There’s nothing the videogame industry loves more than a hit it can copycat. “Grand Theft Auto” spawned “Saints Row”; “Final Fantasy” led to “Phantasy Star”; and now the successful “X-Men Legends” franchise has resulted in two more action role-playing games with huge casts of superheroes. “Justice League Heroes” and “Marvel: Ultimate Alliance” are both solid, if uninspired games that mimic “Legends” so closely they have almost the exact same control scheme. “Alliance” has the advantage of a sharper presentation, but “Heroes” stands out slightly thanks to a more interesting and better utilized cast of characters.
It’s not Activision’s fault that Marvel has a weaker stable of superheroes than DC, publisher of the “Justice League” comic. But once players of “Ultimate Alliance” get past a few stars like Spider-Man and Wolverine, they’ll quickly find themselves left with unremarkable nobodies whose powers don’t stand out, like Moon Knight and Luke Cage. “Heroes” features not only the world’s most famous pair of superheroes in Superman and Batman, but better known backups like Wonder Woman, the Flash and Green Lantern.
The “Justice League” game also does a better job of utilizing each of its characters’ powers in unique ways. Too many heroes in the Marvel title either punch or shoot similar projectiles, while the DC game features fun twists like sorceress Zatanna turning enemies into rabbits.
When it comes to gameplay, though, “Ultimate Alliance” has the edge. Not only does its presence on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and the Wii guarantee better graphics, but four people can play at once vs. two on “Heroes.” The Marvel title also lets you play any quartet of characters you have unlocked in any combination you choose. For no apparent reason, many levels of “Justice League” automatically assign you a pair of heroes.
In the end, though, they’re fundamentally the same game. Both feature a cast of superheroes leveling up their powers as they fight a seemingly endless supply of foes in order stop a dastardly group of supervillains from taking over the world. Their relative commercial success may come down to a simple question of which comicbook publisher’s characters are more popular these days.