Weekend Aside: Justice League Task Force (SNES)
One area where Marvel’s always had a massive, massive edge on DC was in the fighting game department. Marvel had the good fortune to have their characters licensed to Capcom, who produced first the X-Men fighter (complete with voices from the animated series) and later the vs. series (which is apparently getting revived fairly soon). DC, on the other hand…
Well, at one point in time seeing the Sunsoft logo would be a good thing, but they were in their fading days here, as evidenced by Aero’s presence. They actually had little to do with this game; my guess is that they still had some residual rights to the DC characters that weren’t Batman (who’d moved to Konami in the SNES era, as you’ll recall). However, the game was published by Acclaim (alternately known as Ack!Lame or Akkrap given their reputation), which was a bad sign. Hm, wonder who actually made it…
Huh. Yes, it’s THAT Blizzard. Diablo. Starcraft. The world’s most profitable glorified chatroom. Well, everyone has to start somewhere….
The game is broken down into a story mode and “battle mode”, but fundamentally there’s no difference between the two other than that you’re restricted from using the three villains in story mode and the order’s pre-defined.
The roster features six JLA members, although since this was developed between the Death and Return of Superman storyline (Supes is rocking the super-mullet) and Morrison’s JLA revival, it’s a bit of a weird mix. Anyway, the big three are the obvious choices for a game like this, so they’re in.
You have no idea how long it took to get these three shots, since the intro sequence locks up on SNES9x more times than not. Anyway, Flash is obvious, and it’s Wally sporting his early-90s look with the white eyeshields. Aquaman’s in his last vestiges of pre-Peter David revival, and… wait, Green Arrow? I don’t remember Ollie having been a significant JLA member around this time; not sure why he’s here instead of the more obvious pick of Green Lantern.
The villains don’t get character intros, but suffice it to say that they’re Cheetah (seemingly only in the game for her butt-flashing victory pose), Despero (in the armour sported by his DCUC and Total Justice figures) and, naturally, Darkseid.
The game is actually kind of a decent fighter; the animation quality is above average for an SNES game, although it’s certainly not as fluid as something like Street Fighter II. Blizzard did at least take the time to make the heroes play a little bit like their actual counterparts; for example, Superman has his full slate of powers, but since he’s not a skilled fighter he doesn’t have any kicks.
Flash is probably the easiest fighter to get into the game with, as he has a E.Honda-esque button-mashing punch flurry that’s enough to win most fights by itself if it lands. Other powers include a teleport and a projectile whirlwind. He also has one of my all-time favourite fighting game attacks – a dragon punch, but one that starts off with a dash. This thing lands for about four hits sometimes and takes up almost half the screen. I think part of the reason I have rose-coloured glasses regarding this game is that Wally’s so comically overpowered.
For this review, I ran through the game as Wonder Woman, and she’s also pretty fun to play as. While lacking a projectile of her own, she has a projectile block using her bracelets. Since this game was released around the height of Mortal Kombat mania, her lasso plays just like Scorpion’s, except you don’t get to choose what attack follows. She also can fly (although she only has one attack from that position, unlike Superman) and has a neat dashing kick that rolls forward into a second attack that covers a lot of space. She’s a fun character to play as, especially once you start chaining her attacks together. The projectile shield works better in theory than in practice, however; it took me a long time to get that screenshot of her turning back the tornado. :)
The other characters aren’t as much fun as Wonder Woman and Wally, but their influences are clear. Batman relies on Batarangs and a very useless “smoke bomb” attack that takes about two seconds from your first clue to actual execution; he’s a major disappointment (and if anyone was going to have a Scorpion-like attack, you’d think it would be him). Aquaman is the powerhouse, justly so, while Green Arrow is obviously heavily reliant on various projectiles (he shares a freezing attack with Superman, another sign of the MK influence). Cheetah is a bit of a Blanka clone, very hard to get close to, and she has that neat ground-and-scratch animation. Despero’s so forgettable that I didn’t even get a screencap of him, but he’s good at countering flyers. And Darkseid obviously takes after M. Bison, complete with double-foot-stomp attack.
The game as a whole has taken, frankly a bit too much slack over the years; sure, the story mode – featuring the heroes trying to gain revenge on Darkseid for his destruction of a… military base… is horrible, but the graphics are generally very good (look at the detail in Cheetah’s), the music’s genericized versions of the more famous themes of the various characters, and the pace of the action isn’t too bad. The biggest problem lies with the AI, which seems to jump from passive punching bag to special spamming wrecking machine with a small change in difficulty level. And, of course, the roster is very limited; even the first Street Fighter had more characters, albeit with only eight of them playable.
But if you can get past the gameplay limitations (it does feel stiff at times, and the balance isn’t great), the poor voice work, of the premise and the very fact that Superman could be beaten, even up, by Green Arrow in a fight, then it’s an interesting experience. Not the best licensed fighter on the SNES by a long shot, but given the slim pickings for DC fans, it’s either this or figure out how , and I’ve got better things to do with my time than that. Blizzard fans might find it interesting to see where their beloved studio started. For people who don’t get a bit of a thrill just by being able to play as Batman, though, there’s obviously much better fighting games on the SNES.
But if you’re reading this site, I suspect I know where your loyalties on that question lie already.
(That said, the MUGEN versions of DC characters that use their Amalgam characters in specials? Pretty awesome.)