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October 25, 2010

Comic Jumper - Jumping from comic to comic

I wasn't sure about the new XBLA (Xbox Live Arcade) game, Comic Jumper, put out by Twisted Pixel. A quick download of the trail version, however, quickly put that uneasiness to rest. It was funny, had some good side-scrolling action, and gave me that old-style arcade game feel (except updated).

Twelve hundred Microsoft Points for this? That doesn't seem too bad. I quickly plunked down the credit card (ok, I just hit "purchase points" on the Xbox Live, but let me take a little creative license) and bought it.

Now that I'm finished with it, I'm of two minds. I'm glad I bought it, but I think if I had to do it over again, I would wait until it comes down in price or hits the "Xbox Live Deals of the Week" bin.

Let's get the story out of the way first.

You play as Captain Smiley, hero of your own comic book.

Except that everything's going wrong, interest in your comic has waned to the point of non-existence, and you've been cancelled. In order to build up the funds for a resurgence, you have to guest start in a few other comics to rekindle your popularity. Sounds simple, eh? That big star on your chest is Star, your wise-cracking sidekick who happens to have a man-crush on your arch-nemesis, Brad. He also doesn't think much of Smiley, often making sarcastic remarks. Your assistant, Gerda, gets you your jobs and basically alerts you when you're losing health during the game (it gets annoying after a while, as you'll see below).

You end up adventuring through three issues each of three different comics: a fantasy-based one, a Silver Age 60's era comic, and Manga!. Thus, you essentially have nine levels after the intro level. Then you have one final level to get through, making ten in all.

Let's start with the good.

The humour, while crude at times, is often hilarious. One of my favourite lines, uttered by Brad, I'm using in my sig in the forums: "If I wanted any crap from you, I'd squeeze your head." That surprised me the first time I heard it, and the wife and I just burst out laughing. While crude, there really isn't any bad language, with the worst being a couple "asses." The humour has a little innuendo as well, but a large part of it is making fun of the genre Smiley is adventuring through. What's even funnier is the conceit that Twisted Pixel is actually helping Smiley do this, and there are live-action shots of the Twisted Pixel guys interacting with Smiley. You can purchase an item that will have the Twisted Pixel guys remove all the enemies from the screen when you hit the "Y" button, for instance.

The game will constantly keep you amused, making fun of everything from the misogyny of Silver Age comics to the warlord that you're supposedly helping in the fantasy setting. Named Nanoc, he coincidentally speaks in an Austrian accent.

It is a coincidence, right?

The gameplay itself is basically side-scrolling shooting, with a few scenes of side-scrolling fisticuffs, a couple of "hit the right button at the right time" sequences, and some sequences where the enemies are in front of you popping up and you have to move your aiming reticule to shoot them. All pretty good, right?

Actually, it is.

And frustrating as hell, too.

The difficulty level in Comic Jumper is through the roof, and for a couple of reasons.

First, your gun is vastly underpowered. Enemies take tons of shots to kill, for the most part, and when you're getting swarmed, that can make for some tense moments. Natives are running at you in droves, vultures are flying as your hanging from a walkway, Bradbots are flying and running at you, shooting at you. You'll get hit a lot, and eventually die. This is why Gerda's health warnings get annoying: they happen all the time!

Which is fine, as you slowly make your way through the levels, getting to checkpoints with almost no health, so you can try it out before dying and restarting at that point with full health.

Sadly, there are places in the game where the checkpoints are *really* unforgiving. You get through a really tough sequence, having died multiple times, and you think "ok, I won't have to repeat that again" when you get to a boss battle.

But no. You die during the boss battle and have to repeat all of that AGAIN.

A few times, I wanted to hurl my controller through the TV, if I hadn't just bought the darned thing.

(one of the bosses in the Manga comics)

That being said, you do learn the patterns, just like any old-style platformer/side-scroller, so you do it again and again and again, getting a bit further each time, as you remember where the enemies are coming from and what you have to do to defeat them.

Which brings up one final frustration, and maybe this just means I'm jaded from "modern" gaming.

Yes, there is no "save" function. Once you're in an issue, you're in it until you're done with that comic and back at your base. No matter how much progress you've made in it. Got stuck on a boss battle and you have to go to bed?

Tough. You quit now, you have to go through the entire issue again. You can stay up all night if you have to.

Thankfully, none of them are *that* difficult. But do make sure you've got time to finish the level, or you might as well not waste your time. This is not a game that you pick up for a few minutes of quick gaming while you're waiting for the wife to get dressed.

You can purchase upgrades that will boost your weapon damage, health, and punch power. You can also purchase collectibles that you can then look at (comics, audio files, video clips, models, etc). These are interesting looks into the behind the scenes stuff of the game, including promotional artwork and interviews with the designers/voice actors. Buying this stuff will add a small percentage increase per item to the money you earn in missions and challenges, which does make them useful.

You can even get an achievement for buying everything there. Too bad Twisted Pixel made it so cumbersome to buy this stuff, making you choose everything one at a time, with a 3-5 second animation for each one. Doesn't sound like much, does it? But when you have 160 audio files, 25 comics, 25 models, and lots of other stuff, that can take a *long* time.

Don't let the complaints get you down, though. I loved a lot of the touches in the game, like the black & white Manga where you side-scroll from right to left, the art palettes in each genre that perfectly match what they're going for, and many of the jokes. Yeah, some are groaners, but others are simply hilarious.

If you like side-scrolling shooters, comics, and crude humour, you might want to consider getting this game. If you only like two of those three, wait until it becomes a Deal of the Week or something, but you should still get it.

It's a lot of fun, though finger-grindingly frustrating at times.

*postcript: Also, if you're a fan of Twisted Pixel's "Splosion Man," you can "purchase" a couple new levels for the game with the money you earn as Captain Smiley! That might make it worth it just for that. If I had that game, that is.


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