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I have never been a big comic fan. While I have always had an appreciation for all things nerdy, the whole comic genre was a place I never saw myself entering (Don't tell the guys over at Player Affinity Comics). However, given the chance to experience the comic medium via Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley was hardly something I could allow myself to pass up.
Comic Jumper is for lack of a better word, comical. It's a mostly side-scrolling shooter game set in the outlandish world of Captain Smiley. It's a world where comic characters are completely aware they are being published each month and actually have to worry about scheduling battles or hiring evil doers to make appearances. Being in comics is a career and it's up to them to find a way to get paid.
The premise is simple: When Captain Smiley's comic run goes sour he must cameo in other comics in order to fund the relaunch of his own franchise. Quite literally in thanks to the game developers over at Twisted Pixel, Captain Smiley can port directly into the pages of the popular comics. Once inside, it's up to Captain Smiley and Star, his sidekick conveniently attached to his chest, to aid the heroes in whatever they need.
From the opening company logos to the ending credit crawl, Comic Jumper doesn't let up with it's over the top take on comedy and spoofing comics in general. There were parts of Comic Jumper where I actually laughed out loud, which rarely happens for me in a game. The presentation is such an important part of Comic Jumper I would say that it actually trumps the gameplay. Captain Smiley and his inseparable sidekick Star have a great back and forth throughout the entire run. The voice acting is really fantastic and the line delivery can be pretty hilarious.
Comic Jumper nails the art style perfectly. Dialogue appears in speech bubbles, cut scenes are framed in boxes to look like comic panels. Sometimes Smiley will explode off the pages from one stage and into another and the camera will pull back revealing the pages of the comic. You gotta love that kind of touch and that was just a transition.
Actual gameplay shuffles between variations of two different modes. The standard levels consist of Captain Smiley fighting his way through enemies in a side-scrolling style similar to Contra. However, Comic Jumper will also shift into a tunnel type rail shooter where the camera positions itself behind Smiley and you have to shoot enemies down on screen in order to advance to the next stage. Twisted Pixel manages to use these two modes in enough creative ways that the game doesn't get too boring. Thanks to the dynamically different comic styles this doesn't happen too often, but every once in a while you will get the feeling that you are just doing the same thing again.
Boss battles basically become elaborate games of Simon Says. Identifying the bosses attack patterns is the key to victory. This isn't hard since they do you the favor of distinctly telegraphing each separate attack so success comes down to how long you can keep up. In a way it reminded me a bit of World of Warcraft, bosses have a set amount of life and it's up to you to do what feels like a choreographed dance around their mechanics until they die.
The only big problem I came across with Comic Jumper is that there is no way to heal yourself other than dying. This may not sound like a big deal but it can be a little frustrating when making your way through stages of a level only to find yourself in a boss battle with half health. There appears to be no penalty for dying, minus restarting at the last checkpoint, so it's just pure inconvenience. Sometimes I died right before a checkpoint and had to go all the way back. There is no visual indicator to know when you actually get a checkpoint so all you can do is just plug along and hope you have made it through enough panels. There will be situations where you get set back a lot further than you expected.
Overall Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley is a great game. The voice acting and characters are top notch and the writing is hilarious. There are only 3 different styles of comics for you to jump into for this release but they are all very different and fun to look at—so I won't spoil them for you here. It really feels like Twisted Pixel left themselves room to expand on the game with downloadable content in the future, so it would be no surprise to be to see new comics added in later.
That said, Comic Jumper is about a 5 hour game depending on player ability. It does suffer from slightly repetitive combat but I think the presentation more than makes up for that. Ultimately it's up to you if you think the $15 price tag is worth it.
You can snag Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley off XBLA October 6th 2010.