The Justice League in a fighting game? I don't see how this could go wrong.
For some reason DC Comics, the home of Superman and Batman, rarely gets it right with video games. Marvel, with favorites like Spider-Man and the X-Men, tends to be pretty hit and miss themselves but a few Marvel titles are truly great games. Even on the Genesis, Marvel has a few classics like X-Men 2: Clone Wars. Speaking of which, I wonder if that's where George Lucas got the name from?
Anyway, in 1994 Capcom unleashed Marvel's X-Men Children of the Atom in arcades followed by Marvel Super Heroes a year later. These were phenomenal Street Fighter style versus fighting games with incredible graphics. The Marvel vs. Street Fighter/Capcom series would eventually follow and you know the rest. The series is still going strong today with the release of Marvel vs. Capcom 3.
Unfortunately back in 1995 there was no way in hell you could convert advanced games like Children of the Atom to 16-bit home consoles.
Why do they need a task force? Kind of redundant if you ask me.
I suppose DC was feeling a little jealous at this point and wanted a fighting game of their own. It seems like a no-brainer that comic book characters should translate well into fighting games. They already have special abilities ready to be translated into fighting game moves and making your favorite heroes bash each other's heads in sounds like a recipe for good fun.
It's a little complicated with a universe as vast and diverse as DC. Some heroes have god-like powers such as Superman while others like the Green Arrow are basically just humans with some kind of incredible talent. No matter what you do as a developer you're going to have to fudge the source material to make characters weaker and stronger than they're supposed to be in the name of game balance. This more than any other reason is probably why DC stayed out of the versus fighter business. They did give it a shot again later down the line with Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe which is a mixed bag though I thought it was fun despite the occasional scorn from comic book geeks.
And I thought the economic recession was bad news.
Instead of heading to the arcades like their chief competitor Marvel, they aimed at the SNES and Genesis with Justice League Task Force, developed by Sunsoft and published by Acclaim. I don't think Sunsoft (creators of the tough-as-nails NES classic Blaster Master) had a lot of experience with fighting games and it definitely shows. If you're expecting something close to the polish of a Capcom fighter, you're unfortunately going to be very disappointed.
Superman's hair was fabulous in the 90's.
The game's introduction is actually impressive. The god-like DC super villain Darkseid scarily appears, taking up the whole screen as mocks you in decent sounding digitized speech. This is followed by some nice rock music as we're introduced to the game's roster and their colorful logos. Despite this effort to grab your attention, as soon as the game starts things begin to go wrong.
Darkseid is unimpressed by your speedy punches.
At the menu you're presented with a "Hero Mode" which is just a fancy name for the one player story mode. You also have the generic player-versus-computer mode where you can choose who to pound on and of course you're given the obligatory player-versus-player mode to pound on your friends. In the "Hero Mode" you can only choose to play one of the Justice League heroes instead of being given the full roster which makes sense since it's called "Hero Mode." Still, I think it would have been nice to have a slightly different story for each character and include the villains. No matter who you play you're going to get the same story about beating up robot copies of the Justice League and then needing to shake down the bad guys before defeating their boss, Darkseid. You can basically just throw the story out the window which doesn't really hurt the game because you don't need a story in a game like this.
Failing to Superman that ho.
The game has other ways of hurting itself however. First let's look at the roster. DC has a wealth of characters to choose from in its long and legendary history so you'd think this would be a snap. You get your Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman but you also get Green Arrow and Aquaman. Sure they're important members of of the Justice League but when you're leaving out obvious guys like the Green Lantern it seems a little silly. The villains fair even worse in this regard. You've got Darkseid which is cool but the only other two villains in the game are third stringers; Cheetah from Wonder Woman and Despero from The Justice League. Cheetah is probably only there for added T&A as you'll notice with her furry nudism in the screen shots. Regardless of that fact out of all the awesome villains throughout DC lore you would have hoped they could have made some more interesting picks.
Cheetah provides some eye-candy if you're... uh... into that sort of thing.
