Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley Review

After the surprising popularity of ‘‘Splosion Man, Twisted Pixel decided that the only logical follow up for two near dialog-less titles is to create a game that is trying to make you laugh more than anything.  And one about comic books, no less.  And I assume that their intention was to tangentially relate games and comics for many of its audience, and I can safely say that it worked.  Yet Comic reviews are an idea that I will probably never do, so let’s just take a gander at a game about comics.

Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley Review
Release Date: 06/10/2010
Platform: XBLA
Developer: Twisted Pixel
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

The game’s titular character is a muscular man in a skin tight blue suit, with a smiley face for a head.  Garbed with a simple mix of yellow and blue, it is understandable how this was something made by a 2-year-old, although he is recognizable and not an not a pain to look at, so I can determine that the character design is good.  Smiley also has a star on his chest, named star, who serves as the crude asshat to Smiley’s relatively nice guy, but still self-centered.  In fact, their relationship is never explained in too much detail, I’m not even going to ask where Star’s stomach is, how they got together, whether the suit is where star lives, if he can be cut off, or anything of the sort.  I like it when games place these little interesting relationships, just explaining it would be lackluster compared to what people can theorize and explain themselves.

Anyhow, they are two comic book characters whose comic dies after two lackluster years, and Twisted Pixel decides to pick up the series and plans on staging several crossovers in order to raise Smiley’s popularity up.  And they do this by time travel… I think.  He is sent through two of his own comics, a Conan parody, a silver age tribute, and an over exaggerated Shojo manga.  Which were published in 2010, 1974, 1961, and 1998 respectively.  But hey, the game’s writing is done through Star being a prick, Smiley being a lovable idiot, and the supporting cast trying to play straight-man to the somewhat bitter duo.

Oh, and there are a couple villains from his universe, like a pro mini-golfer, a sock puppet, a scientist who is on the border of offensive to people with severe autisms, and Brad.  Serving as the closest thing to the main antagonist, Brad is the typical prick character turned up to 11, a muscle bound 90’s guy with a legion of robotic fangirls.  Oh, and his theme song is the most self-indulgent thing in this game until you get to Smiley’s version.

If that last bit and the entire description up until now didn’t make it clear, Comic Jumper is proudly wearing the subgenre badge for humor game, a genre that is far, far, far too neglected.  For whatever reason, so much of the media out there is afraid of being seen as fun, and it tries to be straight faced and serious.  And while I can be guilty of that, mostly because my only good humor comes from reaction that I have to things, I am a bit concerned as to why the last well known games that came out before this that had a similar tone were Viewtiful Joe and Conker’s Bad Fur Day.  But I would only bring this up if it was funny, and it is.  I am still amazed that Christopher Sabat managed to voice both of the main characters, when their conversations happen once every minute or two.  And throughout the 4 or so hours I spent replaying the 11 levels in this game, the dialog never got old.

That brings us to the gameplay.  There are actually about 3 primary gameplay styles that the levels shift through.  The most common one is a twin stick 2.5D shooter where you avoid foes, slide beneath bullets, and fighting baddies while you go to the right, or left as is the case with the manga section.  It is solid, but there are no alternate weapons or power ups.  You are sometimes moving through the entire screen while floating, or are in a moving vehicle, yet the concept remains the same, and just barely manages to keep the game going to the end.  There are also third person rail shooter sections that are more of the same minus a new camera angle and reticle, and very streamlined beat ‘em up sections where you have 2 attacks, damage one side and kill in 3 hits, or push both sides back.

Yeah, people weren’t all that big on Comic Jumper’s gameplay.  It is not especially bad, it is just shallow and could really use some power ups, or failing that, some combo system for refilling your health.  Let me tell you something, I died at least one time on every level in this game, and I still got into the top 10% of players.  That could be because I’ve gotten better at games during the past two years, or that this game is a bit too cheap with its lack of any, and I mean any health power ups.  Checkpoints are common enough so death isn’t a big deal, but when you call the player a loser for being in the top 600 scores for a level of a game that sold over 100,000, I think you need to readjust your difficulty curve.

This is not as bad as Bayonetta’s difficulty, since I feel like I’m the one making mistakes 95% of the time, the other times being a cheap shot from off screen.  And the ranking system doesn’t give you a grade, or encourage you to restart whenever you take a hit.  You are almost guaranteed to die at least once in every stage, and the game does not treat just one death like a thumb sized piece of poo on your report card.

Shifting to the visuals, the game is far more textured that Twisted Pixel’s prior titles, and the game is accustomed to utilize four unique designs.  The modern comic, fantasy, Silver Age, and Shojo all look like they could be designs for different games.  Well, certain shaders are reused due to the similarities with the Silver Age and Shojo, that’s besides the point.  Ever costume given to smiley offers a very well designed makeover for the simple lad, and he remains recognizable throughout.  Except maybe the Shojo one, where he becomes a Japanese equivalent of the same generic looking character, which is actually pretty clever.

Oh, and the music for this game rocks as well, the base level music is pretty solid, but the extra tracks boasting the characters, that stats song, the happy Shojo parody song, and one track about sneezing, all are great in their oddness within and outside of context.

Wrap it up, and Comic Jumper is one of those style over substance kind of games, a very debatable subject that I can say has many examples of it being done well, but few that are truly great.  And it is not a great example of it, merely a good one.  The storyline made me laugh and ponder simultaneously, the gameplay is still fun at its core, and is would only look better if it wasn’t 2.5D.  Yeah, its a game about comics, yet it is 3D, figure that one out.  It is a very debatable subject based on what I’ve seen, through there are some of the warts with the gameplay, I easily call this a solid title that is still unique.

30/40
Good
It’s held back by certain flaws, it manages to be a competently executed and fun product that is worth playing.

Have a positive or negative response?  Please leave one below, it’s the only way I’ll improve.

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