I’m not talking about Justice League Task Force the comic book, mind you. While I only own a few issues, Christopher Priest had a run as writer, and that generally ensures a certain degree of quality at least for a stretch. And while I loathe the “pro-active” super team chestnut, the Secret Defenders rotating line-up one is fun. Hey, did Justice League Task Force steal that gimmick from Secret Defenders or vice versa?
But I’m getting off topic—allow me to set the stage…
It’s 1995, I’m 13 years old, I’m huge into comics and while I’m only really versed in video games as far as my spare time at my friend Matt’s will allow me since I’ve only got an original NES with a partially rabbit-chewed wire, I do have some favorites, among them Street Fighter II. Thus the announcement of a fighting game featuring the Justice League seems like a slam dunk to me and I’m counting the days until Blockbuster gets their rental shipment in.
Any fan of comics and/or video game who has played Justice League Task Force is likely now cringing at my misplaced anticipated excitement.
To first give credit where credit is due, I liked and still dig the graphics on Justice League Task Force. The figures are colorful and energetic, looking like they’re straight out of a comic book, but the right mix of cartoony Street Fighter with more realistic Mortal Kombat living in harmony. The characters moved well enough—the women are in a kind of permanent uncomfortable looking crane pose—and the special moves look suitably neat. The mini movie that kicks the whole thing off is pretty well done too, with the cuts to all the locales and looming Darkseid promising a dope story to move this thing along.
And that’s where the good stuff ends.
The plot is that you’re a member of the Justice League going around visiting your friends to get info, but they all attack you and you need to fight them before gradually realizing they’re all android clones created by Darkseid. Then you beat Cheetah and Despero. Then you fight Darkseid. It ain’t Shakespeare, but it’s good enough for a 90’s fighting game, I guess.
You can play as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman or Green Arrow. No Green Lantern or Martian Manhunter, which is a shame as both ring constructs and shape shifting would have made for some diverse special moves, but as I’ll get to, a variety of fighting options is not really this game’s strong suit. It’s 1995, so Superman has a mullet. Also, Aquaman carries a trident around because that’s presumably easier to program than getting whales to jump on and off the screen.
Each character has their own location-specific background, which is pretty slick as far as Gotham, Metropolis, Themyscira, Atlantis and The Flash Museum—complete with statue of dead Barry Allen—but I guess they ran out of budget because Green Arrow gets a forest clearing. Cheetah is in the desert, Despero is on a spaceship and of course the final battle with Darkseid is on a so-so Apokolips.
So far not terrible, but keep in mind I’ve really just given you the set up—now it’s time to play the game.
Remember back in the 60’s where those old school Justice League stories paired off the various members of the team and so none could be distinguishable from the others they not only had the same personalities but virtually the same powers as well? By that I mean that even if Green Arrow was teamed with Superman, GA would have “fire arrows” and “ice arrows” so anything Supes could do with heat vision or arctic breath he could approximate. Likewise they’d use comics super science to explain how anything Green Lantern could do with his ring, Flash could do with speed. And maybe Batman had a magic lasso or something, I don’t know.
While I’d like to think the creators of Justice League Task Force were paying in homage to Gardner Fox and company, in reality, they seemingly just got really lazy, because everybody in this game has the same moves.
Superman has heat vision and arctic breath, while Green Arrow has fire and ice arrows and Batman has fire and ice Batarangs—all are the same. You can do the same shit with Aquaman’s trident you can do with Wonder Woman’s lasso. The only guy who really has his own move set is Flash, who has an awesomely cheap one where you can just keep running across the screen in continuous motion so whoever you’re fighting keeps getting punched and can’t stop you; it’s the JLTF equivalent of playing Street Fighter as E. Honda and doing that million punches thing (which I always do). Also, Flash can create tornados—who knew.
Anyways, you’ve basically got six characters with about six total moves between them and it gets real old real fast.
Oh, also Superman and Wonder Woman can fly, but they can’t really attack well while flying, so it’s somewhat useless.
Long story short, Justice League Task Force is a pretty game to look at, but you get sick of actually playing it really quick. You’d hope they’d redeem that somewhat with cool character endings, but again, they all have the same one.
I may not know much about video games, but I know what I like, and this wasn’t it. I will, however, throw a bone to the game’s developers because they also made Death and Return of Superman, which was awesome and my friend Chris and I stayed up through an entire night of college to beat it. I don’t see a world where I will ever grow tired of beating up thugs named Molotov as Superboy in the leather jacket and John Lennon glasses he should still be wearing today (and forever).