Eight characters seems pretty low by today's standards and even in 1995 most games had eclipsed that number. It's a good idea to not put too many characters in a fighting game due to balance issues. It's easier to make it so one character won't be broken and completely pulverize all the others if you only have a few to worry about. Still, the character selection seems out-right anemic when you consider what they could have done with the source material.
Batman is into that sort of thing. Why did you think he dresses like a bat?
Even on the easiest setting the computer can be absolutely manic. They know what you're going to do before you do it and they punish you for it. This is a common gripe with old fighting games and particularly apparent when the game is poorly designed like this one. The game is beatable but still a lot more frustrating than it needed to be. Part of the problem is most of your attacks aren't very useful or satisfying. The special moves use the same button combinations you're used to from other fighters but each character is limited to only a few specials and using them is more of a chore than its worth due to unresponsive controls. The bottom line on the gameplay is that it's a generic fighting game with very little thought put into it. The novelty of using DC characters is not enough to carry the game past this mediocrity and with a lot better fighting games available on the system like two versions of Street Fighter 2 and the excellent Fatal Fury 2 there's no reason you should be playing this game.
Green Arrow gets his jaw smashed into atoms.
The graphics don't fare much better than the gameplay unfortunately. I was excited by the introduction because it was definitely impressive but once you get into the game there's really nothing special to look at. The character sprites are just good enough and give a fair representation of the 90's versions of the heroes and villains they represent but this late in the life of the system they could have done much better. As you'd expect the level backgrounds are mock-ups of their respective character's stomping grounds in the tradition of Street Fighter and they look pretty good. Gotham City is a particular favorite of mine with lightning flashing and the Bat-Signal showing in the background. Very dramatic stuff. The SNES version obviously looks a lot better and has different level backgrounds that the Genesis wouldn't have been able to pull off with its color palette limitations. Considering that version's gameplay is just as bad as this one's it's a small victory.
That pointy stick ain't going to save you fish man.
The game's sound is another addition to my long list of disappointments. Given the radical opening theme and nice voice acting I was expecting cool music and sound effects. Instead the game gives you extremely forgettable music tracks and very unsatisfying sound effects. The audio isn't terrible really and it at least won't insult your ears but it may cause you to yawn from boredom. Whether or not you find the audio for this game better for the SNES is your own personal preference. Somehow I doubt you care by this point.
Yes, Superman can fly in this game. Too bad he can't fly out of this game.
To wrap up this review I don't have much to say other than I was really let down. I added this game to my collection complete in-box for about two dollars so I don't feel cheated but at the same time I wish they could have pulled off something more. It's probably wrong of me to have high hopes about a licensed game such as this but you have to admit, in theory a DC Comics fighting game should be superb. It's worked for Marvel after all. This game will always make me wonder what could have been if they had tried to make a game to directly compete with Capcom's arcade fighters instead of producing this quick console cash-in.
It's not nearly as cool as this picture implies.
Presentation: 4 It starts off strong with a cool introductory sequence but falls flat on its face with a lame storyline that's the same for every character and a poorly thought out character roster.
Gameplay: 4 You get cheap-ass computer opponents, a crappy fighting engine, lame special moves that are hard to pull off even if you're putting in the right button combination and an overall feeling of pointlessness to it all. Playing as DC characters is fun but not fun enough to make you want to play them in this particular game for very long.
Graphics: 6 While they're not horrible they're not stand-out either. For a 1995 game I would have hoped for more. The character sprites are decent enough and since I enjoyed the backgrounds I'll give it an extra point.
Sound: 5 Not good, not bad, it's just completely forgettable. The opening theme was cool.
Lasting Appeal: 1 You'll play this game once and be done with it.
Overall Average: 4/10
Collector: Unless you absolutely have to have every fighting game on the system or you're a huge DC Comics fan you can pass on this one. At least it will probably cost you less than a cheeseburger at McDonalds if you do decide to get it.
Gamer: Mess around with it if you're curious but you're bound to be disappointed.