Comic Jumper Review (Xbox360)

Though Captain Smiley’s adventures are played out entirely through the pages of comics, you don’t need to be Comic Book Guy to get what it’s all about. Twisted Pixel, the team behind the critically acclaimed Splosion Man, have made in Comic Jumper the game they’ve always wanted to make. So says their website. Clearly, playing through the game, Twisted Pixel had a lot of fun making Comic Jumper, it looks like a labour of love that’s been bed-hopping between the designer’s four poster and the animator’s hammock twice nightly.

She's so hot, Smiley's got one and a half horns (Ed: really?)
Comic Jumper’s looks are striking. From the wildly different comic book styles (three in total: Manga, Silver Age and thinly disguised Conan rip-off, Nanoc) to the wonderful way Captain Smiley flies in and out of comic panels, this game is a visual feast. And so it should be considering it’s about a comic book character come to life.

Captain Smiley, an atypical superhero with a body that looks like it’s been carved out of granite and a face that’s been torn off an 80’s rave T-shirt, loses his job as a comic book hero during level one and is forced to delve into other comics until he’s earned enough cash to buy his way back into business. Helping him is Star, a talking star strapped onto the captain’s chest. Actually, Star is of no help at all and seems to be in the game merely to provide a foil for humorous one-twos with Smiley.

When the game starts proper it’s easy to think this is a platformer as you punch and kick your way through henchmen and goons, but in reality this game has much more in common with shoot ’em ups like Metal Slug. Moving around in these 2D scrolling worlds is no challenge at all, but getting from start to finish without dying, at least on your first play-through, is nigh on impossible. Armed with two pistols, Captain Smiley faces all manner of challenging opponents that put up the same kind of hardcore fight. The need to dodge bullets and stay one step ahead of the overwhelming enemies will keep you busy throughout every platform-based level.

The gameplay is switched around between platforming, out and out 2D shoot ’em up and closer to the modern day 3D shoot ’em up in what must be an attempt to address the problem whereby 2D scrolling shoot ’em ups are mind numbingly boring after an hour’s play. And this is where Comic Jumper’s problems begin. As good as it looks, as funny as it’s trying to be, as much as I really want to like this game, it ends up being boring. Maybe it's because I'm British - the humour doesn't seem to cross the pond too well and we found most of the jokes and cut-scenes pretty lame in the end.
So this is what happens to all our farts, they end up in comic book space...
With three levels per comic book style, I found myself wanting to finish off one set just so I could see the next set and marvel at the art style. Though seeing the Silver Age comic style was worth the slog through the Nanoc/Conan stuff and took me back to flicking through Silver Surfer and Fantastic Four comics in my local newsagent as a boy, the over-riding feeling was that I’d rather be playing something else.

See, Comic Jumper looks good, it gives off a vibe that says quality. If you watch someone else playing the game you’re definitely going to want to have a go yourself, but therein lies the problem. Comic Jumper is a great game to watch but not so great to play. I really wanted to like it. And there are moments that I really did enjoy – the way in which you can call on the help of the development team at anytime to wipe out every enemy on screen is superb and full of indie gaming warmth as real human arms and feet suddenly appear on screen and punch, slap, stamp and kick everything in sight, followed by a beardy weirdy’s head popping up to finish with a screen smashing headbutt. It’s moments like these that are charming and make people like me feel guilty for getting bored so quickly. But I’d feel even more guilty if I championed this title, because after a few hours of gameplay in which you too will marvel at the game’s style and concept, and maybe even chuckle over one or two gags, you’ll soon tire of it and wonder why the hell you’re still playing.

In fact, if you make it all the way through to the Manga stuff you’ll have done very well. Here’s where the game really takes a turn for the worse. You’d think grey scale visuals wouldn’t be that much of an eyesore, but after half an hour of playing these levels your eyes will be screaming for a break. It’s that painful, the lack of contrast hurts like hell.

But, for the comic book nerds six days away from their local emporium’s new issue deliveries and shoot ’em up fans looking for a quick fix, you’d both be happy to spend a day battling through Comic Jumper. Infinite lives mean you will finish this game in under ten hours with a few trophy hunting reasons laid on to give this some replay value, but I have a hunch that if you do complete the game once round you’ll not be coming back for more. It’s awash with pop-culture references, digs at politicians (Arnie gets a good slap, and quite rightly), nods to graphic artists and allusions to classic videogames, all of which make it that much harder not to like this game.

Turn the page, I want to land on a good one!
It’s horrible to say, horrible to trash something that’s been lovingly put together by a dedicated group of developers, but Comic Jumper: Adventures Of Captain Smiley is, sadly, a case of style over substance. Or maybe I’m just missing the point – I used to think the same thing about comic books when I was a nipper and I’m sure there are people out there who would stand on my throat and jump up and down on it for uttering such blasphemy.

Top Game Moment: Fantastically executed comic book styling.

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