After the rather mediocre Batman: Arkham City Lockdown, my quest for a good superhero game on the iPad continued with me turning my gaze upon Justice League: Earth's Final Defence. This brawler allows those of us who dream of battling crime, whilst wearing spandex and our undies outside of our pants, to control one of the heroes you may recognise from the pages of DC Comics. The aim of the game is to foil Lex Luthor's ambitions of global conquest after the follicly challenged billionaire forms an alliance with the villainous team known as the Legion of Doom and an unnamed extraterrestrial threat (I'll keep said alien's identity a secret to avoid spoilers.) I'd sleep easier at night if the Avengers were on the case, but I suppose the Justice League should be up to the task of protecting the world (especially as they decided not to call on the services of the useless fish talker Aquaman.)
CHARACTERS & GAMEPLAY
With the above mentioned omission of the orange clad marine conversationalist you may be wondering who is playable in this game. The answer is that you are initially capable of controlling any of the DC Trinity (Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman) with Flash and Green Lantern being unlockable once you purchase them with the currency earned by completing levels. For the purposes of this review I decided to play through the story as Wonder Woman who some of you may recognise from the Lynda Carter seventies TV show. I would normally pick Batman for a game like this, but he had to be punished after the Arkham City Lockdown disappointment. What about Superman? I'll pass as he's a boring boy scout. Wonder Woman, the gorgeous Amazon, offers the perfect blend of eye candy and ass kicking. She charges into combat with an unbreakable lasso that compels anyone who gets tied in it to tell the truth (no surprises then that her creator was a bloke who was into bondage who happened to come up with the real life lie detector.)
Justice League: Earth's Final Defence is a fairly standard beat-em-up. You guide your hero through various linear levels occasionally stopping when you come across an invisible barrier. To eliminate the translucent obstacle you'll have to clear the zone of a wave of enemies using your fists and an assortment of special powers. The game's story is broken up into four levels taking place in Gotham City, Metropolis, the Justice League's Watchtower and culminating in a showdown at the Legion of Doom's headquarters. Each stage has its own aesthetic design and is populated with a plethora of enemies including gladiators, yellow lanterns and even gun totting gorillas. You'll have to suspend your disbelief when playing this game as the Caped Crusader, a regular guy in a bat suit, can go toe to toe with bad guys who are capable of knocking out the practically indestructible Man of Steel. Although the design of the adversaries you encounter varies from level to level they can be broken down into three classes - melee fighters, ranged attackers and hulking strong brutes.
CONTROLS & CUSTOMISATION
At its core this is a button basher so the combat isn't exactly deep. The action is presented from a slightly elevated third person view, which gives you a good vantage point aside from one or two ill positioned walls that can obscure the camera. Using a responsive virtual joystick you move your character and unleash attacks by pressing the corresponding attack icon on the touch screen. All heroes come with a standard punch, along with a number of special moves which can be activated, when not on cool down, by consuming some energy. Health points and energy can be replenished by finding power-ups in destructible crates and will recharge naturally if you halt to rest (providing that you have some regeneration abilities equipped.)
Despite the simplistic fighting mechanics I didn't lose interest in proceedings as most stages can be cleared in a few minutes, before the repetitiveness of it all begins to sink in. As a RPG nut I was also invested in continuing to play thanks to the character customisation options. As you vanquish foes you'll earn experience points and level up allowing you to power up your character. Every time you level up you'll be given a few points to spend on improving attributes of your choice in addition to unlocking new attacks or boosting existing moves.
CARD COLLECTING & PRESENTATION
Although only five Justice League heroes are represented, as playable characters, a whole host of DC stars make an appearance as collectible cards that can be equipped to grant your fighter with passive bonuses. The cards are bought using the points you earn for besting each stage and can be upgraded a total of five times to further bolster their effects. There's a lot of replay value to be had if you are a completionist who won't settle for anything less than owning all the cards and maxing them out. It's quite a time investment, but for card collecting aficionados I wouldn't imagine it's any worse (or more costly) than building up a Yu-Gi-Oh/Magic: The Gathering deck.
Graphically the game doesn't push the system to the high echelons seen in some other iPad titles (for all its faults Batman: Arkham City Lockdown's console level visuals easily trump this) but it's not a bad looking game by any means. The colourful graphics match what you would expect to find in a comic book and the environments capture the spirit of each level's location (despite coming across as a little bland due to a lack of textures.) Sound wise I would rate the game as being below par as the sound effects are rather basic and the music is limited to one track playing in a constant loop. Thankfully the heroic ditty in question isn't too offensive so you can phase it out as background noise without the need to mute it, as may be the case in other titles cursed with annoying scores.
Overall I would rank Justice League: Earth's Final Defence as one of those games you either love or hate. Some players will accuse it of being a shallow button basher and I cannot argue with that, but for a two quid fighting game I think it's decent value for money. The story isn't as engaging as what you would find in a New 52 comic book, but it serves its purpose in explaining why you are fighting and who the upcoming boss you face is. The combat isn't deep, but it's compensated by the RPG elements. In a way it reminds me of some of the 16 bit fighting games of years gone by which, despite their faults, I generally enjoyed. My only real gripe would be the lack of a multiplayer mode as I tend to find games like this are considerably more fun with two players.
If the game was a DC movie I would say it's one of those straight to DVD animated films. Short, sweet and good fun. Not as deep as The Dark Knight, but thankfully not as dull as Superman Returns.