Retro Review: Justice League Heroes (Sony PSP)

Retro Review: Justice League Heroes (PSP)
Justice League Heroes
Publisher: Warner Bros.
Developer: Snowblind Studios
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: 11/22/2006

I picked JLH up a few weeks ago for ten dollars used at an EB in Fairfax, VA. I had my Edge card and a 25% off used PSP games coupon and they stacked so I decided to try the game. After all, Snowblind studios gave us Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 2 which was our 2004 RPG of the year. I also liked Activision’s Marvel: Ultimate Alliance and have always preferred DC to Marvel, so I decided to drop the ten spot.

Let me just say this. My Justice League is not the big 7 that are featured in this game. My league is Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Fire, Ice, Mister Miracle, Guy Gardner and Rocket Red. I understand however, that this won’t sell games, so I’m fine with that. Except for the Guy bit as they included every other GL from earth but the awesome one.

So how does the game hold up a year and a half after it came out? Does the game pale compared to M:UA, or do we finally have a quality DC based game for the first time since the NES Batman?

Let’s Review

1. Story

Oh my god awful. The dialogue and the basic script are amongst the worst I have ever seen. Holy god awful. Supposedly Dwayne McDuffie wrote this, and looking at his craptastic run on the current Justice League comic, I can believe it. I’ve always thought the guy was an awful writer, and this pretty much cements it.

The entire game revolves around a hackneyed plot where the League spends most of the game fighting an army of robots created by Braniac with the occasional super villain making an appearance. Pretty crappy bad guys too. Killer Frost? The Key? White Martians? Ick. Oh, and a horde of Doomsday clones that can be beaten down by the fists of Batman. Ooookay then.

Basically Braniac is manipulating the league into fighting all these other bad guys while he gathers a bunch of items and a Mother Box to release Darkseid, who promptly kills him and tries to kill the JLA. The Mother Box however somehow turns Darkseid’s Omega Beams into a teleportation ray which takes the League to an evil dimension filled with more generic monsters. They return and beat up Darkseid and the world lives happily ever after. The End.

Ugh. There is so much crap here that I don’t know where to start. Where is Despero or the Joker or some A level villains? Why are there so many generic bad guys that have never appeared in comics and never will again? Marvel Ultimate Alliance at least gave you real comic based generics like Hydra and A.I.M.

Wading through the plot was a horrible chore. It was basically a two dimensional excuse for the never ending beat ’em up levels of the game. Each super hero had little to no resemblance to their usual personalities. It was just a disaster through and through. Why is it so hard to write the plot for a DS characters video game. Christ, MIDWAY will probably do a better job with their Mortal Kombat crossover then this.

Story Rating: Dreadful

2. Graphics

The game is passable, but definitely nowhere near what I would call quality visuals. Most of the backgrounds are static and generic. The same can be said for every character in the game. You can slightly zoom in on what is going on, but all the generics are badly designed and lack any real detail. They’re just moving blobs on the screen for the most part. Only the super heroes are passable, and even then it’s only on the character customization screen where you get a good look at them.

The only really positive things I can say about the graphics are that you can unlock some nice costume changes like the Blue/Grey Batman with the yellow oval (My preferred look for him) and some Earth-2 characters like Kal-L and Jay Garrick. Nice touches.

The cut scenes again are okay, but pretty average fare. I thought Dark Alliance had crisper and better animated characters whereas the CGI in JLH was very muted and pale. The appearances of Killer Frost and Braniac were way off from their usual appearance, and not in a good way. Only Darkseid looked properly imposing.

This game would be a killer Playstation ONE game graphics, but as a PS2/PSP/Xbox game? Not so much.

Graphics Rating: Mediocre

3. Sound

This is easily the best aspect of Justice League Heroes. The voice work is phenomenal and we had some A-list actors voicing the Justice League. Crispin Freeman as Superman? Ron Perlman as Batman? Newsradio’s Vicki Lewis? These are some quality actors and the voice acting saved the script and the game for me.

Sure you don’t hear a lot of the acting save for the occasional quip in battle or when you level up, but the CGi cut scenes do allow the actors to shine.

