Justice League: Heroes
Developer: Snowblind Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1-2
Words By:

One of the lesser-known comic teams were in fact a combination of some quite famous ones; The Justice League consisted of such DC favourites as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash and then some unknowns like Martian Manhunter, Zatanna and the Green Lantern. They keep an eye on the Earth from a handy base on the Moon called the Watchtower, like some kind of superhero Jehovah’s Witnesses.

In Justice League Heroes you’re given the chance to play as any of the super-people above but also several unlockable bit-players in a bid to stop the downright nasty nemesis Brainiac after he generally unleashes havoc on the Earth. The game plays as a top-down scrolling beat ‘em up with two heroes on-screen at all times, the other either controlled by the AI or a second player, meaning you can play through the game co-op with a friend!

Before I discovered who had developed Heroes the first thing my friend and I noticed about the game was that it felt and played a lot like the Baldur’s Gate series, although a little less “RPG” and a little more bright colours and button-bashing. The winding corridors of the Watchtower or Brainiac’s lair could easily be an old dungeon or ant hill, and some of the enemies were also drawing comparisons too; big apes and giant wasps wouldn’t look out of place in Norrath.

The gameplay isn’t too taxing; you have basic attacks and some characters can fly but the real fun comes in the special powers mapped to the buttons after holding down the L1 button, which include everything from Superman’s laser eyes to a super-fast pinball attack by the Flash. These become essential in some sections where you’re totally surrounded and also take the edge off the boss battles.

The combat, although simple is admittedly very fun, especially when playing co-op with a mate. If you’re one of the stronger characters you can pick up pretty much anything, from trucks to lamp posts and trees (even enemies themselves if you stun them!). Lots of things littering the area can be thrown or destroyed, making for a fun interactive world. The characters compliment each other; one usually being suited for close muscle-work while the other uses their powers from the background. The feeling that you’re controlling superheroes is definitely there and is great to rampage around the city with a mate stomping any baddie that moves!

Every time you defeat an enemy some crystals are released, and after you collect enough you’ll level up, giving you the chance to upgrade your health, power and special attacks. Other crystals are picked up from enemies which can be combined and linked to your attacks to boost their abilities further. Also scattered around the levels are ‘shields’, which can be used to buy new characters or new outfits for the current characters. These outfits not only look different but have an effect on your abilities - Wonder Woman’s biker outfit not only looks provocative but boosts her health at the expense of her ‘super power’, for example. It’s good to see an “unlockable” as common as alternate costumes that are actually worth buying!

The enemies don’t really vary all that much over the course of the game; you fight a lot of robots, bees, clones and apes. These never vary in their type and attacks, whatever form they take - one will shoot from a distance, one will use close combat and one will have a flame-thrower… surely great supervillains would make a little more effort to stop superheroes than chucking hundreds of idiots at them… Oh wait, they have!

If you think annihilating simple drones is too simple for you then Brainiac has sent out something harder to test you: Boss battles! I myself am not a fan of boss battles, as exactly in the case of Heroes they’re usually shoved in to make up for the lack of challenge in the main part of the game. That clearly doesn’t have to be the case as Shadow of Colossus brought true innovation to boss battles (by making them the main focus and actually fun to figure out how to kill) and made something often hated by gamers new and enjoyable.

The bosses in Heroes are simple but very time-consuming; you’ll figure out how to damage them inside of a minute and it’s just a case of going through the motions for another ten, praying that you don’t accidentally get hit by the boss and put out of your rhythm. One boss, the Bee Queen had some targeting laser which would follow you across the screen and launch missiles. Both of you would fly away as quickly as possible but the game doesn’t let you stray too far from each other and the lagging player always ends up getting hit. Great.

Another problem with Heroes is the uneven balance of the characters. As you would think, some superheroes are obviously more super than others: however many geeks argue that Batman couldn’t beat up Superman you have to admit that by being bulletproof, having laser eyes, light-speed travel and super strength make Superman a good bet.

In Heroes it’s more obvious - none of Batman’s specials do any real damage and Martian Manhunter’s not really one of the best characters either. On the other hand Zatanna, who looks like Hugh Hefner’s Magician, can shoot off a fireball which does quite a bit of damage and costs chuff-all ‘super-energy’ when levelled up, even though Batman could probably beat the tits off of her.

On the first few missions you don’t have a choice who to play as but as the game goes on the missions split into strands that occur at the same time, requiring three teams of two, usually. This means that the main characters will have already levelled up several times before you get the chance to use the extra ones you’ve bought (Huntress, Plastic Man etc). If you choose to use one of the extras you get screwed two-fold: they aren’t powerful enough to beat the enemies in the later levels and if they do happen to get through a level and power up then the other characters suffer, leaving you with a load of mid-power superheroes that can’t kill any of the big stuff.

Luckily we didn’t choose any of the slightly crap extra heroes and stuck to the main ones. This meant that as the game went on, especially with a couple of the characters, we were simply powering through the level taking hardly any damage at all, which is almost as frustrating as having underpowered heroes…

Justice League: Heroes is a competent beat ‘em up with a bit of a brain and some destructive flair. Apart from the X-Men game for Megadrive it’s the best comic book beat ‘em up I’ve played and it does go a long way to making you feel like you’re playing as a Superhero. Unfortunately the gameplay is rather restricted compared to something like Spider-Man and doesn’t vary all that much - without a friend to run the game through with you could find yourself getting bored quite quickly. Although it may not win any originality awards despite being released at a time when it shouldn’t be worthy of purchase (the PS3 looms ever nearer), Heroes is a game that’ll put a smile on your face with simple manly gameplay: smashing stuff. A lot of stuff.

Best Bits

- Feels like a Superhero game
- Great interactive environment
- Tidy graphics
- Fun super attacks
- Co-op mode
Worst Bits

- Gameplay gets a little stale, especially on your own
- Penalises you for playing as lesser-known characters
- Batman is pants

by: Crazypunk

Copyright © Gamecell 2006