I’m sure at some point or other, most of us have ignored a less than satisfactory story. I mean for stuff like Just Cause or Killzone it’s all about blowin’ dudes away right? In those sorts of games, narrative is just filler that gives the gameplay an excuse for existing. It’s a dynamic most of us just accept without question, it’s just how some games are. But can the reverse also be true? What if the gameplay was just an excuse for a story? And can that story be so utterly hilarious that you could find it within yourself to forgive even the most cardinal of game design sins? If you want to find out, you should definitely play Twisted Pixel’s Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley.
The very first stage of Comic Jumper features 5 different gameplay styles, twin stick shooting, platforming, old school beat-em-up, on-the-rails shooting and quick time events. Every subsequent stage in the game features some of these same segments presented in almost exactly the same way. Ok so that’s no bad thing right? All those things can be fun if done well! But that’s the problem; comic jumper doesn’t do any of them well at all. In every shooting segment you use the same weedy gun, platforming is Ghosts ’n Goblins annoying, the beat-em-up sections only have one combo and the quick time events are just plain boring. Perhaps you might just find one or two of these things enjoyable the first time round, but you’ll be pulling you’re hair out in equal parts of boredom and frustration once they’ve been drilled into your mind after the first few stages.
This is what a vast majority of the gameplay looks like. It seems way less cool once you’ve played this exact same run ‘n gun segment a few dozen times.
Of course if it’s such an awful game, why is it worth even writing about? Well that’s simple, it’s just plain funny. But let’s just brush that train of thought back under the rug for a sec so I can tell you what this game’s actually about first. You see, In Comic Jumper’s world, comic books aren’t drawn by artists. They’re “acted” like some sort of improvised TV series, with each issue having cartoon villains and heroes hired on as freelance actors. Still with me? Yeah don’t try and apply any logic to any of this stuff, if fact just forget logic entirely, it’ll be easier for all of us.
You play as Captain Smiley, the lead hero in the comic book “The Adventures of Captain Smiley”. Unfortunately it’s a comic that’s not doing so well; store owners tear it up in disgust, people have no qualms about using it as substitute toilet paper and all the school kids think Smiley’s a loser. With the comic’s popularity at rock bottom, all Smiley’s co-stars quit and there’s not enough money left to publish another issue. Just when it looks like he’s going to have to cancel his own franchise, Twisted Pixel step in and give Smiley the ability to guest star in other people’s comics to help make ends meet. Yes that’s right, the developers put themselves in their own game, playing the role of………. the developers of Comic Jumper (again, abandon all logic ye who enter here). Not only that but they threw in some totally crazy live action footage to represent themselves. No, snap out of it! You haven’t time warped back to the mid-90s, this is just a very weird game okay?
Comic Jumper’s screen clearing “Bomb” attack, features live action footage of the Twisted Pixel staff taking turns to punch the screen followed by a headbutt from their CCO Josh Bear. Beautiful.
So what’s so funny about all that (apart from everything)? Well most of the big laughs come from the dialog, which is good because there’s rarely a moment in Comic Jumper where someone’s NOT talking. Everything from trying to jump while not on a mission or just examining your in game achievements is enough justification for a few quips from Smiley, his potty-mouthed sidekick Star or one of the many colourful characters you meet along the way. A lot of the really good stuff is actually one-time-only events that occur in the mission hub, encouraging you to constantly re-explore the small environment after every mission just to find new jokes.
The humour itself is extremely self-aware, with subjects varying between the absurdities of video game logic, the ridiculous tropes of whatever comic book genre you’re currently in, Smiley’s ineptitude as a hero or even Comic Jumpers own shortcomings as a game. That last one always confuses me a little, I’m not sure how Twisted Pixel managed to identify that elements of their game laughably poor yet not feel the need to do anything about it. But I suppose if anything, that just makes it even more hilarious.
Actual quote: “Hearts? Bats? It’s like the writer of this comic didn’t even know anything about manga and just drew in whatever they felt like!
The presentation slips occasionally, thanks to some rather rigid character movement during cutscenes and a few issues with overused assets, but that’s really just splitting hairs. Comic Jumper’s only real non-gameplay related flaw (what a weird thing to say in a game review…) is that it’s all over too soon. This is an indi title after all, so it’s hardly surprising it only gets to briskly cover 4 different comic genres (modern, silver age, fantasy and manga) and can’t afford to dwell on any one subject for too long. That brings me to the sad thing about a game that champions everything else over gameplay: once you’ve finish it, then that’s it. You’ve listened to all the jokes and watched all the cutscenes; essentially this game no replay value of any kind.
I don’t know if top quality humour can justify half-baked gameplay and I don’t know if I could ever call Comic Jumper a “good game”. All I do know is that when I put my controller down after finishing it, I still had a great big smile on my face, as if I was still recoiling from the world’s greatest and most well told joke. Comic Jumper is a game that will likely make you happy, and when it comes down to it that’s all we really want, so does it matter how it gets you there.
- Huge amount of hilarious dialog.
- Great cast of characters.
- High Quality voice acting.
- Enough unlockable extras to put most other titles to shame.
- Very limited gameplay.
- No replay value.
- Only 4 comic genres to chose from.
Recommended similar games
‘Splosion Man (XBLA)
Gunstar Heroes (Genesis/SNES + slightly too many to list here)
Contra (Arcade/NES + too many to list here)
Earthworm Jim (Genesis + WAY too many to list here)