The Teen Titans cartoon show was canceled in early 2006, but that hasn't stopped publisher THQ from releasing a budget-priced beat-'em-up based on the license. As bad an idea as that sounds, the game is actually fairly enjoyable, simply because it delivers a lot of solid--if not especially gripping--content for not a lot of money. The most apparent flaws of Teen Titans are inherent to the genre, so if you can accept the shallow repetition of a straightforward button-mashing action game and you enjoy the cartoon it's based on, then you can't go wrong with Teen Titans the game. However, if you're expecting anything more than that, you're better off looking elsewhere.
The Teen Titans television series is based on a comic book series from DC Comics, the folks responsible for Batman, Superman, and countless other superheroes and villains. The Teen Titans are a band of teenage superheroes who use their powers to fight for "truth, justice, and pizza." The show is targeted at younger audiences, with a much greater emphasis on having fun than saving the world from evil, although they still do manage to balance both of those activities fairly well.
The team is made up of five main members: Beast Boy, Starfire, Robin, Cyborg, and Raven. One day, while Cyborg and Beast Boy are playing a video game, they suddenly realize that they have, in fact, been transported into a video game and are being controlled by an unknown villainous entity. The team proceeds to fight through several levels in search of the "Last Boss" of the game. The story isn't coherent most of the time, and it gets pretty hokey when the teens break the fourth wall and start talking at the camera. But the story at least provides a workable excuse to introduce an array of characters from the show. Before story mode is finished you'll face more than a handful of familiar bosses, including Jinx, Gizmo, and Slade.
The gameplay in Teen Titans is divided between two separate but complementary game modes. In story mode, you take control of the five teen superheroes and fight through several levels of enemies and bosses. This mode can be played single-player or with up to three other players cooperatively. In single-player, you control one character at a time, while the artificial intelligence controls the rest of the group. You can switch characters at any time using the D pad, and each character has unique enough moves to make doing so worthwhile. But although each character has special combos and signature moves, they are all fairly well balanced. Each character has a quick attack, a strong attack, and a ranged attack. Any of those attacks can be charged up for an even stronger version of each attack. Beyond that, each character has a unique special move, as well as a super move that can be performed when you find a special power-up item. You can also pick up all sorts of items to be used as weapons, including exploding barrels, concrete slabs, and unconscious enemies. There are team attacks that you can perform by tossing an enemy between characters like a volleyball. So while the characters do play differently, the basic moves and team attacks prevent you from feeling like you're at a disadvantage when using any one character.
In story mode you move through several levels, clearing dozens of enemies from one area or room to the next. You'll usually enter a room, which will then be sealed until you kill all the enemies, magically removing the barrier and allowing you to progress. There are some areas that have you protecting someone or something, but you'll spend the vast majority of the game just beating up one enemy after the other. The action does get repetitive rather quickly, but at least the boss fights are fun, frequent, and somewhat challenging. Thankfully, the game doesn't overstay its welcome. You can finish story mode in a few hours on the normal difficulty setting, which is just about right, because the relatively shallow gameplay couldn't possibly remain engaging for any longer than that.
Playing through the story will unlock characters and arenas for the master-of-games mode. Master of games is essentially a versus mode in which you can battle an AI opponent or go at it with up to three of your friends. There are 36 characters to choose from, including all five of the main heroes, all of the villains from story mode, and dozens more characters from the cartoon. All of the characters have special moves and abilities, just as they do in story mode. The arenas are fairly large and some are multitiered. They're also filled with hazards such as falling rocks and rotating electrical currents, just to make things a little more interesting. But even with crushing boulders, sizzling electricity, and wacky superpowers, the master-of-games mode gets dull after a short while. The best part is simply trying out each of the characters, but after you've done that, there isn't much fun left to be had. The problem is that the mode is presented as a melee-style fighting game, but it still plays like a button-mashing beat-'em-up. The result is far too many matches where one character repeats the same move over and over until the other succumbs, either to the attack or to boredom.
Despite being released a full six months later than the PlayStation 2 and GameCube versions of the game, Teen Titans on the Xbox doesn't look much different. It does support 480p resolution, which is nice, but that doesn't do enough to set it apart visually. Just as with the previous versions of the game, the Xbox version is colorful and the animations look nice, especially for Beast Boy's transformation attacks. Unfortunately, the fixed camera angles often obscure the action by zooming way too far out or taking up position behind objects in the environment. With so many characters onscreen at a time, it can often be difficult to distinguish between your own heroes and the enemies. All those characters and objects onscreen also take a toll on the frame rate from time to time, although the game does seem to run at a slightly better clip on the Xbox. The frame rate never reaches unplayable levels, but it still isn't quite ideal. The sound is one of the better elements of the game. The voice actors from the cartoon are on hand to provide the dialogue both in-game and during cutscenes, which lends a lot of personality to each character. The music is generic but appropriately upbeat, and the Japanese-language theme song from Puffy AmiYumi plays over the animated intro.
Unlike its titular heroes, Teen Titans is anything but remarkable. However, it's simple and it uses the license well, making it a solid purchase for younger players or those who are especially fond of the cartoon. The fact that it's a budget game makes it easier to excuse some of its more apparent technical flaws, but the gameplay still wears thin after a short while. Still, if you're looking for some cheap, mindless fun with lots of immature, wisecracking superheroes, Teen Titans is about as good as it gets.