When I was a kid, I wanted to be a superhero. I wanted a cape and a secret hideout. I wanted to beat up all the bad people in the world and I wanted to fly. I didn’t want to be Batman, because even as a kid, I knew that he wasn’t a real superhero. He didn’t have any powers. He was just a rich guy who was friends with the police commissioner. Living in the projects, I knew that those traits were more out of reach for me than getting the ability to fly. Plus, I had already tried jumping off of the top of a dumpster while holding an umbrella over my head, and the results were nowhere close to the smooth gliding descent that I had seen on Batman's TV show.
In their latest fighting game, Injustice, Gods Among Us, NetherRealm Studios is giving gamers the chance to become their favorite superheros (and villians). Using the well sculptured fighting engine from 2011’s Mortal Kombat, players can battle each other as some of DC’s most iconic characters. And for the first time, it doesn’t feel watered down. Superman punches people into space, Batman runs opponents down with the Batmobile, Aquaman feeds bad guys to sharks. It’s the epitome of comic book wish fulfillment. The list of characters is a good mix of well known standards and fan favorites. Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and Flash are joined by lesser known heroes like Green Arrow, Hawkgirl and Cyborg. Infamous bad guys, Joker, Bane, and Lex Luthor stand beside second stringers Solomon Grundy, Killer Frost, and Black Adam. In all, there are 24 characters in the game with more being added via DLC. Each character has the trademark powers we all know them for. It’s a true feat how the developers managed to balance the gameplay between the esoteric powers of someone like Green Lantern with the more grounded attacks of Deathstroke.
I've always wanted to be Superman. He was a real superhero. He could fly wherever he wanted. Bullets couldn’t hurt him. And he was strong enough to stop anyone from even trying. Superman was my guy. And when my mom dropped me off at the YMCA Boys Club for the first time, I was proudly wearing a freshly washed Superman shirt. In the summer, when there’s no school, some kids would get shipped off to summer camp to give their parents some rest. I've always wanted to be Superman. He was a real superhero.Others spent those off months playing outside in the neighborhood. But when camp is too expensive and your neighborhood is not a good place for a kid to be walking around, you get dropped off at the YMCA Boys Club. Think of it as a daycare center littered with makeshift weapons, filled with boys from 9 to 17 years old and with barely enough adult supervision to satisfy any government regulations. Each morning parents would drop off kids on the way to work, and each evening they’d come pick them up. Hopefully more or less intact. As soon as my mom drove away I was faced with a scene that was a mix between the Lord of the Flies and the Hunger Games. But I wasn’t worried. I was wearing my Superman shirt.
I had managed to map out a schedule to surviving each day. In the morning, before the big kids showed up, I passed the time in the game room, playing pool and foursquare. Once the older kids arrived, it was time to abandon the inside of the building and head for the playground. And once it got too hot to stay outside, I would head for the makeshift library, to spend the rest of the day playing board games and reading in the corner. In the end, the library became my fortress of solitude. But for a while, the playground was my favorite part of the day. Because that’s where I got to practice being a superhero.
Injustice: Gods Among Us has all of the prerequisites for a fighting game, alternate costumes, distinct locations, flashy super moves, etc. Then it takes them a step further. Levels are multi-tiered, with the ability to knock your foe into an entirely new environment. Supermoves go a step further and deliver a cinematic punch worthy of their comic book origins. The single player offerings include the usual versus modes, but there’s also an inventive Star Labs section where the heroes are given different tasks to complete, not always involving fighting. Dodging debris, saving civilians, and breaking barriers are some of the skills you’ll master in Star Labs. Of course, there are still a good deal of ‘Beat up this guy to win’ type of missions, but the occasional change of pace is welcome after years of single player fighting game modes that are simply dumbed down versions of the multiplayer experience.
Swingsets are boring. Sure they’re fun for a few minutes, but day after day, week after week, even a goofy kid like me figured out that I was just going back and forth. That is, until I discovered how to ‘fly’. Here’s how it worked, first, you stand up on the seat. Then by bending your knees, and pushing forward, you get much higher, much faster that you can by sitting down and pumping your legs back and forth. Now, most of the other kids would sit down at some point and then ‘jump’ by sliding off of the front of the swing. That was fun. But it wasn’t flying. Flying was jumping off while you were still standing. Soaring through the air and landing further than anyone thought possible. Thats what I was doing. A lot. I was 12 years old and still invincible. And when some of the other kids began to copy my swingset superheroics, I had to find a way to take it up a notch. It’s not a superpower if everyone is doing it. So I decided to add a level of difficulty.
