The Justice League has had a rough time in videogames. The last time they appeared on home consoles was way back on the Genesis and Super Nintendo in Justice League Task Force, a 2D fighter that was about as fun as clipping your nails. After the new Justice League cartoon started a few years back, the DC heroes popped in a couple of less than interesting sidescrollers on the Gameboy Advance and while a console version was planned for Gamecube, PS2, and Xbox, it was never completed. Here in the wide-eyed world of 2006 however, with Justice Leaguers appearing left and right in successful Hollywood movies and DC selling more comic books than they have in years thanks to well publicized events like Infinite Crisis, the JLA is ready for another shot at the realm of digital entertainment with their own big budget action RPG, Justice League Heroes. With a roster that includes the most recognizable comicbook icons in pop history and veteran action RPG developer Snowblind Studios, is Justice League Heroes as mighty an adventure as it would seem to be? Close to it but not quite unfortunately.
With every bit of JLH that’s executed perfectly, there’s a little bit that’s clumsy and just plain bad. For every one of the games ten or so missions, players take control of two Justice Leaguers from an initial roster that includes Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, the Martian Manhunter, and semi-obscure magician Zatanna. This is a solid core team for a Justice League game, but its versatility is limited by the fact that the player is rarely given the chance to choose who they’ll use in any given level. Icons are collected throughout each level that allow for additional characters to be unlocked but once they are a user rarely gets a chance to use them at all. And with as diverse a collection of characters as the Justice League has featured across nearly fifty years of being in print, it’s somewhat sad to see that there isn’t more interesting choices even amongst the unlockables. Does the game really need three Green Lanterns, all with the same abilities?
The gameplay itself is also a mix of good and bad. Snowblind’s penchant for a slower paced but accessible action RPG is on display here but unfortunately just doesn’t fit the license that surrounds it. Each level is a basic dungeon crawl: each hero has weak and strong attacks alongside five accessible super powers and they use these to batter a number of robots, monsters, and aliens. The basic action is quite satisfying but occasionally loose and floaty. It never quite feels like you’re actually hitting your enemies. The powers are nice and character specific, well matched with an accessible and easy to understand upgrade system. Despite this though, once leveled up, the characters aren’t well differentiated from one another outside of their powers. Zatanna can hit just as hard as Superman and Superman can be damaged just as easily as Zatanna. In any other game, this might be acceptable, but the very nature of these characters makes it unforgivable.
Presentation wise, JLH does quite well for itself. The graphics are smooth and show all the polish, if not the flare, a final generation game on the Playstation 2 should, and the voice acting is excellent on the whole (Batman’s voice in particular is excellent, every bit as detached and calm as it should be.) The soundtrack however is a little on the bland side. And that’s really the whole story for Justice League Heroes; some of it works, some of it doesn’t. For action RPG fans that also dig their superheroes, there are other fish in the sea. For fans of the Justice League though, this is the best game in town, even if it is the only one.