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RELEASE DATE (NA): June 4, 2021 GENRE: Open-World Action/Adventure
// review by FlagrantWeeaboo

Did you know DC trademarked the phrase "Superhero"?

When it isn't just receiving ports of older games, or oodles of "8-bit" styled "Metroidvania" indie games, the Nintendo Switch also receives its fair share of video games based on licensed properties. Nintendo consoles still carry the stigma of simply being toys for children and the Switch falls into this trap with colorful TV ads for Nintendo's latest family-approved offering. The corporate giant that, like all corporate giants, is not your friend but routinely masquerades that it is so. And yet, upon the release of DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power, a game clearly designed for teenage girls, I didn't see a single TV spot. Even on channels they might watch, like Pop. That's odd, seeing as the game is exactly the kind that Nintendo would push. It's saccharine sweet pinks and purples, bubblegum fonts, and enough sparkles to set off the entire fireworks factory. The lack of advertising might be what contributed to the game already becoming quite rare and expensive secondhand. Well, that and the fact this game was released as a full-price title like any other Nintendo-published game... Oh, did I not mention it was published by Nintendo themselves? Got their name on the spine and everything.

Nintendo slid the reveal of this game into one of its Nintendo Direct presentations, and I remember the general impression being quite negative. I didn't understand the ridicule, though. I saw an open-world game with town building and the ability to buy clothes, which ticks a few of my more niche video game interests. Personally, I blame Breath of the Wild for giving everyone unrealistic expectations for every Nintendo game.

So DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power (from here on referred to as Teen Power for brevity) was developed by TOYBOX, a Japanese developer. Their credits include Little Dragon's Cafe and Deadly Premonition 2. The game was pitched by the team in Japan, developed in Japan, and then localised for the West after the fact. For all intents and purposes, this is an anime game. The design ethos is noticeably Japanese, it feels Japanese, and (most exciting of all) the game features a Japanese dub. Or rather, it was developed with this dub in mind so the animations are actually synced to that. You'd be doing yourself a favor if you played it in the Japanese dub, but of course I'd say that.

Teen Power is based on the DC Super Hero Girls license, a reimagining of various 'Detective Comics' superheroes and supervillains but as teenagers who go to college or whatever. Apparently, the cartoon is excellent, or so I'm told, but outside of seeing a few figures here and there in bargain bins at the Ashens approved Poundland, this game was my first exposure to the license. Teen Power does a good enough job of explaining who people are without beating you over the head with excessive backstory, but a basic knowledge of DC's characters helps. You'll hear some big-hitters referred to, but you won't see them. So Batman and The Joker will be mentioned and shown on the cover of a comic book, but they won't appear in the story or deliver dialogue lines. Teen Power focuses on some slightly lesser remembered characters but nobody the portly son of a postage stamp collector would get excited about.

The story of this game is either practically nonexistent or completely irrelevant. Actually, it's kind of both. Our teenage superheroes and supervillains discover that there are evil toys everywhere, destroying the city and causing a ruckus. It doesn't take long to link this phenomenon to the disasters taking place at nearby Hobs Bay. The area got ransacked by robots, and now LexCorp is looking to rebuild the area. That's it. Investigate why there are evil toys everywhere and find out how LexCorp is connected. Uh-huh.

I suppose I should go over gameplay. Forgive the shoddy and basic math but about half this game consists of running (slowly) around a small interconnected hub area taking photos for the in-game social media platform, Supersta—and the other half of the game is the admittedly brilliant "Bayonetta Junior'' combat system. Let's briefly get the first style of gameplay out of the way. Your chosen character will, in their civilian disguise, run around the game world looking for collectibles or missions to activate. They don't have any of their powers because they're blending in with the "normals", which means you have to move really slowly or navigate the area with the world's most pitiful jump. When you find something you need to take a photo of, you activate the gyro-controlled smartphone camera and take a photo, before "uploading" it to the Supersta social media platform, where it will receive likes and comments automatically generated based on an algorithm and list of pre-written responses. Occasionally, items will be "trending", and photographing them gets more followers and likes. This leads to a weird disconnect where an arty photograph of the city skyline gets fewer likes than a photo of a shipping container because for some reason those are trending at the time.

I struggle to get followers and likes in reality, so seeing Barbara Gordon get 1000 likes on a picture of a red shipping container makes me feel woefully inadequate and a failure in life.

The better half of the gameplay is the previously mentioned "Bayonetta Junior" combat system. That is my tongue-in-cheek way of saying that Teen Power plays like a spectacle-fighter. Everything you expect to see is here. The lock on, rolling, and "witch time" slowdown when you successfully time a dodge. The fighting plays like a Platinum Games title if it was made for mobile or something. As fun as the combat can be, unfortunately, it feels floaty, along with the timing for the dodges never being entirely clear. The requirements for bonus experience points and cash rewards are too hard for me so I dread to think how difficult they'd be for the teenage audience this was presumably intended for. When the combat system finally makes sense and gels with me, it is then further let down by the roughly five enemy types, which reappear in different sizes and colours, but are otherwise the same enemy repeated. It screams of laziness but likely also convenience. Having the same generic toy-themed enemies over and over makes sense, considering that the main antagonist of Teen Power is Toyman. But it still comes across as being uninspired. One particularly egregious moment is when near the end of the game, you have a boss fight with an enemy that is just a larger version of one of the basic enemy types, but what makes it different? It's green and has the word Giga in its name.

You can play as three superheroes: Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), Supergirl (Kara Danvers), and Wonder Woman (Diana Prince). Around halfway through the game, you unlock three supervillains to play as, too. Harley Quinn (Harleen Quinzel), Catwoman (Selina Kyle), and Star Sapphire (Carol Ferris). Each character comes with a skill tree to upgrade and stuff to unlock, along with many clothing options for both their civilian clothes and their super attire. While there are no incidental fights (every battle is preordained based on a plot or side quest), you can replay them once you unlock the "VR" menu, presumably reliving previous battles thanks to the power of virtual reality. Hey, the experience and money are still just as real, and necessary to unlock almost anything of importance.

Teen Power oozes charm and from what I can tell it really emulates the show's visuals well. The animations are fluid (when up close) but you'll often see the character animations in the distance crawl to low FPS as a result of Teen Power's strange though admittedly excellent optimisation. If I could give props to the game for any one thing it would be how well it runs. I vaguely recall one single bit of slowdown over my entire playthrough, when I used Harley Quinn's No Time Bomb while surrounded by many enemies. It cleared up as soon as their exploding animations had finished playing. Teen Power isn't a graphically intensive game and it cuts a few corners, but if that's what it takes to get a smooth and flawless performance then I say it's fine. The characters and locations are stylized in such a way that you don't have to be running to a graphically intensive standard.

Given how horrendously Little Dragon's Cafe and Deadly Premonition Origins run on the Switch, I'm glad to see TOYBOX finally discovered how to optimize their own games.

Would I recommend Teen Power? Honestly, no. All of the game's floatiness and lack of focus could easily be fixed in a sequel, and we probably won't get one if it doesn't sell enough. Be it rude of me to suggest this, but that might just be the fate this game deserves. It is a middling licensed game with a few really strong moments, but unless you have a sibling or child you can use the excuse of "buying the game for" then you might be better off just skipping this one.

Took about nine hours to complete. A little too short given it was released at full price. Blows my mind that Nintendo picked this one up to publish themselves. Not the worst thing I've played, but far from the best.

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