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Four-Color Fisticuffs: The Good, The Bad, and The Budget

With holidays fast approaching and the next-gen console arms race now well and truly joined by all parties, there are, no doubt, those who are still looking for some quality last-gen game goodness. As long as you’re shopping to soothe your geek tendencies, look to double up and indulge in multiple dorktacular obsessions simultaneously. To assist you in the endeavor, we offer a glimpse of three comic-driven videogames available on hardware that won’t require camping outside your local Best Buy or selling a kidney on eBay.

The Budget – Teen Titans (PS2, Xbox, GC, GBA)

As a comic property, I was always a bit lukewarm on the Teen Titans. Miniature versions of real heroes with an occasional sidekick thrown in for good measure just didn’t really compel me to pick up issues (though George Perez did his damnedest to compel my pre-pubescent self to buy them with Starfire and Raven). That aside, the animated series has been pretty consistently entertaining and provides an interesting bit of levity that the comic stories never managed. The heavily anime-influenced Titans ‘toon was a no-brainer for translation to the console realm.

Unfortunately, the game just isn’t that much fun. Combat is extremely repetitive after the first hour or so, and the total storyline can be played through in a dozen hours, tops. The versus mode is a good bit of fun, especially with the absolutely massive number of playable characters, but even it gets stale pretty quickly. Fans of the series will dig the game’s light-hearted story and approach, though, making it a solid rental for even casual fans of the beat-em-up game genre. The other huge point in the game’s favor is its budget price. There’s a lot of game here for $20.

Buy it from Amazon for the PS2, or the Xbox, or the Gamecube, or the GameBoy Advance.

The Bad – Justice League Heroes (Xbox, PS2, DS, PSP)

Perhaps inspired by the success of Raven Software’s X-Men Legends line, DC gets into the action RPG act. Teaming up with Snowblind Studios (creators of the excellent Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance games) was a promising start. Unfortunately, the game just doesn’t deliver as polished an experience as either the Baldur’s Gate or X-Men Legends games. This entry to the action-RPG superhero genre might have been better received had it come out a few years ago, alongside, say, the original Legends title. As it is, it just looks like nobody has paid any attention to the critiques and complaints about those earlier games, and proceeded directly to making the same mistakes.

My chief complaint is with the characters themselves. If tasked to name the seven core members of the Justice League, how many folks would pick Zatanna? Granted, you can acquire Aquaman, Green Arrow, Huntress, and Hawkgirl through gameplay, but still. The game’s other unlockables consist of alternate costumes for the various characters (though for some reason they decided to classify two other Green Lanterns as “new characters” as opposed to alternate costumes). This gives you a mediocre total of eleven playable characters (thirteen if you count Hal Jordan and Kyle Rayner as “bonus characters”). Even this might be okay if all the characters were well-balanced and fun to play, but the game here proceeds to commit what I consider its gravest sin. How in the name of Commissioner Gordon can you create a game with freakin’ Batman as a playable hero and make him lame and uninteresting to play? Yet they have succeeded in this sad deed. Here’s hoping some strides are made in advance of the nearly-guaranteed sequel. Upshot: co-op play is still a good bit of fun.

Buy it from Amazon for the Xbox, or the PS2, or the Nintendo DS, or the Sony PSP.

The Good – Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (Xbox 360, Xbox, PS2, PS3, PC, Wii, PSP, GBA)

Raven Software returns with their third spandex-clad action RPG, following the phenomenal success of the X-Men Legends franchise. This time around, the vaults of Marvel’s IP have been thrown wide open (with the tragic exception of The Hulk, alas), and Raven throws the kitchen sink of the Marvel Universe on-screen. A core of sixteen characters are available pretty much from the get-go, with two additional exclusives on the next-gen consoles (Moon Knight and Colossus). A handful of additional characters can be unlocked through gameplay, including Blade, Daredevil, Black Panther, Silver Surfer, Doc Strange, and Ghost Rider. Handhelds get exclusive access to Hawkeye, Ronin, Black Widow, and Captain Marvel (PSP) or Jean Grey and Namor (GBA). Every character has multiple costume options, each with its own powers and ability enhancers, and a few of these “re-skins” actually represent different characters (Beta Ray Bill, Arachne, and War Machine, for example). Despite the vast spread of power levels among the characters, none of them feel useless or redundant, so you can play whoever you like and not face undue difficulty from unbalanced design.

Gameplay follows the tried-and-true formula from the Legends series, throwing you into the action in control of a party of four heroes. Co-op play is available at any point, allowing friends to drop in and out of an ongoing game, and can be accomplished either from in front of the same console or over online services. The levels are interesting, if not as varied as in previous Legends games, and the rogues gallery reads like somebody just handed the design team a compiled Handbook of the Marvel Universe with orders to use all they could squeeze in. The action is fast-paced and tons of fun, and the character interactions, trivia games, and assorted nods to comic fandom will have any hardcore Marvel-phile giddy.

Buy it from Amazon for the Xbox 360, or the Xbox, or the PS2, or the PS3, or the PC, or the Sony PSP, or the GameBoy Advance.