In the world of comic book video games, 2006 will go down as they year of the super hero team up. In the Marvel camp, there was Marvel Ultimate Alliance, the third overhead action-RPG from developer Raven who cut their teeth previously on the excellent X-Men Legends games, and on the DC side there was Justice League Heroes which played similar to Raven’s outings. Both games appeared on nearly every system imaginable, from the newly released PS3 and Wii, to the just one year old Xbox 360 and the aging PS2, Xbox and even Game Boy Advance hardware. For the Game Boy Advance SKU of Heroes, publisher WB Games took a different direction and moved the focus from multiple playable characters to just one, and the results more than make up for the first time someone attempted a Flash game on a handheld.
Justice League Heroes on the Game Boy Advance hails from WayForward, who disappointed earlier in the year with their game tie-in to X-Men The Last Stand, but have since gone on to be one of my favorite developers. While the game focuses on The Flash, it doesn’t tell a story truly dedicated to the character, but what the character is doing during the events of Justice League Heroes on consoles. In fact, the game’s conclusion more or less directs you to pick up the other game in order to find out the conclusion to the events the character is investigating.
Despite really being a Justice League game merely featuring The Flash, WayForward managed to squeeze in plenty of the characters more popular Rogues, including Gorilla Grodd, Killer Frost and Professor Zoom. The game also starts out in The Flash’s home turf of Central City, but quickly leaves on a decent tour around the larger DC Universe, such as urban environments like Gotham City and Metropolis as well as fantastical areas like the island of Themyscira.
The first time The Flash showed up on a Game Boy, it was in 1991 and it a side-scrolling action game riddled with problems due in part to the games terrible controls. For his outing on the Game Boy Advance, WayForward went the route of the beat-em-up which thankfully does away with the tricky plat-forming, keeping the characters feet planted firmly on the ground where they belong. You attack with “B” and the “A” button lets you zip directly to whatever enemy is in your line of sight. Not only is this a great fit for the character, really showing off his super speed, but it’s also an incredibly satisfying mechanic, rushing towards an enemy, unleashing a flurry of blows and then rushing to your next opponent. Later on you unlock some new attack moves, activated by simple motions like making a circle or hitting up and down quickly while holding the attack command, but nothing feels quite as good as useful as your first move set.
The only other move in The Flash’s arsenal is a slow down mechanic initiated by hitting the “R” trigger, but it’s a bit of a let down. It doesn’t open really open up any attacks like say, a Viewtiful Joe, nor is it used for any interesting puzzles save the final encounter where when you have to slow things down in order to find the gap in a laser field to hit a boss. The game is fun in a very simple way, much like all beat-em-ups are to a point, but a little variety outside of the dashing and punching would’ve been very much appreciated.
The Flash does take center stage here, but the game doesn’t feature the words “Justice League” in the title for nothing. Other members from DC’s most famous super team: Superman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter,Green Arrow and Black Canary, can be summoned with the “L” button for a devastating screen clearing attack. These attacks are not to be squandered as this game is a pretty tough one. I made it about halfway through on normal and get stuck on a pretty tough boss and reluctantly dropped the game down to easy and started over. Luckily this is not one of those games that punishes you for doing so, other than having to start over of course, so you can still see the entire game if it’s too much of a challenge.
Playing on easy, this game won’t last very long, clocking in at a little under two hours to get through the entire thing. You can try alternate difficulties if you crave a greater challenge, or try some of the few extras, like a boss rush mode and a simplistic race with Superman where both characters are endlessly running through the game’s environments and you have to hit robots in the way to race ahead. One of the more interesting bonus features is a “Making Of” that goes into some pretty thorough information about the game design process, from landing the contract, how long it takes to build a game like this (9 months) and each of the frames of animation for The Flash.
One my favorite things about playing any game developed by WayForward is looking at their phenomenal sprite work, and this truly is a showcase of that. Everything is zoomed out such that The Flash can move around between foes and even at a distance, he looks great, even better so in motion as he’s constantly in a great looking running animation. The same can’t be said for the between level cut-scenes though. After each level Flash will engage in a conversation with other members of the Justice League to set up where he’s headed to next, but each hero looks like a caricature. The title hero is far too skinny with a poorly drawn face, contrasted with Superman and Martian Manhunter who are far, far too buff and square chinned. I’ll heap endless amounts of praise on WayForward for their in-game work, but I have no explanation to offer for their terrible cut-scene art.
If took 15 years for someone to try another Flash game on a Nintendo handheld and the second time around, they got it right. This game is definitely on the simple as well as short side, but it’s also incredibly fun to play and look at. When WayForward are good, like Thor: God of Thunder on the DS and Batman: The Brave and the Bold, they’re on fire. Justice League Heroes: The Flash is a game you should pick up if you’re a fan of the developers work, or a fan of the character. With no solo Flash game on the horizon, this game stands as the best game starring the character, though it is in short company.