The music is quite good too. The entire score has a very epic feel to it and helps to set the tone of the game. Whenever you roll your eyes at another horde or white winged flappy things or robots wielding flamethrowers or Martians with kryptonite lasers, the music reminds you that you’re playing as the World’s Greatest Heroes.

Too bad the rest of the game wasn’t as good as the aural bits.

Sound Rating: Great

4. Control and Gameplay

Wow. This game is bad. Just plain bad. I can’t believe these are the same guys that did the DA games.

First up – aiming. Don’t even bother. With a lot of characters attacking also involves moving, which means trying to do combos ends with you attacks past your opponent. DUMB. Distance attacks are just as worse. Just TRY aiming Superman’s heat vision at a moving target and watch how bad the controls get. Same with Batman’s batarangs. In fact, the only character that seems to be able to aim properly is Zatanna with her fireballs and that’s simply because the computer autolocks that in. I was shocked at how poorly combat was done as it is about fifty percent button mashing and fifty percent cranking on the analog stick to keep the characters aim in check.

Next we have camera angles, which aren’t so horrible, but I hate the lack of a true quality zoom in and the fact that the camera gets wonky if you do a U-turn with your characters.

Third up is speed. Why the hell isn’t the Flash naturally faster than the other characters? Why is flying so god awful slow compared to WALKING. This makes no sense! This is horrible! This is the slowest moving action RPG I’ve ever played.

Let’s round this out with the bugs. There are some huge ass bugs in the game. A perfect example was the second and final battle you have with Braniac. At one point Braniac started running around in circles and I could do no damage to him. I figured I’d just kill myself and end it. Oh no. I could take damage either. Somehow the game got so glitched up that it was stuck in an endless loop. I had no choice but to reset the damn game. I would encounter the retarded “character runs in a circle” glitch often, but thankfully it was mostly confined to my AI controlled partner. Nothing like seen Martian Manhunter holding a tree and walking in circles for several minutes until I moved my control over to him and then back to Zatanna so that I could actually PLAY THE GAME.

I liked the idea of the two player co-op and I’m sure with the Xbox and PS2 it’s a lot of fun. Trying to find someone on the PSP version? I DIDN’T, thus I was stuck with my massively retarded AI.

Other than these astounding errors, the game is pretty much your typical snowblind action RPG but without the creative monsters, level designs of true customization. Here the leveling up is scaled back a lot, featuring only ten options to allocated level up points to. Six of these are powers, while the other three are your combat, health, recovery, and energy points. Compared this to DA2 where you have 3 times this number.

Oh, you can also collect shields to unlock new characters and extra costumes. I love this idea but of course it is heavily flawed. First of all, 85% of the game has you stuck with specific characters on specific levels. This means who you play as is limited. The unlockable characters can only be used on rare occasions, meaning they are fundamentally worthless. As well, you pretty much have to use the 7 characters the game starts you off with as they need the experience from each level or they are severely fucked when you are forced to use them again. I encountered this with John Stewart as I refused to ever use him and would go with the better balanced unlockable Green Arrow instead. Then it came to a late game mission where I had to use Stewart and Martian Manhunter. MM was level 11. Stewart was level FIVE. So of course he died pretty quickly. Mainly because even though I set his AI to defensive, he charged into a battle with 5 monsters and punched them instead of using his damn ring. Arrgh.

The game is playable. Obviously I beat the game, but it’s pretty damn awful. Eventually you adapt to the gameplay issues, but you never enjoy it.

Control and Gameplay: Bad

5. Replayability

With unlockable characters, costumes, and post game missions, there’s a lot you can do with the game. If a friend also has the JLH UMD, you can play a co-op game together, which has to be better than then computer AI controlled partner.

As well, you can’t get enough shields to unlock everything your first time through. I got Black Canary, Green Arrow, Aquaman, Kyle Rayner and alt costumes for Wonder Woman, Zatanna, Batman and Superman. That was it. If you want everything, you’ll have to play through a second time (Oh god no) or use a code.

Lots to do if you are a completist. The controls through make it hard to WANT to.

Replayability Rating: Above Average

6. Balance

Oh Christ. I believe I’ve already talked about the computer AI issues, the ally controlled AI issues and the level issues that occur if you dare to try someone other than the main 7 characters. Sadly, there’s more.

