The next time you’re having a meal at a restaurant, ask for a Coke. Regardless of what state, province, or country you are in, chances are that the name “Coca Cola” will ring a few bells, language barrier be damned. It’s just another example of how pop culture has come to dominate our society. How many people recognize the Nike Swoosh? How many people can at least attempt to sing the Eye of the Tiger, or have heard that unforgettable theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly? Lest we forget, manga and their corresponding anime series have become a huge factor in America’s pop culture, stretching from Japanese obscurity to the legions of devoted fans here in the States. Once people have found a series they like, there’s no end to the conventions, the wannabe cosplayers, the collectible merchandise, and everything else in between. Such fandom has not only paved the way for anime’s success, but it has spawned numerous video games in its wake. Sadly, most of them sucked, offering little substance for the average gamer. Thankfully, the wait is over; Jump Superstars is here.
That’s easy for you to say.
To be honest, I’ve never seen so much fanservice packed into a single video game. Not that that’s such a bad thing, of course. Representatives from several series have been brought together for an ensemble unlike anything ever seen. You’ve got the likes of Goku and Vegeta from the Dragonball Z anime, lesser-known characters from the Prince of Tennis, Eyeshield 21 and Mr. Fullswing, and newer faces like Naruto, Luffy, Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo and their respective crews. You’ll get to wield the Heart of the Cards with Yugi, slice up a few baddies with the characters from Ruroni Kenshin and Bleach, and bust in a few heads with Yusuke and the rest of Team Urameshi. That’s right, all you Otaku boys and girls. Most of your favorite anime characters are present and accounted for, decked out in their usual costumes and packing some of their signature moves.
Considering the massive lineup of characters, it’s not surprising that Jump Superstars doesn’t operate like the typical 2D fighting game. You’ll spend most of your time in Adventure Mode, fighting through and progressing through dozens of stages. Once you’ve selected your team of characters, you’ll be transported into a fighting arena modeled after manga scenes and pitted against up to three teams AI controlled warriors. Once that timer counts down and the fighting gets underway, you’ll find yourself in a frantic brawl a la Super Smash Bros style. You’ll have to fall back on using your character’s limited list of moves, throwing punches and using a few special moves like Goku’s Kamehameha Wave or Jotaro’s Stand to whittle down your foes HP and even out the playing field. If you don’t feel like jumping into the thick of things, you can always spend time breaking down the walls of the stage and scoring some ringouts with a few well-placed shots. There are also plenty of items and pickups available, granting you some health, increasing your speed, raising your defenses, and a plethora of other special effects. Given the pathetic difficulty and idiotic AI, you shouldn’t have much trouble annihilating the competition. But in order to get further into the adventure, you’ll have to complete a certain task during the fight, like scoring a certain amount of KOs, not using certain buttons, or only playing as certain characters.
Completing objectives will not only reveal the next stage for you, but it will unlock new characters as well. At least, sort of. This game doesn’t just give you playable characters from the get go; instead, you’ll be granted a bunch of blocks called “Koma”. Basically, these things are nothing more than small clips taken from the mangas of the respective series, all of them missing the necessary photo of the character. In order to unlock a character, you’ll have to pair them up with their corresponding Koma, then place them in a 4 X 5 grid along with your other creations. Once you’ve got the right combinations of different Koma, you’ll have created a unique deck that can be used in the Adventure, Training, and VS Modes. Also, you’ll be able to unlock larger pieces of Koma, granting your characters new powers, like Goku’s transformation into a Super Saiyan or Luffy’s badass afro. There’s a bunch of other jargon pertaining to different types of Koma, character relationships and a plenty of other stuff, but it probably won’t affect you…If you don’t want to unlock the 150+ available characters, that is.
Alright, alright, you don’t need to shout!
Complicated character creation aside, there’s one fundamental problem with Jump Superstars: translating the necessary information. This game is available only in Japanese; accordingly, every single line of in-game text is written in its respective language. Needless to say, this can be a huge problem when you’re trying to complete that one mission to get past the level, trying to combine Koma, and anything else remotely important to the game’s completion. If you don’t know Japanese, you’re going to be in for a rude awakening when you’ve got a hundred pieces of uncombined Koma and not know what the hell to do with them. You’ll end up spending countless hours in the character creation menu, trying to combine the manga pictures systematically. Oh yeah, that’s tons of fun. Reading many of the objectives will require at least some basic understanding of the language, lest you try different stuff at random and pray you get lucky. While there are a few excellent translation guides floating around online, at times you’ll find yourself dealing with some not-so blissful ignorance.
Should you have enough patience to unlock characters and make a few decks, you’ll get to see your favorite characters clash. You’d think that large-scale anime battles would include epic attack sequences, dramatic music and amazing scenery. Sadly, Jump Superstars is far more cheerful and upbeat than the manga it represents. There are no desolate wastelands to battle on; Instead, you’ll have to jump around moving platforms, balance on walkways and avoid falling into bottomless pits. Most of the stages are themed after different series, such as Kame’s Lookout from Dragonball Z or El Cairo from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. The music is nothing more than a tiny collection of repetitive and unmemorable tracks, offering little to the overall presentation. At least the characters are depicted well, including the looks, stances and attack animation that fans know so well. Piccolo’s Special Beam Cannon, Yugi’s Dark Magician, and even Naruto’s Sexy Jutsu are present in all their glory to behold. While the most of the presentation comes off as unimpressive, the attention to the characters’ details can’t go unappreciated.
Jump Superstars is one of those gems that will likely fall into obscurity as import-phobic gamers turn away and more popular American titles hog the spotlight. However, the sheer ambition of this game is considerable. Over 150 characters make their presence known on the battlefield, offering different moves and combat styles for the prospective fighting game fan. The Adventure Mode features dozens of levels and missions to be completed. While the Koma and deck making features offer something different from the usual gaming formula, obsessive completionists may cherish or despise the system. Gamers looking for a visually impressive DS title may find the game bland, but fans of the various series will likely enjoy seeing their favorite characters do battle. But if you can get through the language barrier, you’ll be treated to a quality handheld fighter unlike any other.