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Jumpman Junior (Commodore 64) artwork

Jumpman Junior (Commodore 64) review

"Released by Epyx in 1984, Jumpman Junior is the sequel to the original Jumpman game, though especially on the Commodore 64, it is probably more famous than the original. The Commodore version is only slightly different than the Atari original from 1983, consisting of 12 levels rather than 15, but otherwise simply being a port of the same game. Jumpman Junior is an excellent platform game that would have certainly ranked with the best of the Commodore's games, but a multitude of bugs, including a..."

Released by Epyx in 1984, Jumpman Junior is the sequel to the original Jumpman game, though especially on the Commodore 64, it is probably more famous than the original. The Commodore version is only slightly different than the Atari original from 1983, consisting of 12 levels rather than 15, but otherwise simply being a port of the same game. Jumpman Junior is an excellent platform game that would have certainly ranked with the best of the Commodore's games, but a multitude of bugs, including a few very annoying ones, bring it down until it is merely above average.

The concept of Jumpman Junior is rather simple, as was the norm for early Commodore games. Each level consists of one screen filled with platforms, ladders and ropes, and a series of bombs placed throughout the level that you must disarm by picking them up. It is simply a matter of navigating through the levels without falling into pits or off the edge of ledges, and collecting all the bombs while the clock ticks. The quicker you do it, the more points you get - and even if you don't do it in time, that merely means you get no bonus points. The bombs will not go off on you.

As the name of our character implies, Jumpman can make good sized leaps, and he will need all of his jumping power to carry him through the twelve levels. The first level is rather straightforward, consisting just of a few platforms with ladders in between, and the only real threat (apart from clumsily stepping off a platform yourself) consists of floating projectiles with a limited homing capability. They come into the screen slowly and in a straight line, but when they line up with you horizontally or vertically they may suddenly change direction, speed up and head straight toward you. They can only do this once, though, so a quick sidestep or jump is enough to elude them. This first level is called 'Nothing to it', and rightly so - it merely gets you used to the controls of the game without making any real attempt to foil you.

The 11 levels that are still to come are a different story entirely. Each level has its own unique way to try and stop you from collecting all the bombs. The difficulty gradually picks up (though some levels are more difficult than levels that are still to come after it), but what stands out most here is how every level is different. The homing bullets from the first level still appear in some of the stages - sometimes even two or three of them at once - but apart from that there is something unique to every stage, and the level design is pretty creative. To give a few examples without spoiling everything, there is one stage in which the layout of the level changes radically with every bomb you take (new platforms and ladders appearing, others disappearing), and one in which the entire level is invisible at first and platforms and ladders (as well as the bombs you must collect) gradually become visible as you wander close to them. The final level, 'Hurricane', is particularly charming. A hurricane begins to blow and you are continually blown away to the right, which means you can barely walk or jump to the left, but you can suddenly make gigantic leaps to the right. At this point you can even jump off the right edge of the screen and reappear on the left. It's a simple concept, really, but in its way it is brilliant. Whoever designed the levels here went out of his way to give each one its own unique, memorable touch, and he succeeded handsomely.

The level design, then, is one of the best aspects of the game, and the controls are quite good too. The joystick is used to run left or right, or up and down in the case of ladders. (Rope climbing is automatic, and to make things a little more interesting, one type of rope only goes up and the other only goes down). Jumping is accomplished by holding the fire button and tapping the stick up, left or right. At first it feels a little awkward, but soon you'll be running and jumping through every level with ease, without standing still for a second. This is mastered very quickly, allowing you to focus on the game rather than getting Jumpman to do what you want.

The (limited) music and sound effects are a charming, if not overwhelming addition to the game. You get one of four different tunes after finishing a level, chosen randomly, and a funeral march if you lose one of your lives. In the sound department, you'll mostly hear the quick patter of Jumpman's feet, the sound of a jump (hard to describe, but it feels suitable), the bang of a bullet changing direction and speeding up to attack you, and occasionally a few others depending on the level. In the Hurricane stage, for instance, every sound is drowned out by the roar of the heavy wind. Graphically the game aims for functionality - memory is limited on the Atari the game came from, so to squeeze so many different levels in the game, little is left for fancy visuals. The Commodore uses mostly the same graphics the Atari did. A number of different colours are used, but predominantly bright green and dark blue against a black background. Jumpman himself is perhaps the most detailed sprite - he animates nicely as he walks, climbs, jumps, hangs on to the edge of a platform or falls. 90% of the graphical effort went into him, and the end result is actually quite nice. He's a lively little fellow and you'll fall in love with him before you know it.

So far this game looks excellent, and I would certainly have ranked it with a 9 for its creative level design, its responsive controls and the plain fun it is to navigate that cute little character through every stage. Unfortunately, Jumpman Junior is a very buggy game, and it pays dearly for that. Counting every little glitch, from flaws in the levels to game options that don't work the way they should, this game easily has a score of different bugs. That's not unheard of in modern PC games, some of which get patched only days after their release because the original was almost too buggy to play (a good recent example is Might & Magic 9, which was on v1.2 within a week of release), but on the Commodore, twenty is a lot. Most of the bugs are relatively simple and easy to forgive - a moving ladder that gets stuck temporarily, a piece of the level that doesn't appear entirely in the initially invisible Blackout stage, a projectile passing through Jumpman without killing him. Particularly that last one won't raise many complaints. There are other more serious bugs however, and those have to be mentioned.

In two of the levels relatively early in the game (levels 2 and 4), the level can become impossible if you get killed at the wrong time. Level 2 sets parts of the level on fire whenever you get a bomb, making certain platforms and ladders inaccessible. The bombs are all positioned such that when you take one, you can always reach another from the position you are in now. When you die, however, you return to the top of the level, and if you die at the wrong time you might now be closed off from the bottom part and unable to finish. In level 4 a similar situation occurs with hailstones raining down from the top of the screen. You must always stay ahead of these in order to have any chance of surviving, but if you die halfway the level and you are teleported back to the starting point, they typically ''guard'' the way to the top and you can never get past them again. These two bugs could have been easily prevented by some playtesting - putting out the fires and resetting the location of the hailstones when you die in these two levels would have solved the problem. As it is, if you are a little unfortunate in either of these levels, the game is pretty much over for you. Not very encouraging for a newcomer to the game.

There are two other serious bugs which are outside the levels themselves. One occurs after the game ends and your name is entered in the high score list, assuming you got enough points. After you enter your name, the game fails to return you to the title screen. You can stare at the high score list for eternity, but can't start another game unless you force a reset with the run/stop and restore keys. This will get you back to the title screen so you can play another game, but guess what? It wipes the high score list. A worse problem occurs when you try to play the game with more than one player. In this mode, the game switches to the next player whenever a level is finished. Or at least it is supposed to, because when player 1 finished the first level and it's player 2's turn, the game crashes completely, and this time beyond recovery. You will need to switch the Commodore off and on and reload the game. Bottom line is that playing with more than 1 player is simply impossible, and it's amazing that this hasn't been revealed in testing.

In the end, Jumpman Junior is still quite playable, once you're good enough to stop from dying in the two levels where doing so is disastrous, and you are content to play 1 player mode only. Nevertheless a little testing and a little bug fixing would have made this game a lot better than it is, because now it falls short of its true potential. If only they'd have had the world wide web and auto update routines in the days of this game.

sashanan's avatar
Community review by sashanan (June 19, 2009)

Sashanan doesn't drink coffee; he takes tea, my dear. And sometimes writes reviews. His roots lie with the Commodore 64 he grew up with, and his gaming remains fragmented among the very old, the somewhat old, and rarely the new.

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