Even in its waning years, the GBA is still getting a trickle of software. Licensed titles are inevitable on Nintendo’s established portable, but rarely are they any good. JLH: The Flash is one of those rare games that breaks out of the licensed rut, and manages to be pretty enjoyable while it lasts.
There is little in this game that is new; it’s a brawler, and can trace its roots back to super hero beat-em-ups on the Sega Genesis and even the NES. While many other games in this genre are mediocre, however, The Flash adds just a little spice. I expected this game to be a throwaway, with the Justice League title but only one playable character out of the team, but the focus is actually good for the game. The Flash is a tricky character to get right, and the developers have pulled it off nicely.
Flash plays like most brawlers, with the added element of speed. You still navigate the Flash through fairly linear, isometric stages and pummel enemies into submission, but playing it in the traditional sense is awkward and difficult. For the first level or so I was bumbling about in a typical fashion, and realized it was difficult to line up my attacks properly. Then it clicked. The Flash is all about going fast, so I really needed to take advantage of those “extra button” functions that are usually throwaways in similar games.
Holding down a secondary button and a direction on the D-pad will send Flash instantly to the nearest enemy on the screen. Because attacks can’t be chained indefinitely, opponents will eventually get a punch through and chip away at precious health. So, the best strategy is to zip back and forth between enemies pinball-style, landing a few quick hits at a time until all of the opposition is cleared. There is usually more than one baddy on the screen at once so this strategy is easy to pull off, but even when you’re going mano-e-mano, dashing back a few paces to avoid a punch and then leaping back into the fray works well enough. Flash can also slow time as long as his power meter lasts, but cannot dash in this mode.
When the going gets really though, Flash can call in screen-clearing backup from other JL members, like Wonder Woman and Green Arrow. These work well in clusters of common enemies but aren’t much help during boss fights.
All of the environments are tailored to the repetitive strategies of a brawler, so the only real variation is in visual flair. The streets and buildings change from Gotham to Metropolis to Themyscira, but the start-to-finish structure remains throughout the main game. Boss battles take place in rooms that only span one or two screens, but the visuals involved are clean and impressive for a GBA game. The red blur behind Flash when he speeds up is particularly satisfying during a fight.
Like the graphics, sound in The Flash is pretty standard but does its job. Music doesn’t grate but it doesn’t inspire excitement either. Most of the sound effects are stock punches and explosions, with a few nice rushing effects. The saving grace is a smattering of lines from the Flash, who has his customary attitude and snappy wit.
With a decently sized story mode and solid gameplay, JLH: The Flash is a good stocking stuffer this holiday, but it still won’t hold anyone’s attention very long. It adds some new tricks to a worn and beaten genre and stays fresh and challenging from start to finish. Pick this one up if you’re bored, or if you’re a JL fan and need that last piece of merchandise to complete your collection.
Going very fast is that Flash’s whole point, and luckily his standout game gets the idea right. The combat is designed around that premise and works well. Beneath the flashy exterior, however, this game is a typical beat-em-up, for better or worse.
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