Justice League: Cosmic Chaos Review: A Dungeon Crawler With Infinite DC Charm

Superhero stories are inherently silly. No matter how many deconstructive, subversive versions of those tales pop up across gritty comics, movies, television shows, or video games, the whimsy and spectacle of the source material is always there. When making a new story in that landscape, particularly within the past decade of grimdark DC adaptations, you can either ignore that bedrock or embrace it — and luckily, the recently-released Justice League: Cosmic Chaos embraces it wholeheartedly. The new title from Outright Games uses the foundation of the DC Universe to make an impossibly charming dungeon crawler, one that will hopefully steal the hearts of players of any age.

Justice League: Cosmic Chaos lets players embody any of DC's "Trinity" — Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman — in a battle against the mischievous fifth-dimensional imp, Mr. Mxyzptlk. When Mxy teams up with the League's very first villain, the sentient starfish Starro the Conqueror, to cause mayhem across the sleepy seaside town of Happy Harbor, the Trinity must go to great lengths to save the day and rescue their fellow Leaguers.

In the landscape of recent superhero games — particularly console games inspired by DC — something like Cosmic Chaos feels long overdue. The past half decade has either brought impossibly dense, gritty takes like Injustice 2 and Gotham Knights, or lighthearted, bare-bones games geared towards younger players. Cosmic Chaos manages to strike a balance between those two extremes, offering a fleshed out and entertaining world without any sense of irony or grimdark intentions. Sure, there are flavors of a number of established games — the gameplay evokes dozens of dungeon crawlers; and top-down format, chibi art style, and quaint locale feel like DC's answer to Animal Crossing. It's also easy to compare Cosmic Chaos to the robust, but family-friendly world of LEGO DC Super-Villains, but there is a sense of creative freedom that's a little bit quirkier. The game is so fully-realized, it's incredibly easy to imagine sequels or DLCs spanning any sort of character under the DC umbrella.

While the general conceit and structure of Cosmic Chaos could be enough to make it stand on its own, what catapults it into another stratosphere is its reverence for the DC Universe. Every hour of gameplay is jam-packed with DC lore — either references to other characters, homages to larger and specific parts of comic canon, or digs at the promise of the Snyder Cut. There are even jokes about some of the unspoken truths of DC's trends, like how weird it is that there are so many Green Lanterns from Earth, and how much of a wife guy Superman is. Some of these bits feel designed to go over the heads of younger players, but the voice cast, led by Diedrich Bader's Batman, Nolan North's Superman, and Vanessa Marshall's Wonder Woman, deliver each line of dialogue with an infectious sense of earnestness.

I could write an entire ode about the ingenious in-game use of comic covers for costume customization, which has a narrative explanation that only adds more incentive to unlocking each wacky and comic-accurate supersuit option. Once you get far enough into the game to and earn enough comics to customize your Trinity, the end result can be infinitely delightful — Batman can don every Batsuit from The Dark Knight Returns to rainbow; and Wonder Woman can don her controversial, all-white secret agent outfit from the 1970s, or a fast food uniform she wore in a single 1993 issue. (The only thing this component is missing is an in-game acknowledgement of who drew the costume or cover, something that Gotham Knights and Guardians of the Galaxy have already done to great effect.) 

In terms of combat, Cosmic Chaos' gameplay is straightforward, but still has the capacity for some flair. Each Trinity member's version of a punch or kick comes across as uniquely different (one of Wonder Woman's moves even feels like a G-rated version of the Assassin's Creed Spartan Kick), and there is a reasonable progression of additional moves and features available to upgrade. Sure, parts of the game are definitely still a typical button masher, but in all the right ways — and even if you find yourself stuck on a particular level, the absurdity of your mission won't leave you discouraged. (Case in point, the most frustrating level I've endured thus far involved protecting a child's sand castle from humanoid fish cops.) A game like this could have easily rested on the laurels of its narrative and let the gameplay suffer, but Cosmic Chaos comes together without ever being too simple or demeaning. Any elements that aren't flawless — the slow load times between a few levels, or the learning curve of understanding where the directional arrow in the UI is pointing at — are only fleeting, and are vastly outweighed by the elements that are genuinely delightful.

In virtually every way, Justice League: Cosmic Chaos displays a clear sense of love for the DC Universe — not some dreary Elseworlds version for adults or a neutered version for pint-sized fans, but the cartoony and heartfelt DC Universe as it often is. Once you get past whatever internal bias you have about the all-ages exterior, Cosmic Chaos delivers a fleshed-out and genuinely entertaining take on its heroes and villains. It might not reinvent the entire realm of superhero video games, but Cosmic Chaos is easily the biggest pleasant surprise I've encountered in a while.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Justice League: Cosmic Chaos is now available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S. A review code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review, and it was reviewed on an Xbox One.