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Hey there guys and gals and welcome to yet another review. Yes. You did read that right. After spending the last three weeks working on some lists for you lovely people, I have started to write reviews again. What will be the first title under the microscope after my cup of coffee brief absence? Well, I have decided to make March a theme month (since I haven’t done one of those in a while). It will be dubbed Month of Side-scroll Shooters or MOSS for short. Yes, I do realize that the month is slightly more than half over but I’ve been pretty busy lately, so I haven’t had much time to focus on writing reviews but that doesn’t mean I can’t write at least three reviews this month and with three of the games in my review pile being SS games, I figured I’d make the best out of this situation.
What is the first game of MOSS? Thanks to the lovely people over at gamefocus.ca, I was able to get a free download code (I won a contest) for Twisted Pixel’s, Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley.
As many of you likely already know (if not, shame on you. Shame I say.) Twisted Pixel is known for combining weird and hilarious concepts (most notably Splosion Man) with solid gameplay mechanics and after spending a good 15 hours with Comic Jumper (it took 10 to complete), I can honestly tell you whether or not it follows TP’s proud tradition. And yes, it is high on comedic value but it does it get the score high where it counts?
The story behind Comic Jumper is that superhero (and personified emoticon) Captain Smiley finds himself out of work once his comic book series (The Adventures of Captain Smiley) is canceled due to its colossal suckage. Luckily for him and his talking star companion (that is grafted to his chest), the game developers over at Twisted Pixel see some potential in the book and decide to help him raise money for a reboot by giving him the technology to guest star in other comics. That’s pretty much it. When other comic book heroes face a threat that is too powerful for them to take on alone, they call in Captain Smiley to get the job done. Once he does, he gets paid then jumps to the next book. Oh. So that’s why it’s called Comic Jumper.
(Look at the fear in those eyes. Our hero ladies and gentlemen.)
Like I said in the intro, Comic Jumper is filled to the brim with comedic value. Everything from the clever satire of the treatment of women in comics to the solidly funny parodies of each of the featured genres to the constant destruction of the fourth wall, Comic Jumper is an absolute joy in terms of story. Although, some players might get offended over some of the content. *Cough* the parody of sexism and racism during the Silver Age era of comics *Cough*. But it should be noted that these topics are played up for laughs and are used to point out the glaring hypocrisy of the old school comic commission’s crusade for wholesomeness and decency.
Before moving on from the story aspect, I would like to talk about the main characters for a moment (I would talk about the characters from the other comics but I don’t want to spoil anything). Captain Smiley and Star make for a great pair and their constant bickering and playing off of one another is a prime example of how funny buddy comedies can be when done right. Gerda is the bitter and under-appreciated sidekick/eye-candy. Sadly, she isn’t used too much but when she is, she provides some great material for Smiley and Star to work with it and she even takes a few good cheap shots at there expense as well.
(You've come a long way baby!)
And of course there’s Smiley’s arch-nemesis and Star’s hero/best friend, Brad. I could go on about Brad and how you should except him and his divine awesomeness into your heart and cherish him forever but I’ll let this song do all the talking:
With little piece of musical interlude, it is now time to talk about the game’s audio quality. Let’s start off with the music shall we? Comic Jumper has a solid soundtrack, with a great mix of songs that fit the theme of each world (I especially liked the use of Swing for the Silver Age levels) and comedy tracks such as the brilliantly hilarious Stats Song. The soundtrack was apparently mostly composed by some dude named Chainsaw. Well, Mr. Chainsaw (if that is in fact your real name), let me just say one thing to you. Great job sir!
Speaking of great jobs, the voice actors are also deserving of a good round of applause. Christopher Sabat does wonderful job playing both Captain Smiley and Star, who also serve as a nice contrast to some of the badass characters he has played over the years in various anime. Brina Palenica (like Sabat, she also has experience in the anime industry) does a fantastic job voicing Gerda, as well as Paper Lad and Lolo.
