I expect a workout?

The zen portion of the fitness classes is equally useless. Since I’m a fatty mcfatass, and once again, the team has clearly never met a fat person before, the game has some interesting ideas about where my bones are located.

The knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone, which goes somewhere up through my uterus and into the other leg. The second leg’s bone has decided to travel up into my butt, which is most DEFINITELY not where it resides within my body. In nearly every instance it places a bone, it will be along the side of a muscle/fat heavy area instead of where the bone anatomically belongs. There have been instances where the bone will sink into the floor or curve or snap in half, which means I NEVER get any useful feedback about how to position my body and I get no credit for doing the moves which means at the end of the session I get a sadface “Let’s try this again” message. Because if there’s anything more fun than frustration, it’s double doses of frustration!

I wish I had purchased a physical copy of this game so I could trade it in and at least get something back; instead, I bought it from the xbox live marketplace for the same amount of money, and now I’m stuck with it. Even if I could bring myself to play it, it can’t ever replace a gym workout. Hell, it can’t even replace my workout DVDs. Helpful.

“Oh my god, I killed our baby!”

On Saturday, a group of us went to Benihana’s and then to Gameworks to celebrate Chris’ 30th birthday. Jason and I had gotten to the restaurant a bit earlier than everyone else, as we’d been out at Archie McPhee, picking up a copy of the “Mr. Bacon’s Big Adventure” board game to give to Chris, a former vegetarian. Though our entire party had arrived on time, we didn’t end up being seated until nearly forty-five minutes past our reservation time, at which point I was maybe a little pickled as I’d only eaten toast that day in anticipation of a ridiculous dinner.

 

Our chef was very nice and told us he’d gone to school in Hawaii. Excuse me, but I believe I’ve found my calling in life: teppenyaki chefdom. But only if I also can attend school in Hawaii.

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Stuffed full and swearing that we’d never need to eat again, we walked from the restaurant to Gameworks for the all-important task of shooting dinosaurs, zombies, and robots to prepare for the dinobotbie apocalypse. Each spinosaur I shot down was in tribute to Chris.

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While there, we discovered one of the most fun arcade games ever: Deadstorm Pirates. It’s a booth style game which includes two force-feedback gun turrets and a ship’s wheel between them. You play as two pirates with “golden guns”, and when you shoot an object together, their power and speed increases. The story is a typical pirate adventure in that you’re battling for some nebulously-defined treasure–the important part is that you get to shoot hundreds of skeleton pirates who explode into bones and dust in a very satisfying way, a kraken, giant crabs, a giant snake, and a pirate who stole his jaw from a Predator. You also get to shoot down other ships with cannonballs, and I may have cackled with delight upon firing a cannonball every single time. Also, unlike the majority of other arcade games, you can actually beat this game in a reasonable amount of time for a not-insane amount of money. Oh, certainly, it was taking money from us like clockwork, but it didn’t ramp up the difficulty (or, like most shooters: cheapness) to a point where it would have been foolhardy for us to continue putting in money, which is a point that I think most arcade games miss. I won’t keep paying to play if it’s obvious that the game is set up in such a way that I’ll never win.

After we beat Deadstorm Pirates, we played the horseracing game, where you pick which sire and dam you’d like to make a baby, and all of a sudden a stork comes along with a brand new foal for you to name and love and race. Our precious baby was named Jerkface.

We put Jerkface through various training exercises to make her grow big and strong and fast. Unfortunately, one of those exercises was swimming her in a pool to increase her cardiovascular health. The instructions were that we were to reflexively tap a button when a bar moved into a certain area and, ominously, if we did it wrong three times, our horse would drown. That’s a sizeable punishment for error! Once you’ve selected a mode, there isn’t a way to back out and choose something else, so I was committed to do right by our child.

…The bar moved very, very quickly, and each time I missed, we would gasp in horror as Jerkface struggled and her sweet little jerky face went underwater. Upon the third miss, I cried, “Oh my god, I killed our baby!”, and sure enough, they showed the horse spasming and lurching in the pool and slowly, slowly stilling. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

And just like that, she was ready to race. What? I thought we drowned her! I guess in the racing world, drowning is not a permanent thing. All of that grieving, for nothing!

