Superman. Batman. Wonder Woman. The Flash. These are some of the most well known and beloved super heroes of all time. Imagine if someone were to take them and throw them into a fighting game. That’s exactly what Blizzard and co-developer Sunsoft did in the summer of 1995. Sounds like a winning formula, right? Well… not so fast there, Flash. Justice League: Task Force is certainly a moderately flawed fighting game, but it’s not terribly offensive. It’s just kind of… there. For diehard SNES owners and fighting game/DC Comics fans only.
JUSTICE LEAGUE UNITE
Last night I caught the premier of the brand new Justice League movie. I had a good time but found the film to be rather uneven. The tone shifted at times from scene to scene. I felt slightly underwhelmed by the time it was over but it definitely sets the stage for better to come.
Being in a Justice League mood, I decided there was no better time than now to finally play a childhood curiosity that has stood for over 22 years — Justice League: Task Force. I remember seeing it in magazines around the time I was graduating from elementary school. By June of 1995, I had my mind on other things as life grew increasingly more complex. I still loved the SNES but things were rapidly changing. Although I longed to play Justice League, I never did.
After getting back into the SNES on January 17, 2006, I bought Justice League for $4.75 not two months later. But it wasn’t until earlier this week that I finally played it for the first time. It’s always neat to cross a childhood curiosity off your list once and for all, especially when it’s for something you’ve been wondering about for over 20 years. Seeing that eBay invoice by the way brought back some memories. I didn’t expect to see it when I cracked open my copy of Justice League. In fact, it completely took me by surprise. I forgot all about the invoice. I’m a big fan of archiving so seeing this simple piece of paper definitely made my day. We’re off to a good start with Justice League but it’s not how one starts, it’s how one ends.
EVERYBODY’S KUNG FU FIGHTING
Cashing in on the fighting game boom of the mid ’90s, Justice League: Task Force has your typical modes. The Story mode allows you to only pick from the 6 super heroes while the Battle mode allows you to use the super heroes in addition to 3 super villains. The difficulty is adjustable from 1-5 with the default level being pretty tough. Like many clones of the era, Justice League copies the classic 6 button formula of Street Fighter II.
Clark Kent (6’3″, 225 lbs) is a reporter for The Daily Planet, a major metropolitan newspaper. In reality, he is a super being from the planet Krypton. As Superman, he is dedicated to upholding “Truth, Justice and the American Way!” His fights are held appropriately enough on the rooftop of The Daily Plant, overlooking the beautiful city of Metropolis.
Superman’s powers are on full display here as he exhibits his heat vision, freeze breath and when all else fails, his burning fist is put to good use!
Bruce Wayne (6’2″, 210 lbs) is a master of martial arts, an impeccable detective and an inventor of specialized weaponry. He battles atop a roof overlooking Gotham City at night. This backdrop nicely captures the grit and grim of Gotham City.
Batman’s classic Batarang serves as a natural choice for his fireball. He also has a variety of kick-based attacks including a Smoke Bomb Drop Kick reminiscent of M. Bison. The Dark Knight can also evade projectiles.
Princess Diana (5’11”, 135 lbs) is an Amazon warrior princess and an Amazonian ambassador to “Man’s World.” Wonder Woman preaches the power of peace and other Olympian virtues, never fighting without provocation. Her home and a lovely fountain can be seen in the background.
Wonder Woman puts her Lasso of Truth to good use in Scorpion-like fashion. She can hover for a bit before performing a diving kick. She can also reflect projectiles with her wrist guards and hit you with a nasty Springing Flip Kick.
Wally West (6’0″, 175 lbs) gained super speed as a teenager in a freak accident while visiting his idol, the original Flash. He took over as The Flash when his idol died. He uses his power to run circles around some of the world’s most notorious criminals. His stage features flashes of lightning. Not only that but a piece of paper can be seen floating throughout. Both nice touches.
Fighting games from the mid ’90s always had one fighter with a super fast multi-hit strike. No one was born for that more than The Flash. His Tornado Blast takes a page right out of Joe Higashi’s playbook. And of course, you can’t be The Flash without some sort of dashing attack. Even better, he finishes off his dashing strike with a Dragon Punch.
Arthur Curry (6’1″, 325 lbs) was born in the undersea world of Atlantis. Aquaman was adopted by a lighthouse keeper and later became a founding member of the Justice League. His life’s work is keeping the oceans free of villains. Don’t spend too much time admiring the sea life in his stage — he’s tough enough without distractions!
