You'd think superheroes and video games would be a match made in heaven. However, games that are based on comic book heroes rarely live up to expectations. That's certainly the case with Justice League Heroes for the Nintendo DS. This 3D beat-'em-up game lets you control four of DC Comics' most popular characters, but it also homogenizes their superpowers to such an extent that you never get to experience what makes each individual character unique. On top of that, the bland levels, cookie-cutter enemies, and the overall half-hearted presentation make the game feel less like the superhero homage it ought to be and more like a generic hack job.
A flimsy plot focuses on the travails of four Justice League members as they track down a mysterious mastermind that has plunged the world into chaos with a two-pronged attack of killer robots and mind-controlled superbeings. Character selection is sometimes limited by events that happen in the story, but you generally have the pick between Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and The Flash. The game is broken up into roughly a dozen missions that contain 40-or-so separate areas, which all together take about four or five hours to get through. Beyond that, you can always go back and replay individual missions or kill some time with the two minigames that unlock after you complete the main quest. The 3D top-viewed environments are packed with robot enemies, which you need to fight while seeking out checkpoints and accomplishing optional collecting tasks. The environments aren't terribly expansive, however, and there isn't much to do in them except for smashing decorative scenery and fighting the robots that appear. You don't have to worry about jumping over gaps or pushing switches, because the checkpoints are clearly labeled on the map. And the optional tasks are never more complex than finding or destroying a few objects per level. By and large, this game is all about pummeling robots with the four superheroes.
It's unfortunate that fighting is the game's main emphasis, because the enemies and the heroes are painfully generic. The same robot enemies are carbon copied dozens of times per level, and they don't do much more than hobble toward you and toss an energy blast every few seconds. You'll encounter brainwashed supervillains and heroes at the end of some levels, but beating them requires nothing more than firing projectile attacks and running away to let your power meter refill. Worst of all, the four heroes are functionally identical. They each have their own melee, super melee, and ranged attacks, as well as a unique superhero special power. And although these skills look different, they all lead to the same effects, regardless of which character you use. You can swap between your two chosen characters at any time by tapping an icon on the touch screen. Because they're functionally identical, there's no incentive to do so except when one is running low on health and you want to give the character a break. Another icon lets you call in one of six other Justice League members to put up a brief shield, give a health boost, or fire a few projectiles at nearby enemies. Those support cameos inject a hint of flair into what is otherwise level after level of mindlessly punching the same robots over and over again.
The halfhearted presentation further drags things down. Although it's far from a 3D powerhouse, the Nintendo DS can do better than the sparse environments and chunky characters this game doles out. Environments are laid out with flat streets, as well as rectangular walls and buildings. And apart from the flashing lights on some overturned police cars, there's nothing going on in them visually. Because of the ridiculously low polygon count and ugly textures, everything looks blocky and distorted. The tightly zoomed top-view camera angle doesn't help either. Familiar characters, such as the Justice League members and key bosses, are reasonably detailed, but the robots you encounter hundreds of times throughout the game resemble green and brown clumps. Animations are clunky and stiff, which makes sense for the robots. But it's disturbing to see living characters like Superman and Batman jerking from one attack motion to the next and walking as if they're underwater. Outside of gameplay, the nondescript menus, static conversation scenes, and text-only dialogue convey the impression that not a lot of time or money went into the game's production. There's no spoken dialogue whatsoever, not even short snippets for the characters to utter while fighting. For what it's worth, the punch-heavy sound effects and dramatic music come across like the sort of stuff you'd hear while watching one of the Justice League cartoons.
Justice League Heroes for the Nintendo DS is a prime example of why video games that are based on superheroes get such a bad rap. You may think you're bringing home a game that lets you play as your favorite Justice League characters. But in reality, all you're getting is a generic, mediocre beat-'em-up game that has been decorated with some logos and still-frame pictures to make the product seem legitimate.