The Flash in Video Games Part 1: 90s Handhelds

Today’s guest post is by Colin Crebs.

I am a simple man, and there are two things I love in life. This exhaustive list includes the following: 1) video games and 2) the Flash. If you understand these two Flash-facts about me, you pretty much know me as well as any human being can know another in one lifetime.

LEGO Flash

Pictured above: The Lego Flash in 2012’s Lego Batman 2, the apotheosis of everything I ever wanted in a video game. And no, I’m not writing this blog post from an elementary school computer lab.

Unfortunately, this makes me very much a “niche” gamer, someone video game developers do not really cater to. The gaming market is not exactly saturated with Flash solo-titles, let alone appearances of the Flash in general. The Flash as a video game character, programmed correctly, is as rare as a Shiny in Pokemon, a Gold Chocobo in Final Fantasy 7, or perhaps an original copy of Earthbound on amazon.com. (Act quick! There’s one left, and it’s only $19,995.50!)

Aside from some obscure handheld games, the Flash is just not a titular character in gaming. He probably had his chance with his TV series to hit the big-time, but our beloved Scarlet Speedster’s show was defeated by the combined might of The Simpsons and The Cosby Show, a veritable Rogues Gallery of television. And thus the doors to true mainstream appeal in movies and games, widespread as love of Batman and Spider-Man, were probably shut for a while.

From this long forgotten time, which archaeologists sometimes refer to as the 90s, we got some strange Flash releases. Why anybody thought handheld platforms were the ideal way to show off the Flash’s super-speed, I have no idea, but we were gifted with two handheld releases: The Flash on Game Boy in 1991 and The Flash on the Sega Master System in 1993, two years after the TV series was cancelled oddly enough.

In my opinion, the Flash’s solo adventures, which are all about multi-tasking and fighting the combined might of many different Rogues at once through the gift of super-speed, just aren’t captured through handheld and the limitations of a B&W Game Boy. You can’t accurately simulate fighting an illusion conjuring madman, a wizard from the future, and a mind-controlling gorilla all at the same time in such a little screen. Anything less than that, and you’ve just got a generic platformer/brawler, and that tiny sprite with the winged mask might as well be Captain America.

The Flash on Game Boy

Pictured above: The Flash on Game Boy. Just not scratching the itch for some reason.

If you watch footage from these games on YouTube, emulate them, or track them down in a garage sale, a very clear principle reveals itself within seconds: the Flash and 2D platforming do not mix. To run at super-speed, it seems, you need to see more than 5-feet in front of yourself at all times, a luxury a handheld screen will not afford you. Because these vision-impaired Flashes are constantly struggling against this primitive camera, they run into a pit, a spike, or a flame trap every step they take.

Additionally, why is the Flash’s super-speed limited to movement? Why does the Flash have to stop and duck to dodge a bullet? Why does he have to use trampolines to reach the tops of building when he could just run up their sides? When he runs full speed into a generic thug, why does the Flash stop like he hit a wall? Why are the Flash’s punches weaker and slower than Batmans? Why isn’t the slightest contact with the Fastest Man Alive causing these mere mortals to explode in pixelated messes of gore?! I could go on forever.

I can...hardly move...

Pictured above: Artist’s rendition of playing as the Flash on the Sega Master System.

Perhaps as a result of these poor showings, the Flash is relegated to auxiliary roles in Justice League games today. For instance, he’s a playable character in Justice League Heroes on Xbox and PS2, Justice League: Earth’s Final Defense on Google Play and iTunes, and Lego Batman 2 on PS3 and Xbox360. All of these require some work on the part of the player, however, in order to unlock him. It’s neat that the Flash is a “reward” in and of himself, I suppose. I still wish he got more solo exposure though. His last solo appearance, in which he gets second billing even in his own title (Justice League Heroes: The Flash) was met with mixed critical response, and was probably the last we’ll see of him as the star of his own game.

