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The Moonlight War novel by S.K.S. Perry

Bump 'n' Jump (Arcade) artwork

Bump 'n' Jump (Arcade) review

"When I was young, I liked car crashes. In theory. Cars still scared me especially when I had major streets to cross, but I enjoyed signs depicting dangerous conditions on roads and dreamed of participating in an accident one day, not fully appreciating what this meant. The closest I came was falling off a Big Wheel, which ended in tears and a band-aid. Still, I certainly seemed to have more fun with cars than my mother, who preferred complaining about bad drivers and kids running out in the stre..."

When I was young, I liked car crashes. In theory. Cars still scared me especially when I had major streets to cross, but I enjoyed signs depicting dangerous conditions on roads and dreamed of participating in an accident one day, not fully appreciating what this meant. The closest I came was falling off a Big Wheel, which ended in tears and a band-aid. Still, I certainly seemed to have more fun with cars than my mother, who preferred complaining about bad drivers and kids running out in the street and moaning about the auto and insurance bills they inflicted on innocent people. Worse, I couldn't even go on bumper cars until I was too old to enjoy them, but when I got that precious dollar to spend at a video arcade, Bump and Jump(BnJ) let me live out my car-crash fantasies. It's a fine tweener game that didn't worry about whether you ran into enemies but how you did so, from back when you had to sacrifice obvious reality for entertainment, so people experimented more with that sort of thing.

Let's compare BnJ to better known games with more earnest commitments to realism. It wasn't uptight like Pole Position, where you had to cough up two tokens, and one crash landed you in the soup, so you couldn't retread the same race course for several laps. It didn't have Spy Hunter's confusing controls and BnJ was far more interesting than Turbo. Ultimately it didn't have enough firepower to stay with the next wave of games and didn't come soon enough to be established as a trendsetter. Didn't have a steering wheel control either, so it never got taken seriously as a driving game.

Having charm probably didn't help the serious perception bit either. It's a little game where you can pretty much rumble your little buggy forward at its own pace. With its overhead view it doesn't go for any direct realism, but it's the most fun you can have driving badly outside Hazzard County, Kentucky. You don't have to do anything more than survive, but even without the lure of points, it's hard to keep from nipping into cars and crashing into them so they jolt into the wall.

The kicker of course is that they push you back, too. Whoever's on the outside of the course risks crashing into a wall, and in bottlenecks, both sides may wind up losing. Going slowly leaves you open to attack from behind, but going faster gives you less time to react even if you send enemies spinning further. Touching cars ahead of you can slow you drastically, while you can get a boost from swerving into something behind you. And as you're able to move diagonally, a revelation back in the early arcade days, your car can zip past the ones you want to avoid. All this with no skidding.

And you even have a way to bail out. If you're going over a hundred miles per hour, your car can go airborne. You can steer left and right while airborne and crush enemy cars as you land, soar over a rough patch of heavy cars you can't budge much on contact, or you hot dogs can just scroll off the screen as your car inflates, before swerving back to a safe area. But jumping isn't just for fun. The course frequently goes over water, and you either have to navigate a narrow two-lane side area or take a huge leap over the water. Survive long enough, and you can refuel and start in the next round. Not that there's a gauge or anything. It's just a gimmick, as are the courses being named after the seasons. But it's cute.

And so are the other vehicles you need to crush. X-shaped racers with a stripe down the center go flying if you hit them at a decent clip, but later there are yellow farm implements and construction trucks that add a state-highway feel and refuse to budge, along with blue dump trucks that leave a deadly dirt deposit behind. Black hearses with skeletons painted on top are nearly immovable, and though you have to swoop close to the edge to take them out, they knock out other opponents well in a chain reaction. There are also some random middling cars, making for enough variety that you often feel like nipping of and crashing into one just because you haven't taken out any that look like that recently. None seem to target you aggressively, and you can pick your battles, but I haven't played many games where it's so tempting to pick off a stray opponent that's not harming you. The best ones are just in front of the water--crash into one and jump, and you get a chain reaction of guaranteed explosions. And for a huge change of pace, BnJ in fact gives a whopping bonus for not crushing anything; racking up kills isn't easy, but on the other hand even an incompetent first-timer will crush one or two enemies by accident or in reflexive self-defense.

Although the enemies don't appear to get any smarter on later levels, they're always spastic enough to create a logjam. Most weave drunkenly but predictably back and forth, with the occasional poor sap getting pinned against the edge by his own inattention or another car. When you're in the air and on one's trail, completing the business on one of them is more fun than crushing a fly. The courses, however, change. At the start, you can generally move across the whole width of the screen. The road cuts down to half size and, when water is around, even less. After a few seasons you may even have two separate paths or a small river you need to jump over. Lakes may take two jumps to cross via islands, and other times you'll have to make two successive jumps in a certain speed range. Eventually you'll realize there are only so many patterns, and you'll know when tricky ones are about to follow. It's still obscure enough that you don't need a few months to forget the patterns and make BnJ challenging again.

The music in the game would make for a nice Sunday drive and the start of the sound loop-EECCDDF, EECCDDG, is particularly pleasant. The most useful audio clues, though, may be the scale as your car jumps. It's clear when you're going to land, even if you can't tell from the car's size. And when three sounds do get mixed in, as a yellow diamond with an exclamation mark flashes with water ahead, there's no confusion. It's much closer to a middle finger than a traffic sign, and if you should fall into the water, it scolds you with a few beeps. I often respond in kind, and BnJ is the only game where I do so without malice.

BnJ is an entertaining game and superior to a similar, more contoured driving game from Sega/DataEast called Up N Down, which boasted neither accessibility nor a variety of strategies based on your aggression level at the moment. BnJ twists a basic video game assumption, that all quick encounters are lethal for someone, and makes it complex without being dreary. Each crash or sideswipe or near-wipeout gives a thrill, and even experts will have their Captain Ahab moments against the hated car color for the day. For a purportedly nonviolent game, BnJ still gives you a nice heaping of destruction and a necessity for dreadful roadsmanship, but it's not realistic enough to be disturbing.

Rating: 8/10

aschultz's avatar
Community review by aschultz (April 12, 2004)

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