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Comic Jumper (Xbox 360) artwork

Comic Jumper (Xbox 360) review

"Each stage is preceded by banter between Captain Smiley, Star (the character on his chest) and assorted other guests that include a wad of paper masquerading as a hero and a tattooed concubine who wears lovely fur garments. The dialog in this game is genuinely funny most of the time, and voiced to perfection. A few of the jokes do seem the slightest bit forced, but even the worst of the humor is so bad it's good."

So there's this small development team, Twisted Pixel Games. Its employees have produced two games over the course of the last year or two: The Maw and 'Splosion Man. Both were pretty good, both were received as such by critics and both flew under the radar when they arrived on Xbox Live. Apparently, it's easy to ignore Twisted Pixel Games, despite the quality of those early endeavors. Correction: it was easy to ignore Twisted Pixel Games. If there's any justice in the world at all, Comic Jumper has changed that.

Like its predecessors, Comic Jumper is an Xbox Live exclusive. You can download it for 1200 Microsoft Points, which seems a bit steep for a downloadable title, even one that weighs in at almost 2GB. People have frequently paid more for less, though, so you'd do well to ignore the virtual sticker shock and consider instead what you get for that precious currency: one of the most hilarious action games ever released and a compelling brawler to boot.

Comic Jumper begins with the prelude to an action-packed sequence. After receiving a call from help from his buxom assistant, the unfortunately-named Gerda, dashing hero Captain Smiley (so named because, as is noted elsewhere in the game, his head resembles an over-sized smiley emoticon) breaks through a window and lands on the upper floor of a bank that is being robbed. There he finds the damsel in distress, tied to a chair.

"It's a trap!" she tells him, too late for him to steer clear of the building.

Smiley is offended that she would lead him into a trap, but there are other things to consider. Things like the maniacal mastermind who greets them upon their arrival. The villain, the hero and, of course, the star on Captain Smiley's chest--oh, yeah, there's a star on his chest that argues with him throughout the whole game--bicker and then it's time to punch and shoot your way through an action-packed stage as you ascend along building rooftops and battle robot girls on your way to a confrontation with Brad, a musclebound buffoon who has his own theme song and a sleek helicopter capable of firing numerous missile barrages.

The stage concludes with what seems like it should be a triumph, but that's not quite what it is. Captain Smiley is a comic book hero, after all. He owes his continued success to his readers. And as it turns out, those readers are not impressed by his antics in that first stage. So deep runs that vein of consumer apathy that the comic is canceled. Smiley and his guest villains are left out of work. Thus would end their story, if not for intervention on the part of the benevolent (or are they?) folks at Twisted Pixel Games. Smiley and friends find themselves with a secret, high-tech base and the chance to redeem themselves. They can earn money by making guest appearances in other comic books, with the hope being that someday they will be granted another shot at comic book stardom.

Most of the game is dedicated to that effort to scrape up the funds necessary to make that glorious return. Your home base serves as a level hub from which you can jump to your next mission or challenge, buy character upgrades, chat with the rest of the cast or purchase literally hundreds of collectibles (including additional stages for 'Splosion Man, as well as an Xbox Live avatar and a premium theme). It's fun to run around the base, listening to the quirky soundtrack, admiring trophies that you've earned or even looking for little in-jokes that are sprinkled liberally throughout the experience. The developers' attention to detail goes a long way toward making the game a bit more special than you might expect, but it doesn't change the fact that Comic Jumper is, at its heart, one more entry in what some consider the overcrowded brawler genre. The good news is that it's a very good entry.

Each stage is preceded by banter between Captain Smiley, Star (the character on his chest) and assorted other guests that include a wad of paper masquerading as a hero and a tattooed concubine who wears lovely fur garments. The dialog in this game is genuinely funny most of the time, and voiced to perfection. A few of the jokes do seem the slightest bit forced, but even the worst of the humor is so bad it's good. The developers also aren't afraid to poke fun at themselves. Even during the action itself, the heroes will exchange barbs or make witty observations, such as when one of the dynamic duo sarcastically remarks (upon seeing some general goons that have appeared in that setting numerous times) that "I never would have expected to see these guys!"

Fortunately, the developers know better than to take things too far. Yes, you'll fight an awful lot of foes that look identical to one another, but then you'll head to another era and all-new enemies. There's not really a point where the repetition gets to be too much, mostly because there are just enough enemies in each era to keep things interesting but also because you'll be so busy fighting to stay alive that you won't have time to care.

Comic Jumper is tough. There are checkpoints sprinkled throughout the adventure, sure, but they're never so close together that it feels like you can sleepwalk through the proceedings. You'll have to fight your way to each checkpoint, dodging and blasting through swarms of diabolically-placed enemies. Boss encounters take the difficulty to a whole new level. You will receive compensation if you manage to defeat them without taking hits--which is possible, yes--but you'll have to fight quite awhile before that sort of thing is possible because the bosses have numerous attack patterns that you need to learn to recognize and retaliate against. A single boss might have as many as seven or eight distinct attacks and they could come at you in any order, so fights have a way of keeping even the best player on his toes at all times.

Comic Jumper is more than simply an ode to the hardcore games that so many took for granted in the 8-bit and 16-bit era, though; it's also something of a tribute to comic books. The lovingly rendered environments that Captain Smiley explores are taken from various points in comic history. There are the superhero segments, already mentioned, but you'll also take a trip into a world that Conan the Barbarian could comfortably inhabit, a manga series that channels the Power Puff Girls and an ancient comic where profanity and violence are censored but stereotypes roam freely (don't suppose for an instant that Star won't notice the absurdity of it all). The graphical presentation is consistent with what you'd expect from each era. Heroes and villains are redrawn to fit their surroundings and in the manga, the action even scrolls from right to left instead of vice-versa. The developers' obvious determination to do justice to even the smallest of details is one reason that you'll likely want to keep playing for all of the six to eight hours that it takes to do everything.

Comic Jumper certainly isn't a game for everyone, just as brawlers at large aren't for everyone. The humor is silly enough often enough that those who take satisfaction from their own maturity should steer clear. There's not a lot in the way of maturity in the world Captain Smiley inhabits. For those who just want to have a good time, though, to be challenged and sometimes surprised or amazed, Comic Jumper is just the ticket. Twisted Pixel Games has been quietly producing under-appreciated gems from day one, but this time around it's going to be difficult to ignore the outcome. Besides, why would most gamers want to?


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Staff review by Jason Venter (December 22, 2011)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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