I stood on the cracked black rubber that passed as the seat of the swing and bent my legs. I pushed my feet forward while pulling back on the chains as hard as I could. For this to work I would need to go higher than I ever had before. Best case scenario, I would land twirling in the grass, armed crossed, looking like a bad ass.</>Soon I was speeding back and forth, the wind whooshing in my ears and the world blurring. The moment of truth was almost here. I couldn’t go any higher and some faint twinge of self preservation told me not to try. But it was just a twinge, and so it failed to stop me from completing the next part of my kryptonian destiny. I jumped. Just like I had dozens of times before. I figured I must have been twenty feet off the ground, no, more like fifty. And this is where I would set myself apart from all the pretenders. In mid-air, I twisted my body to spin around 360 degrees. Best case scenario, I would land twirling in the grass, armed crossed, looking like a bad ass. Worst case scenario...well, kids don’t really consider worst case scenarios. Plus, I saw Superman do it in a movies, so I knew it was possible.
Injustice:Gods Among Us manages to mix casual and hardcore gaming together, so that even if you’re not veteran of fighting games, you still feel like anything is possible. You can hit a guy through a brick wall without memorizing a complete sequence of button presses and thumbstick movements. On screen indicators let you know when you can pick up that helicopter and slam it down on Bane’s head. But at the same time, it never feels crippled by it’s simplicity. It’s just as happy to have you dole out punishment via 20+ hit combos worthy of the best players at EVO or single button supermoves that send your opponent through a subway train.
My own supermove was a near complete success. When I made the leap from the top of the swing’s arc, I heard everyone gasp. When I spun, I heard the appropriate amounts of ‘WHOA!’ . And when I landed I heard the kid who was up next yell ‘Oh my God!’. I also heard someone snap their fingers for some reason. The landing wasn’t perfect. I must have over-rotated because instead of the cool superman pose I had planned on, I was sprawled on the grass with dandelions in my teeth and ears. Not a big problem. I’d do better next time. I didn’t realize that there’d be no next time.
I got up to soak in the adulation of the other kids, but they had already moved on. I decided to sit on the edge of the nearby see-saw in case anyone wanted to come and ask how I managed to fly like that. For some reason, getting from the ground to my would be throne was a lot harder than it should have been. My right foot wasn’t cooperating. In fact, it was screaming for me to stop moving. I hobbled over and sat down as tears welled up in my eyes from the pain. I hobbled over and sat down as tears welled up in my eyes from the pain.I sat there for an hour. Partly trying to figure out why I couldn’t walk but mostly working out how to spin better the next time I jumped off the swing. Some kids yelled that a game of ‘Bombardment’ was about to start in the gym. Bombardment is basically dodgeball on steroids. We all loved it. And if enough of us got there fast enough, we’d be able to avoid the influx of older kids that always signaled the end of ‘fun’. I got up to run to the gym, and was immediately reminded that my foot was still off duty. It should have fixed itself by now. I wasn’t worried though. Superman never stayed hurt for too long, so I was positive that my malfunctioning foot would be better soon. I hopped on one leg to the gym. and each time my right foot even glazed the ground, a bolt of pain shot up my leg. By the time I made it to the gym, any thoughts of dodging rubber projectiles had fled my mind. Instead, I crawled to the top of the bleachers, and pretended to watch while fighting back the urge to cry for help.
Injustice: Gods Among Us succeeds where other superhero games have failed. No one wants to play a game as a superhero only to find out that your character’s powers are diminished for the sake of ‘balance’. It’s not fun to don a costume only to find out that you can be taken down by an average street thug. And it also avoids the traps that other fighting games fall into. It’s easy enough to learn, but not so convoluted that you need a guide book and months of practice to enjoy yourself. NetherRealm has done a fantastic job of allowing anyone the chance to feel how fun it would be to have superpowers, even if it’s only in a game.
By the time my mom was due to pick me up at 5:30pm, I had been in the bleachers for nearly 6 hours. It wouldn’t be until the next day that I would learn the snap I heard on landing was actually my ankle fracturing. I had no idea that I was destined to spend the next 6 weeks in a cast and crutches. I hopped to the car, dragging my useless foot behind me, each step an explosion of spikes slamming into my leg. I got in the car, shaking from the pain, and the first thing I said was ‘Ma, Today I was Superman!’
- Published in Playstation 3