- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2006

Superhero and cartoon characters have become integral parts of the electronic entertainment industry. Around the world, youngsters and guys who can’t get dates spend countless hours in front of their computers and video-game systems.

With this in mind, I salute the meld of pop-culture character and Silicon Valley with a look at some…

Comics plugged in

Justice League Heroes

(Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for Xbox, rated T, $39.99)

DC Comics’ greatest superhero team comes to three-dimensional life in a third-person action-adventure game. Up to a pair of players can cooperatively take command of sequential-art legends through 11 episodic missions to confront, ultimately, one of Superman’s most feared archvillains.

What’s the story? Military robots run amok at a high-level research facility in the financial district of Metropolis. Extradimensional monsters take over a top-secret Arctic Communications relay facility, and deep beneath the surface of Mars, dozens of alien warriors are released from their imprisonment. These seemingly unrelated events are part of a master plan devised by one diabolical mind, and it will take the might of Earth’s greatest heroes to stop him.

Characters’ character: In a surprisingly mediocre story written by famed comics and cartoon scribe Dwayne McDuffie, players take control of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter and Zatanna to defeat an archvillain collective led by the formidable Brainiac.

Over-the-top action involves a pair of preselected heroes who roam through fairly linear environments, fight waves of evil minions and ultimately challenge famed foes such as Queen Bee, Gorilla Grodd, Doomsday and Darkseid.

Eventually players can select the heroes they wish to control, but in a move that will irritate most gamers, they once again must use preselected characters for some of the later missions.

Despite this ridiculous lack of choice in a multiplayer character game, Justice League Heroes will continue to captivate the gamer because of the slick selection of powers afforded each defender of the planet.

For example, the Martian Manhunter can transform himself into his more beastly extraterrestrial side and pummel opponents. Female magician Zatanna can engulf her enemies in flames or turn them into rabbits and restore health to her partner. Batman can call bats to pester the bad guys, and Green Lantern can create an energy dome to protect or a sledgehammer to pound.

A power-management system is crucial to complete victory. Each hero gains experience points when he succeeds in a level, and these can be distributed to enhance or enact a power. Additionally, six types of boosts (damage, efficiency, range, luck, speed and duration) appear over defeated enemies, and they can be collected, distributed and combined to augment a hero’s specific superpower or attribute.

The game looks great, and the entertainment value is increased by the voice-over work of actors Ron Perlman as Batman, Michael Jai White as John Stewart (aka Green Lantern) and Courtenay Taylor as Wonder Woman.

Additionally, as players discover and collect gold shields, the shields can be used to unlock new characters such as Hawkgirl, Green Arrow, Aquaman and the Huntress or upgrade a hero’s costume to, for instance, the Jay Garrick version of Flash, Batman in his blue-and-gray duds or Zatanna in her Identity Crisis garb.

How would Inspector Clouseau fare? As long as the bumbling detective can keep his energy meter full and strategically uses experience points and boosts, he can become an unstoppable force in the galaxy. Simple control schemes enable him to deliver a choice of five powerful attacks from each hero — he still marvels at the Flash’s tornado. Also, when he’s playing with a pal, a liberal number of checkpoints can easily bring characters back to life to continue on a mission.

Parental blood-pressure meter: 120/80, normal. With cartoony violence, defeated enemies burst into a bunch of glowing green orbs that a Justice League member can use to reach the next level of his powers while defeated heroes simply lie motionless.

What if I want to read a book? DC Comics has produced a slew of JLA sequential-art series for 46 years. I suggest jumping aboard the newly revamped Justice League of America title (only up to the fourth issue), written by famed author Brad Meltzer ($2.99 each).

What’s it worth? Even though Justice League Heroes pales in comparison to Activision’s new game Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, any DC Comics reader still will appreciate the chance to wield the power of a stellar lineup of fictional friends.

Pop bytes

A brief review of game titles that didn’t have time to get fully plugged in.

Family Guy

(Take Two Interactive for Xbox, rated Mature, $29.99)

Do you dream of the chance to control a smart-mouthed baby that must bounce on a pregnant woman’s belly to force her to deliver exploding missiles upon disorderly orderlies?

Man-o-Manishevitz, do I have a “freakin’ sweet” video game for you.

Yep, all of the crude, sophomoric, scatological and politically incorrect humor one would find in a typical “Family Guy” animated episode can be found in this third-person game that definitely deserves its Mature rating.

A single mentally unstable player handles snobbish tyke Stewie on world-domination missions; has Peter Griffin bust up his hometown; and breaks Brian, the family pooch, out of prison.

The action looks ripped from the cartoon and is enhanced by the participation of the show’s entire voice-over cast, from Seth McFarlane as Stewie and Brian to Adam (Batman) West as the mayor of Quahog.

As a member of the refuse-to-grow-up male demographic, I had plenty of giggity, giggity, giggity giggles and guffawed at the antics, but video-game connoisseurs will find the repetitive action, as Peter might say, “shallow and pedantic.”

Brainiacs who feel the need to read the instruction manual will find five black-and-white sequential-art pages in the back that preview the Family Guy comic-book line from Devil’s Due Publishing.

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