After you’ve finished playing, the game spits out a little card that represents Sarah Jessica Parkeryour horsey child, so you can come back at any time and continue playing instead of having to start anew, presumably up until the time your horse is grey and needs to be shot in its stall because its record is too crummy to justify putting it to stud.

Even though I was the babykiller, somehow I still got custody.

Party Aftermath

I woke up bright and early in the morning and blearily wondered who might have sneaked into my apartment during the night and shoved a wad of cotton into my mouth. I got up, drank some water, and then went back to bed. A couple hours later, I got up, drank some water, and after all that strenuous activity, had a nap on the couch. After my nap, I settled into a hot bath with my PSP and started Disgaea Infinite, which I sadly do not love. I should like it, as the premise is essentially that you’re playing through a choose-your-own adventure story, where you can possess characters and influence their actions, but instead of feeling like a game, it feels like an interminable cut-scene, which makes me feel antsy instead of having fun. I’ll give it a little more time as playing while hungover wasn’t exactly giving it a fair chance, but I definitely prefer the strategy-tactics games in the series.

After giving up on Disgaea for the day, I took a glance at my huge pile of shame (unfinished, or in some cases, not even started games), and decided it was time to work on it some. The first game I popped in was Batman: Arkham Asylum which I love. Action games tend to be hit-or-miss for me, it seems like a lot of them have one gimmick that they beat to death while you’re beating the same bad guys to death over and over and over again in settings that all look the same–this one got great reviews, which caused me to pick it up, but my own apprehension about the genre caused me to let it sit neglected on my shelf for months. I shouldn’t have waited so long. Everything about it is awesome. The gadgets you get to use aren’t gimmicky. Combat is uncomplicated, well-animated, and wholly satisfying. It’s equally satisfying whether you jump into the middle of a crowd of ten guys and go nuts beating the hell out of everyone or perch atop something high and wait for a patrolman to pass below, swoop down, and silently choke him, lay him to the ground, and disappear back into the shadows before the other guards even know what’s happening. You feel like Batman in this game, whether you’re gliding through the night or just nonchalantly strolling down some stairs (Yes, I make Batman take the stairs sometimes. It keeps him humble.) All of the Riddler puzzles are well-executed, and there are hundreds upon hundreds of tiny details that make it clear that the developer actually gave a damn about the franchise and making a good game. They didn’t just make a good game. They made a great one, the only worthy Batman game in existence. I intend to finish it tonight–if I hadn’t had to get up for work today, I probably would have finished it last night. My only nitpick is the design of Arkham itself: my inner vision of an insane asylum is that of one with intentions to rehabilitate its patients, and the treatment wards in Arkham all look like elaborate torture chambers. No wonder the criminally insane in Gotham stay criminally insane and take others down with them!

Presidents, Schmesidents…Helloooooo Long Weekend!

This weekend has been insanely busy, and instead of posting about it and getting caught up, I have elected to spend the entire day playing Mass Effect (the first one) and cleaning. Verdict: I still don’t know if I like it. Ok, I’m pretty sure I don’t like it but I can’t quite pinpoint why, especially when it’s so acclaimed. The fact that I had no problem getting up and cleaning the kitchen, taking a phone call from my mom–this doesn’t say good things for this game.

Leave it to me to tell you about the first game when everyone is shitting their pants about the sequel; I am nothing if not Miss Day Late and Dollar Short (hence all the buying of games from the bargain bin).

To start off, I loved Knights of the Old Republic. No, really loved Knights of the Old Republic.

No, REALLY loved it:

I found it engaging and compelling and just the right level of challenging. I actually completed the game, which is (shamefully) kind of rare for me–if I get bored or stuck or really frustrated, I move on. Anything hard to do isn’t worth doing, right?

Mass Effect feels like a watered-down version of Knights of the Old Republic to me. I should like it, all of the elements are there: space exploration, the opportunity to be Queen Bitch of the Universe, the guy who voiced Carth Onasi…I should like it. But it’s not there. For me, Mass Effect is like going back to that boyfriend you dumped years ago and for a while, it’s ok because it feels familiar, but familiarity doesn’t spark passion and it’s never quite the same as it used to be. Even the Elcor cribbing speech patterns directly from HK-47 made me wistful for the old game, not engaged with the new one.

