DEVELOPER: Toybox Inc.
REVIEWED ON: Nintendo Switch from a copy purchased by the author.
Women have not had it easy in comic book video games.
Sure, popular heroines like Wonder Woman, Black Widow, Gamora, Captain Marvel and others are nearly always present in large ensemble games, but the amount of comic book games where they’re in the spotlight is pathetically small. There still isn’t a Wonder Woman video game, and half of the titles with a female in the starring role are based on 2004’s Catwoman starring Halle Berry.
That’s why it was downright refreshing when during a Nintendo Direct in February, DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power was unveiled. Based on the popular animated series that has since expanded into toys and other merchandise, Teen Power is a great pick up for the target audience, and even open minded older players of all gender identities too. However, its lack of depth, repetition, and problematic camera threaten to test the patience of even younger players.
Best friends Diana, Kara, Barbara, Jessica, Zee, and Karen are just your average teenagers, or so they would have you believe. The group juggle their responsibilities as students of Metropolis High School with their superhero alter egos. When LexCorp announces a fundraising initiative where teenage students can help shape the future of Hob’s Bay, the girls are more than happy to participate, but standing in the way of their dreams is an army of dangerous robotic toys that seemingly have it out for Lex Luthor.
Being based on an animated property and aimed at younger players, don’t come into DC Super Hero Girls looking for a gripping, rollercoaster of a narrative. This is fairly evident early on when during a conversation about the Hob’s Bay project, two characters throw around the word “project” so many times it loses all meaning. Still, there is an earnestness about DC Super Hero Girls with some terrific lessons about what it really means to be a hero. Of course you spend time in costumes fighting bad guys and super-villains, but also rescuing cats and helping elderly women across the street. It may sound corny, but given the state of the world right now, it needs every ounce of positivity it can get.
Helping matters greatly is the talent bringing the likes of Batgirl, Supergirl, Wonder Woman and company to life. Tara Strong, who needs little introduction, is pulling double duty as Batgirl/Harley Quinn, Nicole Sullivan brings a likeable toughness to Supergirl and Cree Summer is clearly having a lot of fun with the role of Catwoman. Even when the lines are at their cheesiest, these talented actresses and others sell it. About all that lets them down is many repetitive voice clips, like Supergirl saying “Let’s go” whenever she takes flight and Catwoman’s many feline sounds.
For what amounts to a licensed game based off of a popular cartoon, there’s a lot packed into Teen Power’s cartridge. Mixed in with superpowered fisticuffs are town building, an Instagram parody called “Supersta” where you can chase followers and likes, the ability to play dress up with the six playable heroes and villains plus over a 100 side-quests you can pick away at. These range from snapping pictures of hero and villain logos, collecting hamsters for a mascot obsessed student and helping citizens in need.
Broken up into three zones: Metropolis High School, the Old Town business area, and the under development Hob’s Bay, those seeking a bloated open world akin to nearly every Ubisoft title will not get their fill with Teen Power. For those who have nostalgia for the hub areas of retro titles like Mega Man Legends and Sonic Adventure though, there’s a certain quaintness about exploring the world. As you progress, certain trucks and awnings which act as springboards become permanent fixtures so you can platform across rooftops in search of collectibles. Along with each area opening up slightly as you progress, the game manages to keep its tiny world worth running around in as the hours roll on.
There’s lots to do in DC Super Hero Girls, but what content is present is recycled frequently. Sneaking up on cats to wrangle them for a quest giver is fine the first time you do it, but it gets old around the fifth or sixth time you’re asked to do it. Starting out, you can only select from the heroes, but eventually the villains also become playable. Once they’re introduced, nearly everything you did as the good guys is warmed over with little change. Though there are twelve main characters, six from each side, you can only play as three from either camp. Fans of Green Lantern, Zatanna and Livewire are sadly out of luck as they largely sit on the sidelines.
What’s disappointing also is that you can only explore in your civilian identity unless you’re playing in a VR mode that eventually becomes available. That means no flying around as Supergirl, which would make certain side-missions almost too easy, zipping to rooftops using Batgirl’s grappling hook, or using Wonder Woman’s shield as a spring board when thrown into walls and other objects. These traversal skills are mostly wasted as they serve little value when the heroines become their costumed alter egos.
Encounters usually take place in small enclosed arenas and combat is incredibly simple with only one button for attacks starting out. As you earn stars from battles though, you can upgrade your attack power, HP, and unlock powerful moves like Wonder Woman’s Bracelet Blast and Supergirl’s heat vision.
The fighting mechanics here are serviceable, but the big problem is that you’re normally only fighting the same few enemies types like toy soldiers, creepy floating dolls – one is literally called Annabelle –, and toy robots. The camera is also placed way too close to your character, so you’ll frequently get hit with cheap hits off screen. There’s a Bayonetta-esque Witch Time dodge mechanic where you’re rewarded with bonus attack power if you dodge at just the right time. However, it’s shockingly tough to do this when you’re target locked onto one enemy and take a hit from another you couldn’t see.
This hurts the rest of the game greatly as your performance in battle determines how much currency you get to buy buildings, clothes, and character specific upgrades. Fights have criteria like performing so many perfect dodges, keeping a consistent hit streak up, and not taking any or very little damage, but it’s harder to do than the kid friendly packaging will lead you to believe. You can repeat missions at a section in Old Town, but there isn’t that much depth to convince you to strive for anything other than good enough.
DC Super Hero Girls features elements that are trying to cater to the Animal Crossing crowd but they’re far too limited to keep people away from their islands for very long. There are only a few spots in which to erect structures in Hob’s Bay, and you can only get one at a time as the story progresses. Most spaces don’t even open until after the story is completed and even then they’re locked behind side-missions linked to increasing your social media clout. It’s easy enough to build up though, as all you really have to do is wait for NPC dialogue to pop up to tell you what’s popular – like containers and hanging laundry strangely enough – and then snap a picture of it.
Where this game gets the most mileage out of its Animal Crossing homage is in the cosmetic options for the playable heroes and villains. You’ll run to the clothing store as quickly as you can when you get that ding telling you there’s a new item available to see if you can make it fit into your ensemble. This isn’t limited to your street clothes, but your superhero costumes too. Both sides have vendors where they can buy new duds for combat and character specific missions yield even more goodies that are sure to please lovers of DC Comics.
With a bright and colorful world filled with superheroes and villains, Teen Power certainly nails the look of its animated counterpart. Performance is steady whether docked or in handheld mode, though everyone who populates the world has awkward, jerky animation until you’re nearly right on top of them. There’s very little music to speak of in Teen Power, and what’s here will have you reaching for the volume button but not to turn it up.
DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power is more than just a cynical cash grab, but at the same time, its reliance on repeated content gives an illusion that it’s bigger than what it actually is. There are some good lessons here for younger players, but even those who have spent hundreds of hours with Animal Crossing: New Horizons over the past little while will lose interest over what’s found here quickly. Combat, while full of stylish superhero antics, is framed too poorly and simple to make up for the weaker aspects.
Given that Nintendo has done little to no publicity for this game, it’s doubtful it will get a sequel of any kind. It would be nice if this amalgamation of genres would get a second chance though, because there’s an interesting foundation to expand upon with the proper time and resources.
DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power is available now, exclusively on Nintendo Switch.