DEVELOPER: PHL Collective
PUBLISHER: Outright Games
REVIEWED ON: Xbox Series X from a copy purchased by the author.
Between the mature take on the team in Zack Snyder’s film and the hero-versus-hero Injustice series, the younger crowd doesn’t really have a Justice League to call their own these days in the multimedia landscape. For a time, the LEGO series of games would fill that gap, but the last one set in the DC universe is approaching 5 years of age. In the world of family friendly animation, Justice League Action, a series of shorts similar to the still ongoing Teen Titans Go!, ended around a similar time frame too.
Publisher Outright Games and their development partner PHL Collective have been helping to fill that gap as of late. Last year they gave us the movie tie-in title DC League of Super-Pets: The Adventures of Krypto and Ace and now the first console game in almost 2 decades with the Justice League branding in DC’s Justice League: Cosmic Chaos. Given the pedigree of the companies involved and the cutesy art direction, you would easily be fooled into thinking that Cosmic Chaos is strictly for kids. To dismiss it though would be doing yourself a disservice. Despite a low challenge level, this is a DC adventure crafted with a deep love of the source material that’s not to be missed regardless of your age.
The Justice League are visiting Happy Harbor, the birthplace of the iconic team, to celebrate one of their own, Snapper Carr, becoming mayor of the sunny town. Suddenly, the party is crashed by Mr. Mxyzptlk, or Mxy for short, a being from the Fifth-Dimension who declares himself mayor as a means to pester Superman. As part of his mischievous plan, Mxy uses Starro parasites to take control of League members Green Lantern, Aquaman, and the Flash. Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, along with support from Cyborg, must now rescue their friends and put the rightful mayor back in charge of Happy Harbor.
Cosmic Chaos makes a great first impression with a beautifully animated opening that will make you wonder if this is based on a Justice League cartoon you’ve never heard of. There are some genuinely funny lines too that will make even the most jaded detractor crack a smile delivered by some top-tier talent well know to those versed in DC Comics. Diedrich Bader (Batman: The Brave and the Bold) voices the Dark Knight, Nolan North (Young Justice) plays the Man of Steel while Vanessa Marshall reprises her role as Wonder Woman from Harley Quinn. Fans of the animated series The Batman will recognize the actor playing Alfred while Arkham fanatics should keep their ears open when Poison Ivy shows up as part of a side-quest.
Initially the setup seems fairly simplistic, but it actually gets pretty engaging as the campaign progresses, and you can tell that all involved are deeply in love with not just the Justice League, but all of DC Comics. This is not just limited to mission chains revolving around the likes of Lobo, Bizarro and Ares, but lines directly referencing Superman/Batman – or its animated adaptation Public Enemies – and even a nod to the seminal work, Watchmen.
PHL Collective’s DC League of Super-Pets played as an on-rails shooter similar to Nintendo’s Star Fox that barely lasted a handful of hours. Like their previous DC effort before it, Cosmic Chaos itself pays homage to the dungeon-crawling action-RPG and more specifically, outings like Marvel Ultimate Alliance. Even though Cosmic Chaos skews younger, it’s a shockingly well done entry in that genre packed with swappable gear and plenty of ways to customize your team with enough depth to engage older players.
While the Justice League name is prominently featured in the titles, you only control three of its members: Superman, Batman as well as Wonder Woman and only one appears on screen at a time when playing the main story. The rest of the League exist only to support the DC Trinity and even then only when they’ve been rescued in the campaign. Cosmic Chaos doesn’t have the extensive roster of a LEGO game, or even any of entry of the Marvel Ultimate Alliance series, but it manages to do a lot with its small group.
Each character has a basic attack, but also support abilities that utilize each hero’s abilities and gadgets. Wonder Woman can clash her bracelets to make an electrical field to shock enemies, Superman flies in the air to sweep grouped enemies with his heat vision and Batman hurls batarangs that either ricochet about the environment or stick to enemies and explode. For this review, Cosmic Chaos was played on hard, and not once was a game over screen viewed, but that didn’t stop the moment-to-moment action to become tedious.
