Playful escapades and an excellent voice cast power this Diablo-lite DC Comics adventure.
Justice League Cosmic Chaos is the DC superhero I didn’t know I needed. The latest from publisher Outright Games continues to cement them as one of the best makers of kid-oriented licensed games. I can personally vouch from playing the likes of DC League of Super-Pets and My Friend Peppa Pig with my children that they shepherd developers to make friendly, approachable games that are fun to play at a variety of ages. However, PHL Collective, the developer of Cosmic Chaos who previously made the Star Fox-ish League of Super-Pets game (and also the rad eight-player local sports game Clusterpuck 99), have raised the bar with their take on Diablo-esque gameplay with Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman. This colorful cartoony adventure is a blast, making it a bright spot in a comic book video game world shaded over by the lumbering future of Games-as-a-Service titles like Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League.
To start, the voice cast is incredible, with the playable trio being expertly voiced by Nolan North (who previously played Superman in LEGO content), Vanessa Marshall (who previously played Wonder Woman in the HBO Max show Harley Quinn), and Diedrich Bader (who previously played Batman in the underrated Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoon among other reprisals). The delightful surprise for me was Dana Snyder (Master Shake in Aqua Teen Hunger Force) as Mr. Mxyzptlk, who brings the perfect energy for the goofy villain (note: the late Gilbert Gottfried was planned to reprise the character that he brought to life on Superman: The Animated Series, but he passed away before he could. The game is dedicated to his memory, as well as recently passed comic artists Neal Adams, Alan Grant, George Pérez, and Tim Sale). The story, which involves Mxy asserting himself as the mayor of Happy Harbor, is a breezy goofball of a romp. Other Justice League members get taken over by the mind-controlling Starro and it’s up to the team of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman to save the day.
The main story is only available in single-player, as you swap between the three characters on the fly. They have a repeatable basic attack and dodge, as well as a variety of secondary and special abilities. The latter abilities are on timers that recharge after use, even when you’re not controlling the character. The combat is relatively simplistic hack-and-slash gameplay at face value, but more nuance lies underneath the hood. Swapping between characters constantly is the optimal way to go, unleashing their different powers as they recharge. Additionally, later on in the game elemental affinities come into play, so Superman’s heat vision can melt down ice foes quickly. On top of all that is a skill tree that unlocks as you level up and upgrades as you collect and use resources. Even beyond that, each hero can have three accessories that augment their power further. Oh and as you rescue members of the Justice League, you can summon them to assist you. It does get repetitive over time, especially because the enemy variety wears a little thin, but the game consistently offers you enough new twists on what you can do to keep it fresh.
Beyond Mxy’s machinations is a boatload of side quests featuring countless DC villains. Happy Harbor isn’t that big of an overworld, but more diversions are nestled there than I first expected. Generally you’ll find some access point that takes you to another location, sometimes just an underground base and other times you just get transported to Wonder Woman’s home of Themyscira. The references go deep, especially in the delightful unlockable costumes. Collecting comic books throughout lets you unlock the likes of a dopey Matches Malone Batman outfit or the trippy Batman Zur-En-Arrh costume.
While it’s a little disappointing that the main story is not multiplayer, Cosmic Chaos does have a really cool mode called Instant Action, where two players can just jump right into the fray. As someone who has long been frustrated by multiplayer games requiring a long lead up to actual multiplayer (here’s looking at you, Secret of Mana), this is a welcome addition. It also adds a little bit more longevity beyond the already sizable story mode. What might wear you out from playing all that there is here is the fact that the Switch version is not that visually impressive. It runs well enough, but if you’re coming here looking for a graphical showcase, you’ll leave disappointed. Thankfully the rest of the presentation is great, like the virtuoso voice-acting performances from a list of greats or the animated cutscenes that give you a glimpse of what this game could possibly look like on better hardware.
If you’re looking for a DC superhero game that relies more on arcadey gameplay, whimsical callbacks, and a playful atmosphere, Justice League Cosmic Chaos is incredible. I had a great time playing through this, both by myself roaming around Happy Harbor trying to save the day while getting distracted by side quests and in co-op with my kid in the smart Instant Action mode. With the bar raised for future games from Outright Games, here’s hoping that Cosmic Chaos is the start of a new era for kid-oriented licensed games.