Brett Molina, USA TODAY
It's the stuff that sparks endless debate among comic book fans: who would win in a fight, Superman or Batman? Green Lantern or Green Arrow? The Joker or Lex Luthor?
Warner Bros. Interactive offers one method for putting these discussions to the test: the brawler Injustice: Gods Among Us, a brilliant fighting game featuring superheroes and villains from the DC Comics universe.
The game is developed by NetherRealm Studios, best known for their work on the iconic Mortal Kombat franchise. This isn't the first time NetherRealm has experimented with DC characters, launching 2008's crossover Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe.
This time, Injustice is devoted entirely to the DC Universe and a host of other heroes and villains. The story focuses on parallel worlds, as heroes such as Green Lantern, the Flash and Green Arrow travel to a dimension ruled by an evil Superman.
As fans of fighting games can attest, the genre is not known for rich stories. While Injustice does a solid job with its plot, it's still easy to ignore, as players watch a series of cut-scenes sandwiched between traditional one-on-one fights. The key benefit of story mode is the ability to play as several characters, getting to know each one as well as slowly learning the controls.
Players have several heroes to choose from, including Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman, Aquaman and Hawkgirl. Villains such as Lex Luthor, The Joker, Catwoman and Sinestro also appear.
Compared to most brawlers, the baseline controls for Injustice are pretty simple to pick up. Players have a light, medium and heavy attack as well as a throw. Players use the left thumbstick to move, jump and block. Each character has a series of special moves executed with specific thumbstick and button presses. For example, players use Superman's heat vision by moving the left thumbstick down and back and pressing the X button.
Matches feature a Power meter that fills up so players can pull off a massive Super move. By tapping the left and right triggers, the character unleashes a powerful (and dramatic) attack that deals heavy damage. Some are especially enjoyable, such as Aquaman sending a shark to chomp an opponent, or Batman shocking enemies with a taser before the Batmobile slams them into a wall.
The Injustice combat system is great for those who want to absorb the DC universe but struggle with the complexities of most fighting games. Special moves require basic gestures to execute, as do straightforward punches and kicks. For the experienced fighting game fan, there is still plenty to master, such as high-end attack combinations that deal incredible damage.
Developers have also cleverly created an environment where these brawls play out as you might expect from an epic superhero battle. Instead of a fight spread across multiple rounds, each showdown is one, continuous melee, with each character utilizing two health meters that must be drained before victory.
Players can smash enemies into structures such as fountains or helicopters, while stronger characters such as Black Adam or Shazam can pick up cars and knock out foes. The game also features transitions, where one strong hit can send an opponent crashing through walls into another section of the dynamic background. Locations such as The Batcave, Hall of Justice and Fortress of Solitude are among several featured in the game.
Once Story mode wraps up, Injustice features a surprisingly wide selection of options to keep players engaged. Battles boasts the classic ladder format of most fighting games, as players battle a set number of computer-controlled opponents. There are 20 types of Battles to select, from Classic to Heroes Only or more challenging ones such as Impossible, where players must defeat every Injustice character on one health meter.
There's also S.T.A.R. Labs, a variation of Mortal Kombat's Challenge Tower. Players compete in a series of challenges, earning stars by performing specific tasks in every event. Players also have a Training mode to study characters.
Injustice sports a solid competitive multiplayer mode, too, with ranked matches and options such as King of the Hill, a nod to the classic arcade days where several players group together and try to knock off the player dominating the cabinet.
NetherRealm has created an impressive video game package with Injustice, combining superheroes and villains comic book fans can appreciate with a fighting style that should appeal to players at any level.
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Platform(s): PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii U
Rating: T for Teen
Release Date: April 16
Score: 3.5 stars (out of 4)