We love our superheroes—from the average-folk-with-powers on TV’s red hot hit, Heroes, to the spandex-clad box office behemoth Spider-Man, we just can’t get enough of these world-saving wonders.
But the cape and cowl crowd is no longer content to simply conquer the big and small screens, as our video game consoles are now being infiltrated by our super friends as never before. Sure, comic-based games have been around almost as long as video games themselves, but the steadily increasing quality of these titles is finally erasing the memories of such kryptonite-cursed efforts as the abysmal Superman 64 (Nintendo 64) or, more recently, Aquaman: Battle for Atlantis on the Xbox.
In this week’s review section, we take a look at two titles that make us proud to pull on our tights, fasten our capes, and pick up our game pads.
JUSTICE LEAGUE HEROES Warner Bros. Interactive (Xbox, PS2)
Based on DC Comic’s rich universe of caped crusaders, Justice League Heroes earns points for offering every comic book fan’s dream pairing of Superman and Batman in this genre-triple-threat that combines action, adventure, and RPG elements. While this save-the-day duo is the most recognizable of JLH’s comic book crew, other faves—such as Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and The Flash—also join the crime-fighting fray.
Players can’t choose their ultimate pairing from the get-go, but as they progress through the game, they’ll unlock the option to create their dream team and switch between any of their characters on the fly. This adds a nice dose of strategy, as you’re continuously challenged to pick the best team based on their powers to take on Brainiac and his minions.
Progressing through the story also allows you to tweak your cowl-wearing crew with abilities and powers that are specific to their comic counterparts. You’ll toss flash bombs as Batman, wield Wonder Woman’s golden lasso, and run like the dickens as The Flash. And flying folk, such as Superman and Martian Manhunter, get their own skyward levels.
JLH sports some slick explosion and water effects, as well as cool destructible environments that’ll have you tossing cars and buses as real Supes.
While the heroes deliver the justice-dealing goods, JLH suffers slightly with formulaic foes and familiar level design. The visuals also take a hit, looking a bit dated next to the prettier next-gen stuff.
Overall, JLH serves up a fast and fun dungeon crawling-like experience drenched with superhero style. It supports a solid single-player game and an even better play-with-a-friend co-operative mode. It also oozes fan service with unlockable costumes, characters, and an appreciation for some of DC’s lesser known heroes such as Zatanna and Hawkgirl. Don’t retire that Xbox or PS2 just yet, as JLH is a superhero-sized ride for comic fanboys and casual cape-wearers alike.
MARVEL: ULTIMATE ALLIANCE Activision (Xbox 360, PS3, Nintendo Wii)
DC Comics isn’t the only one with an enormous cape and codpiece dry cleaning bill. Rival comic giant, Marvel, sports their own stable of super-powered stars, and many of them—over a whopping 140 in fact (just over 20 are actually playable)—appear in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance.
This genre-mixing offering—actually similar to JLH in many ways—comes from Activision, the publisher that’s already honed their heroic chops on several popular X-Men and Spider-Man games. MUA’s over-the-top roster sports lots of familiar spandex-clad fighters as well as many that’ll only be truly appreciated by the comic convention-going masses. The likes of Spider-Man and Wolverine will be instantly recognizable to anyone who’s seen a summer movie in the last five years, but the allure of peripheral characters such as Ms. Marvel and Spider-Woman will likely be lost on most gamers.
Regardless of whose boots you step into, though, the fast-paced action, intense boss battles, and dead-on likenesses and animations of the heroes and their unique powers—taking out Dr. Doom’s henchmen with Captain America’s shield is just plain cool—make this one hard to put down.
RPG-style leveling and plenty of secret unlockables add to the power-packed package with lots of customization options. The button-mashing action does get a bit monotonous, and the story seems an afterthought, but the next-gen visuals and the addictive offline and online co-op (for up to four players) overshadow these minor flaws.
Whether you’re a hardcore comic geek or just a gamer who appreciates addictive rapid-fire action, MUA should get your cape all aflutter.