This week, Morgan gets into the world of fighting games, most likely as a cry for help.

Like any shut-in, cosplaying nerd, I love Batman. And I especially love how he always wants to be taken seriously. But once you see him campy-ing it up with Scooby-Doo in those bizarre 1960s crossover episodes, the scales drop and you begin to realise just how ridiculous the concept really is.  Or, alternatively, when you seem him prancing around the screen with his cape billowing behind him during a match on Injustice 2.

The first game, Injustice: Gods Among Us, was released in 2013, but in retrospect, I’m surprised it didn’t come about earlier. Fighting games and superhero comics are a match made in specky git heaven: larger-than-life characters careering off each other and breaking enough bone to pave a gravel driveway with the fragments.

The story is smeared across the first game and an entire comic series, but those of you with a social life would likely appreciate the condensed version. Really, the only bit you need to know is that the Joker tricks Superman into killing his fiancée and personal squeeze Lois Lane (who isn’t even considered important enough to have an actual physical presence) before also nuking Metropolis. All in the same afternoon. Superman ends up establishing a dictatorship, believing that humanity needs force in order for crime to be stopped, whilst Batman maintains that this essentially equates to becoming tyrannical overlords. Oh, and Wonder Woman also turns evil, despite having none of the motivation or reasoning Superman had. Both sides of the argument attract a certain entourage of other heroes, resulting in a form of superhero civil war. That’s the Injustice part.

But to this day, I’m yet to grasp where the Gods part is coming from. Yes, Superman has a flashy set of eye lasers and rockin’ abs, but the Man of Steel might as well be the Man of Wet Tissue once you actually get into a match. Both fighters will have a similar amount of health and the ability to deal the same amount of damage, so it doesn’t matter that you’re from Krypton when you could just as well be from Birmingham or something.

Alternatively, here’s the condensed version of the condensed version: it’s a fighting game and they need an excuse to forcefully contrive a ten-minute smackdown between each cutscene. The only real development in Injustice 2 plot-wise is that a new threat arrives on Earth in the form of alien conqueror Brainiac, so Batman join up with Superman and his cronies to stop this all-knowing unwanted immigrant who’s all mighty and invincible until he inevitably isn’t.

Here’s the hot new edition in regards to gameplay: cosmetics. Not costumes. Cosmetics. Costumes are when you can dress Superman up like a giant Twix bar and laugh at his new tinfoil cape. Cosmetics are when this game gives you three slots to place near-unseeable gadgets onto a fighter, meaning the Flash has some extra tight pants this time around. There’s not even any real choice about what to put on either; each cosmetic has statistics, meaning that you have to change it around as you go up through the levels so you aren’t completely pulverised by a level-fifty Gorilla Grodd wearing the Evil Pants of Supreme Redundancy.

My first experience with Injustice 2 was a good couple of years ago, but if you’re new on the fighting game scene like I was at the time, your situation is likely to be similar: forgetting every move the tutorial tosses at you like bricks through a window three nanoseconds after seeing them, then just praying that the blood and teeth are coming out of your opponent instead of you. Occasionally, your enemy might also make a gesture about a pixel wide and you’ll be launched into the stratosphere, giving you plenty of time to wonder just what the fuck that was and how you were expected to avoid it.

All in all, going into a match with the difficulty set anywhere above “limbless paraplegic” without having the moves tagged on-screen packs all the rib-snorting fun of walking blindfolded in a display room full of coffee tables. There I was, going from fight to fight, switching between what I swear to God where the most boring characters in the entire roster and not having much fun – who buys a DC brawler to play as Blue Beetle, for crying out loud – but this all changed when I was tried out the pick-your-own fighter tower mode and was able to play as the Joker.

Why, you may ask?

Two reasons: one, his abilities are large and theatrical enough for me to actually be able to read his movements, and two, he has this one move I like to call the “crowbar sandwich”. He charges at the enemy with his crowbar held high (it becomes unblockable if you do it from a distance) and smashes them into the dirt at least three times. It’s the only move in the game that I felt had any real weight or force behind it, the rhythmic pounding of steel against someone’s skull making my trousers tighten in satisfaction and giving me material that I’ll definitely able to disturb my future therapist with.

Injustice 2 was published by Nether Realm, the studio of long-standing Mortal Kombat fame, and it clearly shows in how they seem to mute themselves with near-visible resentment as they tone the violence back and keep the lower age rating. The first game had some fairly dark bits in it, but it was all off-camera or implied. True, it would have been unusual to see Batman suddenly forgo his whole no-killing rule in favour of castrating Aquaman with his own trident, but they couldn’t have put a bit more blood behind the punches at least?

One last thing I need to put on the record, lest coronavirus evolves to deliver a paralysing mindwipe upon the population and we repeat old mistakes: the “super moves” are dumb. Fill a meter by getting the shit kicked out of you and activate it when its full to unleash a pre-animated light show, where your character of choice gets a massive chunk of damage in, scot-free. Advantages include a few seconds to reset your finger bones or hurry into the kitchen because you forgot to turn the oven off. But you can gruellingly whittle away at your opponent and finally feel like you’re getting somewhere, only for the post-match banter to involve “man, I really thought you had him up until the point where he activated his super move and psychic beamed you to death whilst you could only look on helplessly!”

Just play 2019’s Mortal Kombat 11 if you want a good Nether Realm fighting game, because it’s a more recent release that’s pretty much better in every way. Depressing that I have to explicitly state this when the fact should already be a given, but by doing so you feel less like the developers are being denied their playtime by a stern grandmother with a rolling pin. Not to mention you’re actually free to choose what cosmetics you want to wear and don’t have to worry about Johnny Cage being pummelled into a mulch so thin he can be transported home between two slices of bread.