Let’s get something out of the way here before we start. If your sense of humor has some…umm…limitations, shall we say, or if being bombarded with wacky pop culture references really annoys the crap out of you, then Comic Jumper will probably not be your cup of tea. For the rest of us, Twisted Pixel’s title aims to hit the aforementioned sweet spots while also bringing an over the top comedic adventure to the table. The makers of The Maw and ‘Splosion Man clearly know how to create outstanding download-only titles, but the big question was whether Comic Jumper would be able to live up to the excellent precedences set by its forerunners.
Conceptually, what Twisted Pixel went for here is one of the more innovative ideas for a budget game that’s been seen in a while; essentially it’s a total parody of/ode to various comic book genres. Captain Smiley, a heroic if somewhat bumbling superhero with a huge instant messenger-style smiley face for a head, and his “sidekick” Star, a slick-talking, foul-mouthed well…star…who resides permanently on Smiley’s chest, are probably the most unlikely comic book heroes ever. Smiley has apparently gotten fired from his comic book because of its low reader count and unmistakable lack of awesomeness. The only way that he can get his publication back is by earning cash guest starring and being all the superhero that he can be in other people’s comic books (i.e. comic jumping).
Captain Smiley’s money-hoarding adventures end up taking him through three very distinctly illustrated comic book journeys. In the Nanoc the Obliviator (a.k.a. Conan the Barbarian send-up) portion, Smiley is thrust into an ancient world that’s evocative of the title that it aims to spoof, complete with concubines, crude warriors hurling stones at you, and a laughably obese Arnold Schwarzenegger clone. The Improbable Paper Pals takes you back to the ’50s and ’60s Silver age of comic books where the art style was simple and political correctness was thrown out of the window. That’s never more evident than when you meet up with the series’ title characters, Paper Lad and the deliberately ultra-stereotypical Origami Kid. Finally, Cutie Cutie Kid Cupids, as the name would suggest, easily gets the nod for the most bizarre and purposely sappy comic book world visited. Based upon the popular Japanese Manga style of comics and cartoons, this excursion puts the Captain in a black and white world filled with unicorns, hearts, and bubbles (just to name a few of the “cutesy” things thrown in for good measure). He’s also rendered as a Cloud Strife look-alike for this comic book which adds a cool element to an otherwise silly experience.
The controls are as basic as they come. One button lets Captain Smiley either jump or slide (controlled by the direction being pressed at the time), while another allows him to either shoot or melee depending on the situation. There’s also a button that triggers an off-the-wall special attack in which the real Twisted Pixel team gets called into the comic to clear out all enemies on the screen. The simplicity of the controls is both a blessing and a curse because although it makes the title easy to pick up and play, I often found myself wishing that Captain was a super hero with more abilities that could be toyed with. It also makes the game as a whole seem repetitive by the time the roughly six hours of the main campaign are completed as the same two or three actions are being performed no matter what comic environment you happen to be in.
About 90% of the game revolves around 2D side-scrolling and shooting, but there are also small sections thrown into the mix that are strictly beat-em-up along with others that incorporate 3D rail shooting and ridiculously easy QTEs. The gunplay is gratifying but with aim assist disabled, which is the default setting, targeting is loose and not nearly as precise as one would like it to be. Luckily the boss battles help to more than make up for Comic Jumper‘s weaknesses in other areas. If the entire game were like these conflicts, it would easily garner a perfect score. Battling villains like the “too-cool” jock Brad, mini-golf expert Puttmaster, and uncompromising feminist Mistress Ropes in off-the-wall action sequences are really the only times when Captain Smiley truly feels like a superhero. It’s during these moments that the title truly shines and for the most part, these engagements are varied, taxing, and incredibly creative.
One would have to be pretty well versed in comic book, video game, and popular culture in order to fully recognize the amount of crafty parodies that are present in Comic Jumper. They are all spot on, from Dick Cheney and Back to the Future references all the way down to the manner in which comic jumping occurs which is raked straight from Jean Claude Van Damme’s Timecop. Smiley even splits into small energy particles when he dies just like Mega Man (only with the addition of a fading “You suck..” or some other smart quip to go along with the death). Even if the gameplay doesn’t necessarily knock your socks off, these abundance of throwback references along with the irreverent dialogue between all of the characters and overall absurdity of the game is probably worth the price of admission. I can still hear Brad’s preposterous, but amazingly catchy self-written theme song ringing in my head and I can’t say that I’ve laughed this much while playing a game in a long time. That is a testament to Comic Jumper‘s general charm and character which ultimately make the title hard to put down.
At the end of the day the variety in the environments, zany bosses, and non-stop comic banter between all parties are what makes Comic Jumper a joy to bear despite gameplay mechanics that can grow tiresome after some time. This winds up being a game that’s more about these aesthetics and the comic book art forms that it aims to pay homage to than any typical game feature like graphics or sound. With refinements in some core areas, particularly the controls, this could be a near perfect downloadable title. What is present though is still one of the most enjoyable experiences that can be had on the Xbox Live Marketplace and can easily be recommended to both casual and hardcore gamers alike.