Pre-empting the DC League of Super-Pets movie by a good week, Outright Games are cheating a bit by not featuring its stars Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart, not following the Superman-gets-kidnapped plotline, and focusing on something that one of its two main characters doesn’t even do in the movie: flying. But we’re in ‘family game’ territory, and kids couldn’t give two hoots about adhering to the IP.
What we have instead is a spin-off adventure, featuring the film’s two leads, Krypto and Ace, arriving in time to capitalise on the hoo-ha around the movie. It’s a simple yarn, with stray animals going missing and Lex Luthor being the most obvious candidate for snaffling them. But the Justice League have other things doing, so it’s down to their pets – most notably Superman’s dog Krypto, and Batman’s mutt Ace – to untangle the mystery and get those pets back.
What this amounts to is fifteen levels of dogfighting (in the aerial sense, not the illegal-back-alley sense). Which is, if we’re being frank, not what we expected. Outright Games, publishers of DC League of Super-Pets: The Adventures of Krypto and Ace, could have gone in a multitude of directions, from platforming to brawler, but a Space Harrier or Star Fox homage was not what we thought they’d plump for.
Each of the fifteen levels gives you an option of playing as Krypto or Ace, before you’re dropped into the upper reaches of Metropolis. You fly on a linear path that winds around the skyscrapers, as you shoot down Lexbots that attempt to shoot you down.
Holding X sends lasers pew-pewing out of Krypto’s eyes, or batarangs from Ace’s batbelt. A jab of B sends you barrel-rolling in a particular direction, and two bars slowly fill up with each ‘kill’. One bar eventually allows you to press Y for the dog’s character-specific ability – Krypto channels a super-laser, while Ace locks onto enemies for some homing shots – while the other triggers an LB/RB move, which performs one of three different ally abilities.
The ally ability is chosen before you leap into a mission. You can choose from PB (Wonder Woman’s pig), Merton (Flash’s tortoise) or Chip (Green Lantern’s cat). Except don’t pick Merton, as she’s awful – an agility boost just doesn’t cut it – and instead pick PB, as her shield seems to last forever, and allows you to chew through enemies without thinking about your life pool or stuff like dodging attacks.
The Space Harrier levels are chunked up into checkpoints, with enemies flying at you, flying past you, or latching onto buildings to lob missiles at you. There are, unfortunately enough, not many enemies in DC League of Super-Pets: The Adventures of Krypto and Ace. A new one gets added every five levels or so, and there are fifteen levels to play, so you don’t need to be Brainiac to work out that enemy variety is an issue.
The odd collectible whizzes past. The most notable are animal cards that represent the stray animals stolen by Lex. Collect these and, once a level’s finished with, you can use them to play an odd little minigame that simultaneously doesn’t work and has a curious appeal. The animals have statements written on their cards that are meant to give you an indication of the food and toys that they like. So, you’re handing them the right food or toy (one animal might say that they like circular things, so you’re left deducing whether that means they like hula hoops or tennis balls) and waiting for a reaction. If the reaction is strong enough, you can put the animal up for adoption, where humans can be matched to the prospective pet by their own likes and dislikes. An owner came second in a hula-hoop championship? Match them with the pet who loves hula-hoops.
It’s a wacko little game that feels utterly detached from all of the shoot-em-uppery, but we quite enjoyed their little asides. They changed the pace and unlocked additional stars, which could be spent on upgrades for the dogs. Not that those upgrades were good, mind you: you can only upgrade health (useful), stamina (not useful) and the duration of the ally abilities (useful, but only on the ally you like). But hey, it makes you feel like you’re progressing.
The other collectibles in a level include Floating Lexbots (oddly adrift, seemingly only there to boost your score and doggo ranking at the end of a level), and a character-specific collectible that triggers a QTE battle with three enemies. Tap the correct directions at the right time and you will pull off some cutscene moves, regaining health as you go.
At the end of each cluster of five levels, there’s a boss battle with Lex, and they’re very reminiscent of Star Fox villains of the past (albeit, without a giant-faced Andross-like Lex Luthor, which would have been amazing). A snake with a shootable tail and Lex with weak-spot fists are among those ready to be battled.
It is, altogether, a rather bland affair. We’ve already mentioned the lack of enemy variety, but it’s the levels themselves that did us in. Set in the heights of Metropolis during the daytime on every flipping level, there is zero sense that you are moving on or going anywhere. Every level feels the same, and while the artists are occasionally ingenuous enough to pull the camera down into traffic or skirt up a skyscraper, there’s no hiding the lack of anything new to see or do. We would have given a few dog treats to travel to Gotham, go to Mogo, ride the Speed Force or do anything else, really.
DC League of Super-Pets: The Adventures of Krypto and Ace can’t quite distill the joys of handling an arwing or space harrier either. Enemies that linger on the fringes of the screen are too hard to target, simply because the game keeps tugging you back to the centre, as if it was worried that you’d fall off its rollercoaster. You have to wrestle your dog to fire at the edges of the screen, but that also makes you a sitting duck: you will be stock-still as enemies fire at you. More often than not, the best approach is to just ignore those far-flung enemies.
And we encountered more crashes than we would have liked. Our little ’un started a second playthrough, and couldn’t get out of the opening five levels. Every few minutes it would crash, leaving her seething and demanding we played something different.
Playing as an adult, we couldn’t forgive the crashes and brazen repetition: something that is happening more and more with Outright Games’ shallow, almost demo-like, movie tie-ins. But younger players are less discerning, and they tend to be more inoculated to repetition. My daughter bounced off DC League of Super-Pets: The Adventures of Krypto and Ace because of the crashes, but I would guess that the surprisingly hard difficulty and awkward controls would have gotten her in the end.
DC League of Super-Pets: The Adventures of Krypto and Ace might not be the game you expect. A diluted Star Fox, it’s too repetitious in its enemies and levels for an adult, and too buggy, difficult and clumsy to control for a pre-teen. It’s only worth considering if your little ones are truly determined to grapple with it.
You can buy DC League of Super-Pets: The Adventures of Krypto and Ace from the Xbox Store