As the title implies, Justice League Heroes: The Flash provides beat-'em-up gameplay that puts you in the shoes of the fastest man alive. To thwart Braniac's latest attempt at world domination, you'll have to run and fight your way through 12 pseudo-3D levels that are packed with killer mechanoids and tricky supervillains. Although it may sound like it's just another generic action romp, The Flash's game distinguishes itself by incorporating the character's abilities in imaginative ways. It also presents slicker graphics and audio than the typical licensed tie-in.
WayForward Technologies, the game's developer, has put together a beat-'em-up game that is along the lines of such classics as Double Dragon or Streets of Rage. The only difference is that the combat and atmosphere are heavily influenced by the Justice League universe. The settings are Keystone City, Gotham City, the Amazon, and Metropolis. And each level is populated with its own collection of robots and henchmen that are ripped from the pages of DC comics. As you would in any game like this, you have to move through the levels and thrash the bad guys while paying attention to your health meter and your limited stock of lives. Tapping the attack button unleashes a chain of punches and kicks, and you can perform superhero attacks, such as a tornado lariat or ground pound, by inputting simple button combinations.
The real fun, though, kicks in when you make use of The Flash's trademark superpowers. By tapping the A button, you'll automatically dash toward the closest enemy and land a quick sucker punch. Pressing the right shoulder button activates a super-speed state, which causes enemies to move in slow motion and lets you get in multiple hits and send them flying before they so much as lift an arm or tentacle. Lastly, in a twist on the old smart bomb concept, you can tap the left shoulder button to summon some brief crowd control in the form of an appearance by Superman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Black Canary, or Green Arrow. They'll fly into view, say something witty, then kill all of the nearby enemies with an outburst of superhero might. These super abilities are imaginative and useful. Although their use is somewhat limited by a meter and icon pickups, the game generally gives you plenty of chances to go wild with them.
Like many beat-'em-up game, Justice League Heroes: The Flash does have its rough spots. On the technical end, the collision detection can be spotty. For example, normal attacks don't always connect when you think they ought to connect. If you make frequent use of The Flash's superhero abilities, however, you'll cut down on whiffs so that they become a rare annoyance. On the design end, the game is guilty of the usual beat-'em-up genre mainstays. Enemy behavior is a bit on the simple side, and fighting wave after wave of enemies can feel repetitive after a while. But things get interesting when enemies attack in groups, and at least they can retreat or block instead of just standing there like typical action-romp fodder. The game also mixes things up by introducing new enemies every couple of levels and by making you outlast a supervillain at the end of some levels. These encounters against such characters as Zoom and Braniac are smartly put together and challenging. Each boss has multiple attacks and two or three shifting behavior patterns that you need to figure out in order to get your own licks in during the brief vulnerable period between attacks. For example, when you're facing Circe, you have to dodge her thunderbolts initially, but later you have to reflect her attacks back at her when she starts throwing plasma balls. These boss battles are so much fun that you'll definitely want to check out the boss rush mode, which unlocks the first time you complete the game.
It also helps that the game looks and sounds the way you'd want a superhero game on the Game Boy Advance to look and sound. Backgrounds are detailed and colorful, and they flaunt cute superfluous animated touches, such as scrolling clouds and splashing water. The backgrounds and sprites are 2D, but the skewed perspective and multidirectional scrolling give the game a 3D feel. Sometimes you'll be heading left to right down a wide street; sometimes the screen will scroll downward; and sometimes you'll have to explore interconnected rooms and walkways. Also, unlike in so many similar games, you don't get the impression that the characters have simply been pasted over the backgrounds. Enemies jump out of windows and come up through the pavement, and you can break apart trash cans and street signs to find health and power items. Although you can tell who they're supposed to be, the characters are a bit on the small side. Their walks, attacks, and goofy reaction poses are all superbly animated, and they exude the same cocky attitude that you'll find in the recent Justice League comics and TV episodes. The comic book page cutscenes that appear between levels are another fan-friendly touch. Meanwhile, the kitschy dramatic music, meaty sound effects, and goofy voice samples provide an excellent soundtrack to accompany the action.
Justice League Heroes: The Flash proves it is possible to create a fun game that is centered on a B-list comic book superhero. You wouldn't think that running fast and busting heads could be made compelling, but the nifty abilities that The Flash has in this game, coupled with the challenging boss fights and top-flight presentation, make the scarlet speedster's foray on the GBA an interesting and enjoyable experience. Beat-'em-up games rarely have staying power beyond the initial breaking-in period, but this is one of the likeable games that you'll want to come back to again and again.