By Ian Walker
In the hands of a skilled player, even a weak character can be a winner. Dominique "SonicFox" McLean proved that this weekend when he used The Joker, arguably one of the worst characters in Injustice 2, to kick Batman's arse.
The showdown happened at the Community Effort Orlando fighting game tournament and was a showcase for the skills of SonicFox, a player who has dominated Injustice 2 and other games made by development studio NetherRealm. As the tournament drew to a close, SonicFox found himself facing fellow top competitor Christian "Forever King" Quiles in the semifinals.
With elimination looming, both players came into the match with a lot to lose. Forever King surprised no one by picking his usual main Batman, one of the more solid characters in the Injustice 2 roster thanks to the wide toolset at his disposal. But SonicFox went an entirely different direction, bringing out a pocket Joker against his rival. While Batman should easily defeat Joker on paper — if not in the comics, where he pretty much always loses — SonicFox was able to walk away with a devastating 3-0 victory, sending Forever King home in fourth place.
In the month since Injustice 2's release, serious competitors have been figuring out which characters are strong and which are not. The Joker is in that second group. Complaints about Deadshot, who dominated early thanks to his potent projectile game, have been replaced by fear of the power wielded by Black Adam and Atrocitus, powerful fighters that can turn the tide in an instant. One character that no one seems worried about, however, is the Joker.
Similar to comic rival Batman, the Clown Prince of Crime is a jack-of-all-trades, with tools that allow him to both keep an opponent at bay as well as close the gap and deal damage up close. Unfortunately, he doesn't do any of those things particularly well. Add to that his poor ability to deal with pressure on wake-up and the almost worthless HA HA HA character trait — which gives him a speed boost but requires a ton of setup to become even moderately useful — and Joker has clung to the bottom rungs of the character rankings since the game's release. Where many returning characters from the first Injustice have seen improvements, Joker continues to be a disappointment.
You can never count SonicFox out, no matter which character he's using. As the best NetherRealm competitor around, his knowledge of the game can make even the worst fighters look overpowered, and that's exactly what happened when he sat down for his CEO match against Forever King.
Despite his shortcomings, Joker shines when it comes to the mix-up game surrounding his Chattering Teeth special, which drops little teeth traps Due to the traps' status as a low-hitting move, players can drop the trap after knocking down an opponent and follow-up with an overhead, generally his Punchline string. This creates a situation where the opponent has to guess if they should block low or high, and if they end up getting hit by the Chattering Teeth, the bounce it provides leads into further combo and mix-up opportunities for Joker.
By playing to this strength and controlling the stage after cornering Forever King, SonicFox deftly utilised Joker's ability to whittle down opponents over a long period of time, tacking on damage as often as he could with the classic villain's jumping crowbar and gunshots. Forever King seemed completely thrown off by the character choice, dropping combos at inopportune times. Where Batman typically controls the match with an onslaught of mechanical bats, SonicFox took up residence in Forever King's head, confusing him with a mixture of rushdown offence and the tricky gameplay Joker relies on.
During the match, commentator Miguel "Darth Arma" Perez explained that SonicFox believes Joker is much better than people give him credit for. That may be, but the young competitor's character choice could have also been prompted by past experience. He used Joker to defeat Forever King last month during a winners finals match at Brooklyn weekly Next Level Battle Circuit The counter-pick earned SonicFox a spot in that tournament's grand finals, helping him move past the destructive power of Forever King's Batman and Black Adam.
Although he didn't switch to the clown in the Next Level Battle Circuit grand finals rematch, it was crystal clear that SonicFox had Forever King's number when it came to Joker. It's entirely possible he was trying to recreate that scenario at Community Effort Orlando.
Is Joker actually good, is SonicFox a god, or does Forever King simply need to work on the matchup? This match raised a lot of new questions this weekend, and the answer is probably a mixture of all three. There's no denying that the character has an uphill battle against much of the cast, but in the right circumstances, anyone can shine.