Comic Jumper is the new downloadable game from Twisted Pixel, the clever minds that brought us 'Splosion Man, and is a parody of popular comic book genres from both past and present. Taking three popular genres and using them as larger pieces of a side-scrolling platformer seems like a formula perfect for delivering a solid game experience, but does Comic Jumper make good use of its concept? Does it use each comic genre as a way to keep game play fresh or does it regress into a repetitive set of mechanics with a different facade? Read on to find out.
The plot of Comic Jumper finds our hero Captain Smiley, a tongue in cheek yellow faced buffoon with a talking star attached to his chest, without a job after his popular comic book series is cancelled. In order to once again take part in his own comic book adventures, Smiley must “jump” into other established comic properties, each utilizing a different style of comic book artistry, to help their own heroes.
Smiley’s home comic is reminiscent of your traditional comic book of today with bold colors and vivid backdrops and sets the stage for the stark contrast he will experience as he jumps across genres. His first jump sends him into a level that pays homage to the Conan the Barbarian property and is populated by dinosaurs and cavemen. From there, Smiley enters a level that hearkens back to the golden age of comics where using curse words nets you a fine from the censors and Asian stereotypes run amok. Smiley’s final destination is a black and white manga that has the hero side-scrolling from right to left and battling overly cheery angel children. In each of these sections, Smiley usually is tasked with finding the title's missing hero and defeating the supervillian in order to earn some cash.
Combat in Comic Jumper takes on many forms, all of which are a variation of a traditional side-scrolling shooter a la Contra. At times the plane of combat changes from 2D to 3D as Smiley battles a falling helicopter down the side of a building or charges down a putting green taking out golf carts, but the bulk of the experience comes in 2D side-scrolling form.
While there are moments where the game turns from shooting to melee combat, the bulk of your time will be spent using Smiley’s dual pistols. At first it might seem like Comic Jumper is a game that requires precise aiming to move forward, but really the main form of survival in the game is dodging. Much like the Mega Man series, enemies will send out different objects that Smiley must maneuver through using either his jump or his slide. Once you realize that progression is as much about avoiding getting hit as it is dealing out damage then you begin to find a lot to enjoy in the gameplay mechanics.
Though the game's little touches do add variety to the combat it none the less feels repetitive. No matter which comic you have jumped to, each require Smiley to progress forward while systematically eliminating the enemies in a complicated ballet of attack and avoid. There are moments that are more engaging than others, usually when Smiley is using an item commonly found in the genre he is in (a unicorn or a jetpack), it is in these sections in which Comic Jumper is the most engaging. Boss battles follow a very similar formula as Smiley avoids different attacks while at the same time whittling away at the boss’ seemingly insurmountable health. All in all you will, throughout your play experience, never feel as if you are performing a task much different than what you have previously been doing.
The look and style of Comic Jumper, while probably the item drawing the most gamers is in, is lacking in a lot of ways. While the different comic book genre's representations are all realized in authentic ways, both the backgrounds and character animations feel generic. With the manga inspired level being the exception, the other three sections feel like they are using the same style of animation only with slight tweaks. Getting to see how each new comic book is realized is at first an exciting proposition as you progress through the game, but once you're in there isn't much else to see.
Comic Jumper’s strongest suit is its writing. If you couldn't tell from the trailer, every exchange between characters is so chalked full of bizarre and self referential jokes that you can’t help feeling like you are playing through one giant in-joke between the developers at Twisted Pixel. At times Smiley or his partner Star will even go so far as to point out the flaws of their own game, like the repetitive boss battles or the recycled look of enemies, and while this did coax a chuckle out of me it simply reflected a thought I already had. Plenty of times in the game, I found myself laughing out loud as the game is riddled with pop culture references including the comic jumping mechanism’s ode to the Jean Claude Van Damme blockbuster Time Cop. If nothing else getting from cut scene to cut scene is motivation enough to complete the game.
As a downloadable game there is a lot to enjoy in Comic Jumper. The combat, as repetitive as it may be, is constantly changing pace to the point that you hardly notice that you are only performing the same series of tasks. Each comic book genre, though unique in their own right, feels like a missed opportunity to create four wholly unique play experiences. Instead of making four games that reside under the mask of one banner, they made one game that hid under four banners. If you know the folks at Twisted Pixel, and their proclivity for creating games that are absurd but entertaining, you already know the type of game you are getting here. The developers may at times get so caught up in their own clever writing that they forget to create a game that is engaging from beginning to end.
If you ask me, Comic Jumper is worth picking up if you are a fan of side scrolling platformers like Mega Man or Contra, but found those titles to be too challenging. You’ll laugh the whole way through and may never notice that the game isn’t making the best of an interesting idea. But then, if you ever do realize that the game isn’t terribly rich in gameplay experience, the level will be over and you'll be on to your next enticing genre. Comic Jumper is short and sweet with a few flaws. You’ll get excited, you’ll laugh, you’ll get bored, and then you’ll repeat it all over again.
Comic Jumper is available now for the Xbox Live Arcade.