So far, the story isn’t compelling. I’m supposed to STOP the killer robots from wiping out all of galactic civilization? A galactic civilization that I find highly annoying and wouldn’t mind seeing wiped out? Yeah, ok.

I also don’t like that the dialogue options that you’re given is never what Shepard actually says. Example courtesy shadowstitch:

> How’s it going? > I can’t talk now > Get out of my face

Shepard: “I’ll eat your children and fuck your mother.”

If I’m supposed to be in control of the conversation as the player, the option I select should accurately reflect the in-game dialogue, even if it’s more succinct in the options. When it doesn’t match, it feels like I’m being given an ‘option’ just to placate me as a player.

Switching between weapons in battle or between weapon attacks and biotic attacks seems unnecessarily complicated. I don’t like that you can’t switch between party members–what’s the point of having me level up an entire party’s worth of characters if I can’t control their skills and attacks directly? If Kaidan is the one with lock-picking skills, why is Shepard the one who picks the locks? If Wrex falls in battle, how is it that he is magically revived afterward, but if Shepard falls, it’s game over?

In a gripe that’s likely personal to MY game setup, entering the menu screens causes my TV to buzz horribly. In-game, no buzz, reasonable volume. Menu? It’s like the volume has doubled and it’s ALL buzz. Ugh. It makes me want to spend NO time looking at mission objectives, leveling the characters, choosing weapons and armor–I want nothing to do with anything on that menu screen.

I don’t like to think that I’m penalizing it for being KOTOR-but-not-quite, but I can’t quite figure out what merits it DOES have. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll put a few more hours into it and see if it picks up, story-wise, and draws me in. Otherwise, I’m calling this one a miss.

With Karate I’ll Kick Your Ass (Batman)

On Saturday, I decided the time had come to trade in the worst game of all time as my rage had subsided enough to prevent me from lighting it on fire.

This is not to say, however, that I was wholly unprepared to give this occasion the attention it deserved. When I arrived, I looked for the employee who reminded me most of myself–in that he absolutely doesn’t give a fuck about his job and is willing to engage in shenanigans. I then made him sign this:

Feeling a bit smug and self-satisified, I applied that $7.50 toward what many would consider to be another mistake: Mortal Kombat vs DC. Haters, please feel free to shut thine traps, as I’m kind of in love with this game.

Bless their stupid hearts, the creators tried to have Liu Kang whaling on Catwoman make sense. “The universes are merging due to a dark force!” But, the thing is, the Mortal Kombat story has been so convoluted and stupid in anything past number one that even a genius-level writer (and bear in mind, they didn’t have one) couldn’t really justify the series’ continuance. And really, I don’t NEED a reason to enjoy pounding the snot out of the Green Lantern.

In terms of actual gameplay, I remain a bit of a Luddite in that when it comes to Mortal Kombat, I prefer the 2D game of yesteryear; gameplay felt smoother and it was easier to execute special moves. However, I do like the new countering system, the ‘test your might’ combat, and multi-level stages. For a game made famous for its buckets of gore, I would have expected more blood and better fatalities, but I don’t NEED evisceration to, again, enjoy pounding the snot out of the Green Lantern.

The opponents and boss fights remain as cheap as ever; my thigh was slapped to a bright red hue in frustration after losing more matches than I’d like to admit, and people walking past my apartment likely heard my bitter cries of “SUPERMAN, YOU ARE A FUCKING BITCH” but unlike some games which ramp up difficulty to the point of impossibility, this sort of cheapness can be mastered with just a little dedication to learning the moves.

Ultimately, I approve of the direction of Mortal Kombat vs DC, and again, I encourage the creators to think outside their need to have a story so that we might move forward and create the greatest fighting game of all time: Mortal Kombat vs DC vs Alien vs Predator vs Velociraptor vs Pennywise the Clown vs Captain Kirk vs Jaws on Legs vs Lucille Ball vs The Hookerpunching Slapchop Dude. Amazing, non?