But you know what? That’s okay. If you’re a Flash fan, you’re probably used to being a “niche” fan. You’re probably used to going out of your way to find Flash appearances, Flash comics, Flash merchandise, etc. The most illusive, and most rewarding, Flash appearance in my opinion is when he’s programmed well in a video game. In the coming weeks, I hope to walk through some appearances of the Flash in gaming, done well and not so well.

For my first Flash Pro-Tip, I leave you with this: stay away from the Flash titles in the 90’s. The Flash, like we learned from Spider-Man and Batman’s successes in games, belongs in the Third Dimension.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Colin Crebs is a third-year law student at S.J. Quinney College of Law in Salt Lake City, Utah. He was born with a SNES controller in his hands. Contact with questions and comments at colin.crebs@law.utah.edu.

10 thoughts on “The Flash in Video Games Part 1: 90s Handhelds

  1. Devin

    I kindly disagree. I cherish all of my Flash handhelds. I’ve spent hours on both the Gameboy and Gameboy Advance Games (heck I even bought a GBA SP just so I could play Justice League Heroes: The Flash) and they are tons of fun. Yes they are a bit limiting but I think that is where true ingenuity shines. Not saying that these games are masterpieces but definitely a ton of fun. The only handheld I would say that was too simple was the Tiger Handheld game (old Holy Grail) and really that was the nature of Tiger handhelds anyway. And have you played Justice League: Earth’s Final Defense? Surprisingly good game for $.99. Good write up though. Oh and the Sega Master System is not a handheld by any stretch of the imagination. Unless you are emulating it on a PSP or something.

    Reply
  2. Colin Crebs

    Thanks for the Flash-fact checking! Never owned a Master System, so made a big mistake. And maybe I’m channeling AVGN too much, being too hard on old games by today’s standards. I do love Earth’s Final Defense: have a review of it written, talking about how it’s really sweet for just .99.

    Reply
  3. FlashWallyWest

    Man!!! I thought it was going to be a complete post of all Flash games-cameos-appearances (it says part 1!), I was so excited… But it was just some personal opinion about The Flash in video games (and not all).
    I’m with you, Devin, Justice League Heroes: The Flash was for me, at the time, the best game in the world and the Master System is not a handheld, like Devin said.
    What about The Flash in Justice League Task Force (Genesis and SNES), that game was from the 90’s too.
    Let’s see what comes in the next part of this report.

    Reply
  4. Hector

    This is an excelent post, congratulations on picking this subject! I’m a huge Flash and video game fan as well; however, I enjoy my copy of the JLH:The Flash title very much.

    Reply
  5. Kyer

    I’m holding out for Flash: The Virtual Reality Game. One day (hopefully before I’m dead and gone) we’ll be able to strap on a facsimile Flash cowl replete with HiDef 3D Wrap-A-Round technology and watch Flash go hyper on Grodd’s face. (Because I hate apes. Honestly. Hairy, smelly critters. Which, come to think of it, would make an awesome case for HiDef 3D Wrap-A-Roiund not coming outfitted with Smell-O tech.)

    Should this game never be produced, I’ll settle for a feature length Lego Flash because just the sound of those high speed pittar-patter fleet feet running on yellow Lego bricks makes my heart go pitter patter.

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  6. Khrystine

    Perhaps the limitations you mention are why there have been so few Flash video games. How well can you control a character at super speeds? Sure is a shame though….

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    1. Kyer

      The trick in that case would be to have all other characters and elements travel the game screen in super-slo-mo. Then Flash would look blazing fast by comparison and you wouldn’t accidentally send him smacking into a tree ala George of the Jungle because your reflexes (and the rest of Humanity’s) is too slow. 🙂

      Reply
        1. Mike W.

          And that game gives me a headache just watching it. Playing it is not an option for me. A Flash game in a style like this with all the weirdo angles and everything I would own and nauseatingly play through. On a side note, the Sega Master System Flash video game is a challenge to get through the first time.

          Reply

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