Channeling Sub-Zero of Mortal Kombat fame, Aquaman delivers a mean Slide Kick. He also fires a deadly Water Blast and can knock you out cold with his Leaping Slam Punch. The Spinning Uppercut Punch protects him from projectiles.
Oliver Queen (5’11”, 178 lbs) began life as a pampered millionaire, but eventually chose a career in crime fighting, becoming Green Arrow. Green Arrow lives in Seattle, Washington, where he defends the weak and oppressed. Seattle’s Space Needle can be seen in his forest background.
Green Arrow’s special moves all revolve around his arrow expertise. Flaming arrows, icy arrows and from all angles. He’s a bit limited and niche, but hey, you got to respect a super hero that stays in his lane.
Barbara Ann Minerva (5’9″, 120 lbs) was once an important though ruthless archaeologist and treasure hunter. On an African expedition, she drank a potion that transformed her into the Cheetah. In order to maintain her power, she must hunt down victims. She and Wonder Woman are bitter rivals. Cheetah’s stage reflects her African exploits. She impales her victims with razor sharp claws.
Despero the Conqueror (8’5″, 450 lbs) is the last of a race of telepaths. He was once the iron-handed ruler of the planet Kalanor, a planet all but destroyed by nuclear wars. He is a savage opponent and a constant threat to the Justice League. His Eye Blast is the biggest fireball in the game. His Diving Kick and Leaping Head Fin Thrust shows off his deceptive speed. Stars can be seen flying by in the background of his spacecraft but if not careful, you’ll be seeing stars personally.
Darkseid (7’6″, 515 lbs) betrayed his uncle, banished his own wife and son and murdered his mother in order to rule his home planet of Apokolips! A complex and cunning villain, Darkseid has been known to spare vanquished foes who have fought well. But don’t count on it! And watch out for his Sliding Backhand Punch, Laser Beams, Leaping Knee Kick and Jumping Head Stomp. I don’t care if you’re Superman, that will give anyone a serious headache!
Justice League: Task Force was also released on the Sega Genesis. I haven’t played it but it’s interesting to note the different aesthetics between the two. The Genesis one takes on a more comic book-like appearance. The two games have different backgrounds and even special moves. An interesting oddity if nothing else. EGM gave the Genesis version ratings of 4, 5.5, 7 and 7.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Justice League: Task Force came out during an odd time. Back in June of 1995, the 16-bit era was starting to wind down as well as the fighting game boom. The game also seemed to come out of nowhere, with no Justice League connection elsewhere recently released to the public. Sure, these super heroes and villains have a certain level of timelessness to them, but the release date and more importantly average gameplay did it zero favors. Thus, Justice League came and went with little fanfare. These iconic characters definitely deserved better. Super Play slammed it, giving it a paltry score of 30% (OUCH).
Justice League: Task Force feels a lot like a day late and a dollar short. Or in this case, a few years late and a fun fighting engine amiss. It would have fared better if it were released in mid 1992 as opposed to the summer of 1995. By then, SNES owners had already experienced the likes of the Street Fighter II trilogy, Mortal Kombat II, TMNT: Tournament Fighters and World Heroes 2. Hell, even games like Fighter’s History and World Heroes, both rather underrated arcade to SNES ports, blow Justice League out of the water so bad that not even Aquaman can save it.
There’s a reason why you never see Justice League on anyone’s Super Nintendo Hidden Gems list. It’s a strictly middle of the road fighting game. The visuals are decent looking in spots but the animation leaves a lot to be desired. Some of the music tracks are alright but others are mute-inducing. The sound effects are terrible and there are no voiceovers whatsoever. It’s a small thing but I love it when I hear an announcer proclaiming, “ROUND ONE… FIGHT!” or when my characters talk during their special moves. These absences only further accentuate the cheapness of the product we received… a sort of half-baked attempt to cash in on both the fighting game boom and the general popularity of iconic comic book characters. While it’s certainly not unplayable by any means, you would have to be a pretty diehard fan to go out of your way to play this when there are so many better choices available. Justice League, Unite? More like Justice League, Retreat.
DYK: Dan MacArthur worked on the SNES versions of World Heroes and Justice League. He did a fantastic job with the World Heroes port. Justice League, not so much.