| Comic Jumper Twisted Pixel, Microsoft Xbox 360 Live Arcade, October 2010
The developers of The Maw and 'Splosion Man have, in effect, created a 2010 rendition of a Sega Genesis game with Comic Jumper. The humor, violence, in-jokeyness, and generally irreverent attitude of games like Earthworm Jim have been given a modern makeover. This is clearly meant to be an update on what it meant to be a 16-bit platformer in the 1990s, and like those games, this one is a mixed bag. The hero, Captain Smiley, is exiled from his own comic book to guest-starring roles in a swords-and-sorcery title, a silver age classic with a surprising amount of fetish talk, and a few "manga" stages which pretty accurately portray how most Americans see the genre. (But with fewer tentacle monsters... and a lot of tentacle jokes in the background.)
$15 (1,200 MS points)
Your hero is a big smiley face in a costume that has a star on it, and the two of you argue with each other as you punch, shoot, and ride your way through 11 stages. The bickering is a device for gags and doesn't do much to add to the gameplay. The star (named Star) doesn't grant you special powers or anything, he's just there to hate on you, because Captain Smiley is (we're told) largely hated by his readers and other comic characters for one reason or another.
Warning/guarantee: the game includes an anthropomorphic piece of paper with submissive tendencies and a foot fetish, a questionably satirical portrayal of a Japanese character that could be defined as racist, a cartoonishly feminist super villain, and a sequence where you surf down a building using a female antagonist as the board. You might love this. You may hate this. It may make you uncomfortable, or laugh, or both. But it's all in here.
What you need to know: The first 40% of the game real slog and there are numerous elements that are designed specifically to annoy your parents, which if you're 30 may mean you find them a little annoying. The final two genres you "jump" into are pretty, even if the changing perspectives and gameplay aren't immediately obvious and it gets more than a little clunky at times. Despite a frustrating difficulty curve in places, you can probably pound through this in 2-5 hours.
Moving and shooting are more complicated than it needed to be. More than one button activates "shoot," as the triggers and buttons duplicate things like jumping. The control isn't necessarily complicated, but it's a trial to get the hang of to the point where some levels require you to play one way, while others are going to force you to hold the controller differently. It's bizarre to have a game that has a small learning curve constantly throw you a screwball to the head.
I noticed the control was a little loose in spots-- sometimes Captain Smiley would keep walking even though you weren't holding down the stick. Also, he is very slow to react while fighting, so when you're dueling a boss you probably need to anticipate a retreat several beats (or a couple of seconds) before you actually need to be running away. It's pretty frustrating and does cause repeat deaths, but isn't a constant problem-- just one that happens a few times.
Stages involve side-scrolling beat-'em-up, sorta-kinda-First-Person-Shooter levels, and some vehicle-based play that borrows heavily from the "bullet hell" genre of shooters. It's not always clear what the limits on your movement are, so there will be times where you aren't actually stuck at the bottom of the screen despite the fact you're riding a horse. It won't be obvious. The game's material doesn't necessarily feel like it would be Wii-specific, all of the "OK, now change perspective and shoot straight ahead" stages really could benefit from some other form of controller. Those FPS segments are a real hassle with the Xbox 360 (or PS3, or any other) standard controller, especially when your on-the-rails character keeps moving when you don't necessarily want him to do so.
Graphics & Sound
Twisted Pixel's developers did a solid job making each genre look different-- the opening levels' "comic book" setting looks like a 1990s comic book, while the Conan-tastic second level does look a little more gritty. Redesigning the Captain Smiley character with every different comic he enters was a great idea, but unfortunately it doesn't change up the gameplay. (For example, even though he's now in a sword-and-magic setting, he still uses his guns for pretty much most of it.) The character designs are nothing to write home about, but they do ring true for each chunk of the game.
One of the first things you might notice about this game is that it has a very large file size-- nearly two gigs. Is this for its massive stages with unreal graphics and incredible three-dimensional vistas? No. There's a lot of high-definition full-screen video that's eating up your hard drive space and while the video segments contain the game's best gags, it really isn't the game so much.
While the music is unremarkable, there's a lot of dialogue and a decent amount of sound design. As with 'Splosion Man, there are lots of throwaway lines being muttered while you play that you may end up ignoring under the sounds of the explosions. It's more for people watching you play than it is for you, the gamer. The recordings are fairly clear and it's great to see the developers having fun with it, but when you her lines that are literally "Pop culture reference here!" as a guy blows things up, it starts to feel pretty cynical if you're not already on board with the game. (And for the bulk of it, I wasn't.)
The game boasts several original songs during the story, and they actually do serve a purpose. One comes into play because Smiley got control of his world and wants to make himself look more awesome. Another has to be sung to placate characters in one of the worlds he enters. It's a cute idea and shows that the developers didn't phone this one in.
Other Modes and Achievements
A number of "challenges" exist, which essentially are "get through a segment of a level and don't get hit." If you succeed, you get extra money, and you can use this cash to unlock bonus extras like sounds or 3D models in addition to upgrades to your character. These can be accomplished during the level itself or separately after you've completed it at least once, and you'll probably want to do that so you get stronger guns.
Achievements aren't too difficult to get-- some require more work than others, and you're likely to unlock most just by playing through the game. There is a small element of "collecting" in the game, and with achievements tied to that you're in for a bit of a slog if you want to get all 200 points. You'll need to unlock sound clips, images, 3D models, and other stuff to get the complete 200 gamerscore points.
A real surprise is that the game allows you to unlock additional levels for their last game, 'Splosion Man. That's a heck of a nice marketing tie-in.
Is it worth buying?
Love it or hate it, I can't not suggest you try it. You might play and love Comic Jumper if your sense of humor matches up, but it's very "wink wink" and that can get pretty tiring. Particularly, it can get tiring as you keep fighting wave after wave of the same kind of enemies and hall after hall of essentially the same building-- the game even points this out at one point, and this amount of padding seems a bit much for a game this short. After seeing the promotional trailers (and playing many of Twisted Pixel's previous games) it seemed there might be something clever in here, but the main character and his suit's relationship seems to be solely arguing. Why couldn't there be a gameplay gimmick brought out of that?
There are parts of the game that are a real slog, but hearing about other genres like the manga level may help push you to see it to the end. I wouldn't say I loved the game-- at first, I hated it-- but it does do some pretty great stuff if you stick with it. If you could rent it, I'd say just do that but unfortunately that is not possible. How about this: convince your friend to buy it and go visit him. If you enjoy it, buy yourself a copy, but if you're young enough to not have a job yet (and you're old enough that your parents won't mind a little crude humor) you'll blow through this on a Saturday afternoon, which won't be $15 well spent as there's little replay value beyond achievement grinding.
Review posted October 7, 2010
Review copy provided by the developer
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