Fun fact: Palenica also wrote and composed the Cutie Cutie Kid Cupids theme.
Brad Hawkins, who is a bit of a noob when it comes to voice acting (compared to the likes of Sabat anyway), steals the show as Brad. I really thought that he played a truly convincing douche bag. The other voice actors also do a fantastic roles (especially those who do the voices of Nanoc, Putt Master and Mistress Ropes).
Speaking of acting, the Twisted Pixel crew and the other actors from the live action scenes were just terrific.
(Just two examples of the crazy adventures you'll find in Comic Jumper)
In terms of graphical presentation, Comic Jumper excellently represents each of the different comic genres it so ruthlessly spoofs. From the bold bright colors that compliant the overly muscular men of current comics, to the darker and more subdued use of watercolor backgrounds seen fantasy comics, to the swell cel-shading of the keen sliver age, to the black and white landscapes of the land of spiky hair and schoolgirls that is manga, this 2.5 D sidescroller is simply dazzling. But that should also be said of the characters as well, since they are all perfectly modeled for their respective genres/time periods. This should especially be said of Captain Smiley himself since in a rather unique twist, his character design will change to fit the specific comic he has jumped into. In his own book, he is a flashy, beefed up muscle head in spandex, in the fantasy book he is barbarian in Viking garb, in the silver age he is more of an old school designed super hero complete with chiseled facial features and in manga form, he appears to have been taken straight out of Final Fantasy VII. Smiley’s guns and ammo change to meet each universe as well, which is pretty cool. Oh and one last thing I want to talk about in regards to the game’s presentation and that’s the how the transitions between each section of each level is done to look like the pages of a real comic book, complete with cool art work and crazy ads. All in all, Twisted Pixel’s choice in game design is rather clever and actually quite ingenious really.
(Shooting at women. Not very good for the image)
Gameplay wise is where rating of the game gets a little bit tricky but before I discuss the gameplay mechanics, I just want to take a second to discuss the concept of Comic Jumping. Basically, you get a call from one of the characters from the other books who offer to pay you for your aid. You then hop into the Comic Jumper (which is kind of like the DeLorean) and select which mission you want to undertake (each comic series asks you to appear in three issues) and away you go. However, you can also chose to take part in Challenges, which are just certain parts of some of the levels that give you a big pay day if you can get through them without getting hit. Get hit once and the challenge is over but you don’t go away empty handed. It should also be noted that the money that is earned through Missions and Challenges are not only used to re-vamp your comic but to also buy upgrades for your stats and special bonus material.
Now that I got that out of the way, let’s talk about the gameplay mechanics shall we? At its core, Comic Jumper is a side-scroll shooter in the same vein as such games as Contra but without the weapon power-ups. In fact, there aren’t even any health power-ups either but you do get infinite lives and there are plenty of checkpoints. The goal is to obviously go from one side of the screen to the other and to make it to the end of each level with dying and at the end of the level you have to defeat a boss (which seems to have a crap load of hit points) to finish the issue. You know the drill. You hold RT to shoot and use the left thumb stick to move, while using the right thumbstick to aim. So, in a way it is similar to the control scheme in Gunstar Heroes in the sense that you can either fire randomly into any direction you happen to be moving in or you can carefully aim your shots. However, unlike GH you can carefully aim your gun and move at the same time, so in one sense it is an improvement on that mechanic but in areas where the jump button is necessary, it is really tricky to do it that way without taking massive damage because of the control layout.
Sadly, it took me the first few of hours to figure this out and get the hang of it. This wouldn’t have happened if the tutorial didn’t tell me to figure it all out for myself. It was funny to hear Gerda say that Twisted Pixel wanted me to wing and to hope for the best but it would have been nice to learn how to play before stepping into a mission. I could have read the control layout but the text is incredibly small and pretty much unreadable. But despite this and the fact that hordes of enemies attack you from all sides makes the game ball bustingly difficult, it is still an absolute blast to play through. Once you get the hang of it and even then the controls are tricky because you have to use both thumbsticks and the right trigger (and in some cases the jump button) all at the same time, which again takes plenty of practice. But I should also repeat that once I knew what the control scheme was, I had a lot more fun with the game and really dug the challenge. Even if the constant of death got on my nerves from time to time.