The very first boss battle in the game, against Braniac is harder than any other battle in the game. It’s not just because of the controls, but because your AI controlled partner is an idiot and will end up dead before the battle is over. As well, the battle is a double header, meaning you fight Braniac twice in a row without a health replenish. All the other battles, including Dakrseid and the second Braniac encounter are cakewalks compared to this one.

Besides the dysfunctional AI, there comes into play the matter of Boosts. Boosts are randomly earned throughout the game and there are many types ranging from range to luck to damage to duration boosts. You can mix and match boosts to create bigger, more powerful boosts. Honestly, it’s way too easily to manipulate these to where your energy costs is next to nothing and the damage is insane. They make the game far too easy, and as it is already monotonous due to the lack of innovation or interesting enemies, this makes it all the worse.

Finally none of the heroes are balanced. Zatanna stands out as the most powerful character in every way. She can cast an invulnerability spell, a healing spell and super fast fireballs that if you boost correctly are doing 600 points of damage for an energy cost of about 30. This puts her into a level of Godhood none of the other characters can touch, so why bother using them.

Below here are Flash and Superman. Flash’s pinball attack is his only really good move, but pumped up properly it is insanely powerful. The same holds true for Superman. He’s is massively powerful and filled to the brim with hit points. His heat vision hits from the other side of the screen and even off the screen most times. His only problem is aiming. Wonder Woman and Batman make up the second to last tier and Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter are fundamentally worthless due to the time it takes their special attacks to actually work.

In all, the game really could have used some crucial playtesting. Everything possible is broken, often in exact opposite ways. This is truly a perfect example of a clusterfuck.

Balance Rating: Worthless

7. Originality

Take everything that was good from the Dark Alliance games and remove it. That’s Justice League Heroes. Everything from the story to the gameplay reeks of cliches and half-assing it. Sadly, it’s still the best Justice League game ever made.

I’m being nice and giving it some points for the use of Kyle, Ollie, Dinah, and Zatanna – all of whom I don’t have ever appeared in a video game before.

Originality Rating: Bad

8. Addictiveness

God help me, I just kept playing through this. I hated this game, but I loved DC comics as a kid and just wanted this to be good so badly, I kept playing. I wanted a good DC based video game. I liked the voice work and playing as Zatanna, but I hated everything else. It was such a kick to the balls. I remember the game coming out when Marvel: Ultimate Alliance did, and how much I enjoyed that game. You would think a developer I like plus comic characters I prefer would equal a better game, but you’d be wrong.

Yet I kept playing.

If you like a monotonous beat ’em up with long stretches between leveling up, then you’ll probably get into this. For me it was more a, “It’ll get better. It has to get better.”

Welcome to the current state of DC Comics. Thanks Didio.

Addictiveness Rating: Mediocre

9. Appeal Factor

Fans of DC comics that are also casual gamers will probably enjoy this title simply because you get to see some of your favorite characters break stuff for hours dipping into the double digits. Other than that? No one. It’s just a poorly made game through and through.

Appeal Factor Rating: Bad

10. Miscellaneous

A few extra points here for including some PSP exclusive playable characters in Supergirl (Linda Danvers version) and Black Canary. Of course M:UA gave us Hawkeye, Genis-Vell, Echo and Black Widow as its PSP exclusives. Twice as many characters and Hawkeye alone makes it the superior game. I was really disappointed with this game, even when I only paid ten dollars for it. Marvel gets the better video games, while DC gets the better cartoons. It appears it will always be as such.

I honestly can’t think of a single thing other then the aural aspects that this game did right. The game isn’t bad, but it’s by no means good or even middle of the road. It’s a huge letdown in every way there is a huge flaw with every single aspect of the game.

Shame on you Snowblind and Warner Bros. for letting this pass. Here’s hoping the Xbox and PS2 versions weren’t as hideous. Thanks for the extra content I guess.

Miscellaneous Rating: Poor

The Scores
Story: Dreadful
Graphics: Mediocre
Sound: Great
Control and Gameplay: Bad
Replayability: Above Average
Balance: Worthless
Originality: Bad
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Bad
Miscellaneous: Poor
FINAL SCORE: POOR GAME

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