You have to admire the balls on this girl game.
DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power is a Nintendo Switch title that was released this past June to very little fanfare. If we are instantly jumping to conclusions, we may presume that this is because this game is ultimately kind of a niche product that may not be advertised on the usual channels. Does DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power need to be promoted on gaming sites that might hype up the latest Mario release? No. But will it be advertised every other commercial break on Cartoon Network, currently airing the parent show’s second season? Going to go ahead and give that one a yes. And who can blame them! DCSHG:TP is based on a successful cartoon, so why not assume this game for the fans is going to primarily have an audience of those same fans? Nobody is pretending DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power is anything but a chance to cash in on a popular show for a very distinct demographic.
And that is something as a shame, as DCSHG:TP could easily be described as “pretty good”. Is this the prestigious Goggle Bob Game of the Year: 2021? I can confidently say it is not. But is it a fun time with fun characters? Absolutely. DCSHG:TP is primarily a frenetic beat ‘em up, but also has significant beats from more exploration-based titles. It also features an interesting cast, a cute little story (at least one Luthor is at it again), and fun gameplay differences between its six different playable characters. In fact, one of the more interesting bits of DCSHG:TP is that the unique designs of the main characters are fully retained from the source material, so the cast has not been transformed into a bunch of “minifigs” that all have the same base body and moves. While they are superficially analogous, lithe Batgirl’s jumps and grappling moves are very different from thick Supergirl’s flight and laser eyes. In fact, complete with the voice acting and the memorable characterization of each “Super Hero Girl” (and villain), this may be one of the most distinctive casts in the gaming, left alone absolutely most distinctive female cast. Hey! DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power could win an award for 2021!
Unfortunately, even with those distinctive characters, everything else about DCSHG:TP feels so… budget. In fact, maybe it is because of those distinctive characters! There are twelve “main” characters in each faction (heroes and villains, natch), but only three from each group is playable. This gives the impression that certain characters are more or less there simply for window dressing, or to satisfy some kind of behind-the-scenes contract. Giganta or Live Wire make for good boss fights, and you can kind of see how Bumblebee works as the goody’s support Q, but I literally have no idea if Green Lantern does a damned thing over the course of the whole game. I guess she makes nice with Poison Ivy once or twice? Poison Ivy, who, incidentally, does practically nothing herself for the entire game, too? And combine this with the same four enemy types continually reskinned across the same three or four areas (does the Lego building in the sewers count as part of the sewers or not?), and the whole game feels weirdly claustrophobic. You can see Zatanna just outside your selectable characters, or that amusement pier off in the distance, but you can never reach them. They are forever outside of your box, and you are stuck with Wonder Woman fighting the same evil bear in the same evil lair in a game that will never spare a bit of flare for some better fare.
And speaking of limited, there are a whole three named men in this game. To be clear, this is not a Love-Live or My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic situation wherein it appears that the majority of men have been stricken with some unseen plague, and must not appear on camera for any reason. There are plenty of random, male NPCs running around doling out side missions and general fluffery. But there are a mere handful of named boys in this story. We’ve got…
- Lex Luthor, who needs no introduction, but, for the record, is more or less neutral in this tale.
- Toyman, who is one of the villains, and exists primarily to be responsible for the mobs of “toys” you fight across the game.
- Hal Jordan, the legendary Green Lantern.
And it is Hal that caught this player’s eye immediately. Hal Jordan! The Green Lantern since 1959! With his magical (not magical) green lantern ring, he has unlimited power on par with Superman. Hal Jordan! The man who has saved the world constantly, and once nearly destroyed all of time and space thanks to a particularly bad dye-job! Hal Jordan! Here he is now! Cowering!
There are seven chapters in DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power, and, while he is mentioned at the top of the game as Carol’s ex-boyfriend, Hal is not seen onscreen until Chapter Six. Given the directors could have continued the pattern of “you just missed him”, it would have been very easy to write around a lack of a Hal Jordan videogame model. But, after nearly 85% of the game is complete, here he is! And, while it would be an obvious turn to have The Green Lantern appear alongside the other Green Lantern that is already hanging around every scene, that does not happen. Hal Jordan does not appear in this game as a Green Lantern at all. Hal Jordan appears as a quivering, shaking mass of dread that is living in abject panic over his ex-girlfriend asking him for a date. This is not a Hal Jordan that appears in any other comic, movie, or videogame. This Hal Jordan, a guy (not that Guy) often billed as “The Man Without Fear”, is a coward.
And, damn, that takes some kind of courage.
Hal Jordan is one of the chief superheroes of the DC Universe, and he is the only male superhero that appears in this game. He also does not help in any way, and he is… Can we use the term “sub-princess”? Like, nobody ever rescues him, because nobody cares to rescue him. He is in a bad situation in his various appearances, and no one does a thing to stop his tormentor. He is “saved” only because his Bowser got distracted and wandered off. And, in case you are wondering, this was not simply “staying true to the source material” of the animated DC Super Hero Girls. While Hal has issues with Carol in that series, the episode that introduces this conflict takes care to portray Green Lantern as a highly capable fighter, he simply has issues with this specific (cheerleader) problem. In later episodes, he appears with the Justice Dudes (or whatever they call themselves), and is a cocky, largely competent superhero. In the videogame adaption, though? You might entirely miss that whole “Green Lantern” thing, and assume Hal is a quivering mass of man jelly (editor’s note: rephrase that).