("Captain you're at less than 75% health. Stop sucking!")
This may (for the most part) be a side-scroll shooter but there are also three other gameplay styles that have been added to the mix. The first of these styles that you’ll bump into (you actually play in this style before any shooting happens) is that of an old school beat’em up. These sections are pretty simple. A few hulking bad guys come at you and you fend them off with some punches and kicks. You can do a basic punch that does more damage to a single opponent or if you have opponents attacking you from both sides, you can do a jump kick move to take them both down. However, the jump kick does less damage. When you defeat an opponent, they will be sent crashing into the background and destroy any object they are tossed into, which is pretty funny to see. But the really cool thing is that during these sections you will see the Twisted Pixel logo at the top right hand corner of the screen, which acts as a gauge. Your job is to fill it by getting through these melees without getting hit. If you can do that, then you will earn the chance to use what is perhaps the best special attack ever! I’m not going to spoil it for you. You’re going to have to check it out for yourself.
(Keep shooting! Just keep shooting!)
The second is the use of quick time events. If you are familiar with the Shenmue series, you know exactly what I’m talking about. For those of you who aren’t, it basically works like this: you have to run through a series of motions (like dodging and attacking) in the style of an in game cutscene by pressing the buttons that pop on screen. Now you won’t be seeing many of these in Comic Jumper and you won’t see any tricky combination pop up, but they are a nice little addition to the gameplay that keeps the pacing from getting boring.
The third is a series of sections that seem to be inspired by “light gun” games like Hogan’s Alley but instead of using a gun peripheral, you are moving a cursor on a target with the thumbstick and yes, they do follow the same control scheme as the side-scrolling sections and like those sections they are really fun when you get used to the controls. But beware. Enemies can come at you from all sides of the screen so watch your back.
(Tired of going on missions? Than take some time to relax at your homebase)
The old school gameplay and off beat/politically incorrect humor is not the only drawing point for Comic Jumper. No, there is also a plethora of extra features that can extend your play though by a few extra hours once you’ve completed the game. You can wander around the Smiley HQ and talk to an assortment of colorful characters, look at the achievement trophies you’ve won, listen to indie bands radio, check up on your stats, and even play the demos for The Maw and Splosion (if you happen to be online). But these are only the things you don’t have to unlock. Like I said before, you can use the money collected from each of the Missions and Challenges to buy comics, concept art, original development videos, interviews with the developers and voice cast, gamertags, stuff for your avatar and the game’s soundtrack. There are also a few neat little Easter Eggs but I’ll let you find them yourselves. That’s what their for you know.
(What's more embarassing? The fact that your shooting bubbles or that your riding a unicorn?)
Comic Jumper is one of the most delightfully, bat shit crazy games I have ever played with it’s over the top/ fourth wall destroying sense of humor and its solid cast of characters. Although the gameplay is very challenging, The Adventures of Captain Smiley are still well worth working your way through. But it does loose a couple of points for the amount of time it took to get used to the controls and the lack of a real tutorial. Seriously, I think they made the instructional text microscopic on purpose for some kind of comedic effect. I mean the dialogue text is huge in comparison.
If you are an old school gamer who loves a challenge, I definitely recommend downloading it. But the game’s difficulty and control scheme could be off-putting to more casual players who are looking for a brief and fun gaming fix but don’t want to go the extra mile in terms of difficulty. If you are somewhere in the middle, I would definitely say to check out the demo first before making your final decision.
Final Score: 8/10
Wait. What? I’m being told that I have to end this review with a song. Sigh. Alright. I’m Conway and this has been a review of Comic Jumper.