This largely has to do with how each works to support one another. You can get away with bashing the attack button at the start while still managing to have fun, but as the game progresses, enemies will have elemental shields: red for fire, blue for ice and yellow for electricity. In theory, Superman can easily plow through the waves of fish monsters you come up against without breaking a sweat, but when facing an enemy surrounded in electrical energy, it’s better to bring in Wonder Woman who can easily break that defense.
As you make your way up to the cap of level 30, your team will gain new abilities so you can cater them to suit your own playing style. Batman’s ultimate attack allows him to summon a drone that causes electrical damage, but you can swap that out later for a small aerial vehicle you can pilot that drops poison bombs on enemies. Wonder Woman’s primary element is electricity, but she can also bounce her shield around enemies like Captain America and dish out fire damage. Finding out how each character evolves creates a loop that will cause you to lose hours to Cosmic Chaos if you let it.
Defeating enemies not only rewards experience that you can use to level up, they’ll also drop items that can be used to power up your various abilities and stats. Completing certain tasks and opening chests also unlocks gear which can be equipped, not to mention upgraded, and while they don’t show up in-game once attached, each is smartly related to the larger DC universe. Items like Raven’s cloak, Red Hood’s Mask and Hawkman’s mace are just some examples of the many pieces that you’ll get to mix-and-match across your trio of heroes.
Cosmic Chaos isn’t what you call an open-world game, but you’re able to explore the colorful seaside town of Happy Harbor at your leisure, though you will be warned when you’re perhaps not a high enough level to be in certain regions. Batman can grapple in the air and glide while Wonder Woman can almost swing about on her lasso like Spider-Man. Mostly though you’ll use Superman to move about as he can fly and has an elevation ceiling that’s set pretty high. Fast travel stations can be unlocked, but Happy Harbor is not too big and every corner is nearly packed with something to do, whether it’s fighting enemies, uncovering hidden dungeons, opening chests or collecting comic book pages which can be turned into Booster Gold for new outfits.
It’s refreshing to be able to earn new outfits here just by playing, and they range from things like Batman’s outfit from the iconic The Dark Knight Returns to Wonder Woman’s time she worked at a fast food taco restaurant. Unlike something like Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy you don’t get to see the creative team behind each issue the alternate skins are lifted from, but you do at the very least learn what issue they originated in.
Dungeon-crawling titles can be repetitive by nature, but effort was put into each area here to keep things interesting. One level for example is themed around a character named Blue Snowman where you have to keep finding fires to warm up, while Checkmate’s outposts will have you avoiding lasers and security cameras. Cosmic Chaos isn’t a title that will test your mettle, but the sum of its parts add up to a package that rarely ever gets boring.
That’s not to say that Cosmic Chaos isn’t without its problems. You do fight iconic DC villains, but most of the time you’re fighting the same few enemies with different names or larger enemy bars. Props to whoever came up with the name “Tyler Sturgeon” in a Fight Club homage though. The music, while fitting for the summer getaway location that is Happy Harbor is relaxing, but it won’t exactly quicken your pulse and you’ll have forgotten most if not all of it once you roll credits. The constant one-liners, especially Mxy’s during load screens, similarly wear out their welcome pretty fast.
A game like Cosmic Chaos is tailor made for co-op play, but it’s unavailable throughout the main campaign. Instead it’s limited to a mode called “Instant Action” which is essentially a mode for parents to play with their kids. There’s no objectives here like in the main mode, instead you just explore Happy Harbor fighting enemies at your leisure. At the very least you do get to experiment with all of the loot the game has to offer without having to find it, but it also makes you long for a way to play through the entire of Cosmic Chaos with a partner.
DC’s Justice League: Cosmic Chaos is a game you should absolutely not dismiss as “just for kids”. It’s a great introduction to the DC universe for younger players, but there’s also so much packed in here for longtime DC Comics lovers that make it a joy to play. Whether it’s the unlockable costumes, gear, or simply the excellent dialogue performed by gifted voice actors, you’ll easily find yourself losing hours to Cosmic Chaos just to find out which Easter egg is waiting around a corner. It’s disappointing to not be able to play the main mode with a partner, however the surprisingly engaging combat system more than makes up for this. DC’s Justice League: Cosmic Chaos overflows with admiration for the sandbox it gets to play in, and that’s evident from the second you start it.
DC’s Justice League: Cosmic Chaos is available now on the PlayStation and Xbox family of consoles, Nintendo Switch and PC.