Last year, Twisted Pixel earned a place in our hearts with ‘Splosion Man, a quirky game that turned a simple platforming adventure into an hilarious meat filled romp in a secret laboratory. Last year, Twisted Pixel released news on their latest new IP, Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley.
With one of the funniest debut teaser trailers, Comic Jumper instantly had our attention on the Flickcast. After seeing levels and getting some hands on time at San Diego Comic Con, we could not wait for the game’s release yesterday to XBox Live Arcade.
Unlike ‘Splosion Man which had only one button, jump, Comic Jumper has a much wider variety of gameplay. The majority of the game is a side scrolling shooter. Using the analogs and thumb sticks, players take aim at what sometimes feels like a never ended classic arcade onslaught of enemies. These crushing waves attack Captain Smiley from all angles as he traverses through the level with both melee and projectile attacks. While all these areas can be beaten even if it does take a few tries, it’s near impossible to make it through unscathed. In addition, the game adds shooting gallery sections, quick time events and a simple melee system as well. The melee sections are rewarded with a special “help” power from the team at Twisted Pixel.
The gameplay of Comic Jumper definitely feels like an homage to the classic days of console and arcade gaming where players would constantly be bombarded with enemies that would quickly siphon away at their health bar. Luckily instead of restarting levels that have no health powerups, Captain Smiley respawns at checkpoints. There are times that it takes a few tries to defeat a certain boss or make it past a certain section but smart players should be able to quickly see the patterns that develop in their attacks and strategize around it. There aren’t any points where this gameplay gets aggravating from the challenge presented in the levels. Sometimes though, levels do feel rather long and the focus on so much of the sidescrolling shooter can lead certain parts to drag on at times.
Captain Smiley’s street cred is in shambles. He has fallen off the grid and as seen after the first level of the game, people would rather use his comic as toilet paper than read it. As a result, the Captain is dropped from his publisher and must make guest appearances in other titles to earn the money to self publish. Luckily for him, Twisted Pixel has invested in him to give him a means to make these guest appearances by Comic Jumping. Captain Smiley jumps into a classic fantasy comic, a 70’s sci-fi tale and, the strangest of all, a Japanese Manga title that makes about as much sense to Captain Smiley as it does the player.
Comic Jumper is filled with laugh out loud moments. Not so much from eyepopping moments but from some of the most clever dialogue of any game released this year. Star, Smiley’s sidekick attached to the front of his suit, is a sarcastic straightman to Smiley’s doofy wanna-be heroic personality. Some of the one-liners that Star spouts out are written on such an adult level, that younger kids will likely have them fly over their heads. Smiley’s naive reactions make Star’s witty banter that much better. As the gameplay was an homage to classic arcade gaming, the game’s dialogue is a satirical take on the history of the comics industry, especially taking hits at the over the top misogynist 70s and the completely and sometimes unbearably strange world of Manga.
Comic Jumper does a great job with its multiple visual styles. Much like how Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions had distinct art styles for each of its worlds, so does Comic Jumper. From the modern day Captain compared to the Heavy Metal inspired barbarian version and the extra cell shaded classic comics compared to the whacked out character design of the Manga Smiley, each and every level has their own iconic look and feel to it. Though the gameplay doesn’t change from level to level, there is a drastic visual change that must be appreciated. At no point do the different styles even slightly resemble each other and yet they all feel like they seamlessly fit together at the same time.
The voice acting in the game is also top notch, especially from Star. Sounding like that friend who is so critical about everything you do, there is also something loveable about the talking chest emblem, especially when his infatuation with Captain Smiley’s longtime nemesis Brad is brought out. The only time the voiceover gets a little redundant is when players go through a portion of the game over because they missed the next checkpoint. The scripted comedy doesn’t have as much impact as the first time and hearing the same joke can grate on a player. It is possible this problem could have been solved by recording multiple sets of VOs but that may be asking a lot of a downloadable title.
Comic Jumper, much like ‘Splosion Man was, is a great value for a downloadable title. It is great to see games coming out for lower prices that deliver the quality of full retail releases instead of just being HD remakes of classics. In addition to the game’s campaign players also get a set of avatar rewards, a premium theme and extra levels for ‘Splosion Man. Even without this bonus, Comic Jumper is well worth the price.
While it doesn’t stand out in any one particular area, Comic Jumper is a jack of all trades title doing lots of things very well and tying them all together. From the awesome interactions of Star and Captain Smiley to the clever satire about the comics genres, Comic Jumper is a well thought out and executed project. At the very least, it is worth taking a peek at the demo for any comics fan.
XBox Live Arcade
Developer: Twisted Pixel
Publisher: Microsoft Games Studios
Price: 1200 Microsoft Points ($15.00)