After seeing the success Activision has had with the Marvel Legends series it only makes sense that DC Comics would want a piece of the action/RPG pie. Justice League Heroes is a good attempt at the formula, but there’s something about its repetitive game play and terrible AI that keeps it from doing these famous comic book characters the justice they deserve.
In case you are new to the superhero game (or only read Marvel comics); the Justice League is a group of do-gooders that stop evil in its tracks and lives on the Moon. This group of heroes is made up of some of seven of DC’s most popular characters, including Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, and Zatanna. Each of these characters has their own unique powers, and when they come together there is no power that can stop them.
Our story begins soon after a football-sized meteor hits the United States. Superman and Batman are there to leap into action as suddenly there’s a major surge in weird occurrences, such as robots attacking Metropolis and killer bees making a mess of everything. Could these events be connected to this strange space rock? As you progress through the story we learn that Superman’s nemesis, Brainiac, is behind all of this chaos and doing everything in his power to get control of that mysterious meteor.
From there things go from bad to worse, and the Super Friends (er, Justice League) will have to fight their way through nearly a dozen stages in order to win back control of that rock and ultimately save the world. In true comic book style, Justice League Heroes offers a crazy over-the-top story that is perfect for this type of game.
As you might imagine, Justice League Heroes has a large stable of villains to pull from. This means that you are constantly battling new enemies and bosses, a few of which are actually pretty impressive looking. Unfortunately I was unfamiliar with a lot of the boss characters, but that may have more to do with my inexperience with the DC comic books than anything. By the end of the game you will have to battle The Key, Killer Frost, Doomsday, Gorilla Grodd and more. While I would have loved to have seen a few more characters I remembered from the Superman and Batman comics, the bosses found in this game are still a lot of fun to battle.
Justice League Heroes is developed by Snowblind Studios, who are best known for titles such as Champions of Norrath and Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance. Despite the fact that none of the Justice Leaguers carry swords and shields, fans of Snowblind’s previous efforts will no doubt feel right at home with this game. In reality this is nothing more than your standard dungeon crawler with superheroes inserted where orcs and elves used to be. In true action/RPG fashion, every level features your superheroes being swarmed by dozens (if not hundreds) of enemies.
Speaking of the action/RPG formula, Justice League Heroes also allows you to level up your superheroes to make them even more impressive. As you beat up the various bad guys they will drop little green orbs, collect enough of them and you’ll level up your hero. You will also be able to collect “boost” items, little things you can pick up and use to customize your character. Figuring out how to mix and match these boosts plays an important role in the game and will make the adventure a lot less frustrating.
Along with the experience orbs and the six different kinds of boosts, players will also be able to track down hidden shield icons. These icons allow you to buy certain things in the game, such as new costumes and new characters. While you start the game with seven heroes, if you collect enough shield icons you will be able to buy several new characters, such as Aquaman, the Green Lantern, Hawkgirl and the Huntress. This gives you a good incentive to carefully cover every inch of the levels, and may even give you a reason to go through the adventure a second or third time.
Each character has two basic attacks, one strong and one weak. You can use the two buttons to form combos, but for the most part you will just be button mashing throughout the entire game. Along with these regular moves, every character has five different special moves. These moves depend entirely on who you are playing as, and a lot of the special attacks make a lot of sense for each character. For example, Batman has a lot of cool toys to play around with, like the batarangs and a grappling claw. While Superman has heat vision, super breath and a cool flying strike. These different attacks are cool for the most part, but it would have been nice to see more of an emphasis put on these abilities.
Unfortunately I can say the same thing about the regular attacks, too. It’s nice that they give us two different buttons to press, but so much of the game seems like you’re just hitting the same buttons over and over. It doesn’t take long before the game play starts to feel repetitive and you begin to notice how shallow everything is. The combos are a nice touch, but there aren’t very many of them and a lot of them can be done by pure accident.
Bringing a second player along is a great way of curbing some of the repetition. In a lot of ways the game feels like it was designed specifically as a two-player experience, and there’s no doubt that this is the preferably way of playing the game. What is especially nice is that you won’t have to start the game over in order to bring a second player into the action; at any point in the game you can pause the action and add or subtract a second player, making for seamless integration.
Don’t worry if you’re the type of person that nobody wants to hang out with, if you can’t find somebody to play the game with you the computer has you covered. Unfortunately there is no substitution for a real person, and the computer-controlled character will prove that time and time again. In the early levels you won’t notice how bad the computer’s AI is, but as you progress through the game this flaw will definitely become more apparent. For the most part the computer-controlled character will fight off bad guys and follow you as you travel through the different levels. But sometimes the character will lose his or her sense of direction; they will get stuck around corners or just not move anywhere. Usually this isn’t that big of a deal since you can just travel ahead and they’ll warp, but it’s sometimes frustrating when you’re in the middle of a large fight. I also found that the computer-controlled character will sometimes jump into a fight he has no chance of winning, which means that you will likely have to go back to the checkpoint marker to revive them more than you would like to. Thankfully you can change how aggressive the AI character is, but even then you will find them doing a lot of stupid stuff. The bottom line is that the game is just more fun with a second person.
The game itself is actually pretty long; you and a friend will be at the story mode for a good ten to twelve hours before you reach the final boss. While that’s probably a lot shorter than your typical role-playing game, it feels like the perfect lengthy for this type of comic book-inspired story. While the plot is interesting, it doesn’t really pick up until the last four or five levels. By the time you’ve reached the end boss you will gone through a full rollercoaster ride. The game does play on a few too many comic book trappings (including a few “surprises” that you can see coming a mile away), but it’s still fun to see what happens to Superman, Batman and the rest of the gang as they do their best to save the world.
The game is presented in an overhead view much like Champions of Norrath and other similar dungeon crawlers. The game’s angle isn’t that big of a deal, but I noticed that it has a funny way of making these super human characters look small and unimpressive. They are still performing amazing acts, but when you’re so far above the action you never really get a sense of how incredible they really are. This overhead camera angle is especially limiting when you’re playing characters who can fly, the fact that Superman can only get about twenty feet off the ground is actually quite absurd when you think about it.
Perhaps it’s because of the camera’s position, but the graphics in Justice League Heroes are generally unremarkable. There are a few cool looking backgrounds and the cinemas are worth watching, but the game itself has something of a dated look. Thankfully the presentation picks up a bit towards the end, there are a few bosses that actually made me sit up and notice. I’m not sure if that’s because the rest of the graphics are so dull or something else, but whatever the reason it’s good to see that some attention was put into the final few stages.
The voice acting fares a bit better than the graphics. Snowblind Studios has done a good job of mixing recognizable actors with a lot of no-name talent that gives the script their all. The cast includes both Ron Perlman and Michael Jai White, two actors that already have experience playing popular comic book characters (as Hellboy and Spawn, respectively). Despite the fact that I had never heard of any of the other actors in Justice League Heroes, they all did a good job with what they had to work with. Some of the writing is a bit on the hokey side, but it’s on par with the kind of thing you get in your traditional comic book. Thankfully the one-liners are kept to a minimum and the tone of the game is kept on a serious level.
There is a lot to like in Justice League Heroes, especially if you have a friend who doesn’t mind spending some time beating up crazy enemies with you. The game doesn’t push the system to its limits and it can be a bit on the repetitive side, but it’s also a lot of fun in the same way that all of those classic dungeon crawlers are fun. Hopefully this is just the beginning of the Heroes franchise, if this game is any indication then there’s a lot of potential for future installments. If you’re the type of person that has always wanted to play with Superman, Batman and all of DC’s other classic characters then this game is right up your alley, you could do a lot worse than Justice League Heroes.