By Eric Ramon / December 3, 2011
Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley is Microsoft’s latest collaboration with the “independent” developer Twisted Pixel. The result is another excellent example of an abysmal original XBLA game. It is an unimaginative side-view action shooter with a neutered difficulty and horrible graphics. Furthermore the game attempts to have a comedic theme without displaying even an ounce of wit, making for some of the most grating voice-overs and dialogue in recent videogame history.
Comic Jumper is a very simple game. The character you control has one set of guns, the ability to jump and climb on pipes, and a short-distanced crouching dash. No power-ups or extra weapons are made available. There is a shop where you can buy increased health and damage along with a screen-clearing super move. The problem is that the only way to become fully upgraded is to grind for points by playing through stages repeatedly, a system that only really serves as a dull way of adding longevity to the game for obsessives. Even worse, you won’t actually need any of these upgrades because the game is so easy, and none of them really add any extra interesting layers to it.
The stages are boring. Half the time you will simply be moving through a featureless hallway while enemies run at you from the right and left sides of the screen. Even areas that differ from this pattern show barely any interesting design. The few set-pieces in the game, like having to climb up a pipe while enemies shoot at you, are repeated verbatim at least three times throughout each stage. There are also rail-shooting and auto-scrolling sections that manage to be even more simplistic and dull than the regular side-view sections while suffering from the same problems.
Boss design is also extremely weak. Each boss has around three or four attack patterns that they use interchangeably, none of which are particularly interesting or challenging. They also take far too long to kill, to the point that you’ve seen all their attack patterns before you are even a third of the way through with clearing them. These problems are compounded by the stages having no sense of progression. Each stage feels the same as the last, no interesting new designs or mechanics are ever introduced, the difficulty level never changes, and even the final boss is the same as the first boss give or take a couple of attacks.
Suffering through such a lackluster game could at least be mildly rewarding if the health and checkpoint systems weren’t so absurdly lenient. You have a health bar that allows you to take up to around fifteen weak hits before you die and even when you do die you respawn with full health losing less than a minute of progress. Even someone completely braindead could run from checkpoint to checkpoint tanking through every hit and still make progress. Also, because there is absolutely no way to gain health in any of the laboriously long stages, even a fairly skilled player might eventually die, so this ridiculous system encourages you to purposely die right at a checkpoint whenever you have low health so that you can quickly respawn at full power.
The graphics look horribly dated for a 360 game and the art design sucks. Textures look rough and ugly and character and object models are simplistic. In keeping with the theme of the game, Comic Jumper has you play through stages that are designed after various comic book genres; the problem, however, lies in how none of the artwork in the game manages to look like either a proper copy of these styles or even a witty caricature of them. As a result most characters look like ugly knockoffs of superior artwork. Some stages look completely washed out and all of them repeat backgrounds nearly constantly. Special mention goes out to the manga-themed world which attempts a black-and-white style while not providing the visual contrast you would see in a game like Madworld, with the entire stage looking like a blur of homogenous grey instead.
Because the designers attempted to make the game into a parody of comics, the characters constantly spout fourth-wall breaking dialogue and witless references. The in-game dialogue, especially, is a constant annoyance, from a character telling you how much you suck every time you lose health to the pointless conversations that the main characters have during every single section of the game. Comic Jumper is inescapably and obnoxiously unfunny. All this, combined with every other glaring flaw, has resulted in a game that is completely unworthy of anyone’s time.