And this is huge! There was an easy “get excited about this cameo” opportunity here, and the directors of DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power absolutely did not go for it. They could have had a wannabe Superman outshine the cast you had been playing with for six chapters (or at least had a Green Lantern do something in this plot), but, nope, just an excuse to throw in a few jokes at Hal’s expense. In fact, Hal is better than a “joke” here, as he is used to enrich the Carol Ferris character. Star Sapphire is a playable character, so, naturally, they introduce the reason she is a supervillain. She is powered by her love for Hal Jordan, so Hal Jordan had to appear. Hal Jordan must appear as Carol’s beleaguered paramour, otherwise how would you understand Carol?
DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power engaged in the wholesale character assassination of an established superhero to further enrich one of its own featured supervillains.
And, in an age of boys’ games, boys’ comics, and boys’ movies, making this girl game about its girls at the expense of the boys is impressive. Each of the three villainesses have an object they covet: Harley Quinn goes gaga over a comic book featuring the Joker, Catwoman races around the city to collect stolen jewels, and Carol Ferris dotes on her favorite man, Hal Jordan. Has this hero been objectified for the benefit of another character? Absolutely. And, while that is not exactly something that should be happening at all, it is an excellent and unexpected turn for the objectifying to be on the other gender for a change. Hal Jordan is arguably less consequential in this plot than a comic book, but this is not Hal’s story. Hal already has the last few decades of stories. He’ll be alright.
DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power is not afraid to make its heroines the focus of its story, and make the boys take a backseat for the adventure. DC Super Hero Girls rule.
FGC #589 DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power
- System: Nintendo Switch. There is nothing really Switch-y about this one, so it may migrate around eventually in a Wonderful 101-way.
- Number of players: Three superheroes, three supervillains, and one player at a time. A shame they couldn’t get some Secret of Mana-esque business going here.
- Favorite Supervillain: Star Sapphire by a country mile. For some reason, the game introduces a character that is extremely different from every established gameplay style about 75% of the way through the proceedings. And, bam, the minute she shows up, you can play this like a friggen’ Mega Man game. Shoot! Air dash! Be a mean cheerleader! It all works!
- Heard it before: I swear the “advance dialogue” sound is from The Legend of Zelda. Probably Wind Waker specifically, but I am not going to search down some sound effect files to confirm.
- Build-a-town: There is a “town building” mini game. On one hand, it is rather cool to see your city grow from rubble, and then jump across rooftops that you helped construct. On the other hand, the actual logistics of it is barely a step up from Breath of Fire 2’s “which shop would you like here” city construction, and it works as little more than an excuse to blow cash from side missions on something other than clothes. Still, you can install statues of all the villains, so you can go delightfully off script…
- Let’s talk about the show: This game worked its magic and made me check out the source show. It is… hard to describe, exactly, but I feel like an apt description is that it is a mix of Teen Titans Go, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, and Samurai Jack. The action scenes are really great, with frenetic fun all around. And there are some genuine, meaningful character moments between the main characters, with morals that are a little more mature than “friendship is good!”. I, an old man watching a children’s cartoon, very much appreciate this. That said, it is also super irreverent of DC Comics and superheroes in general, and, like in Venture Brothers, that is a deep well of humor. In one episode, Supergirl “dies”, pretends to be “Powergirl” to improve her image, and comes up with the concept of “I’m from… uh… Earth… erm… 2?” to which Superman immediately agrees and is like “Oh yeah… uh… Earth 2! Totally been there!” Then they go into language jokes the whole episode with Powergirl repeatedly noting they say things like “irregardless” on Earth 2. Love it. Five stars.
- What’s in a plot: For the record, this game appears to be a “microcontinuity” where the pilot/first episode is recreated as the game’s overall plot, but with the superhero girls and supervillains already established and palling around. That is kind of neat… but it does mean you know who the final boss is if you watched literally one episode of the source material. No plot twists for you!
- An end: There was no way this game was going to end with anything but a giant robot fight followed by a noncommittal “life goes on as normal” finale. It’s a tie-in to a still running animated show! This ain’t Young Justice.
- Did you know? This is somehow the second game in a row covered on this blog where the main heroine is a redhead that saves the world and occasionally works at a taco shack. Oh, and I guess Nicole Sullivan voices both Shego in Kim Possible and Supergirl in DC Superheroes. But the taco thing is more relevant.
- Would I play again: The gameplay/enemies/locations get kind of rote a little too quickly, so I don’t really see sitting down and playing DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power on some marathon session to score a platinum trophy (or its spiritual equivalent). That said, I could see doing a sidequest here or there when I have a spare moment, so I am technically going to play the game again… just not an awful lot. I will see that Batgirl saves the day, but on my own time.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Final Fight: Streewise for the Playstation 2! Let’s watch Cody’s brother save the world while Cody does drugs! Sound like fun? Please look forward to it!
We can work it out