Comic Jumper Review

By Jake Gaskill - Posted Oct 05, 2010

The quirk-tastic wackadoos over at Twisted Pixel have made a name for themselves by creating unique, hilarious, and visually enticing titles such as The Maw and ‘Splosion Man, and the team have kept this tradition very much alive in their latest downloadable effort, Comic Jumper. The Xbox Live Arcade title parodies a number of classic comic book and video game tropes from the inside out. And as you'd expect, it's one absurdly absurd adventure you won't want to miss.

The Pros
  • Various presentation styles are perfectly realized
  • Brilliant writing and meta storytelling
  • Diversity of combat scenarios keeps you on your toes
The Cons
  • "Constantly hold trigger to fire" gameplay can get tiresome
  • Even when leveled up your guns feel weak
  • Enemy waves always last a few minutes too long

Unlike Splosion Man -- which was a fantastic game, but failed to capitalize on its narrative potential -- Comic Jumper tells a wonderfully realized and original story of a down and out superhero, Captain Smiley, and his foul-mouthed chest-kick, Star, who are forced to appear in a variety of comic books in order to reestablish their brand and get their failed comic up and running again.

To do this, the duo enlist the help of the developers at Twisted Pixel, who have built a Time Cop-inspired machine that lets Captain Smiley and Star jump into the other comics. The dialogue and beat-to-beat moments are brilliantly written, but the meta-storytelling is really where the game shines.

Turn The Page

Take for instance the fact that there are full-motion video sequences of people reading and discussing the very Captain Smiley comics that you are playing thorough in the game. Or that when you feel too overwhelmed during combat you can hit the Y button and hands, feet, and even the head of some Twisted Pixel developers will punch, kick, and even “shatter” the screen, thereby eliminating all of the enemies in the area.

There are also times when Captain Smiley will literally fly out of a panel, over a giant turning page, only to land in another panel to start a new section of a level. The game is a send up of comic books and video games equally, and the result is an experience that is constantly surprising and exciting, a combination that is rare even among full retail titles.

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Parody: The Highest Form of Flattery

Everything from the mini-narratives of each issue to the NPC dialogue to the overall aesthetics of each of the four different comic book styles (modern comics, 1970s Fantasy style, 1960s Silver Age, and Manga) are expertly crafted down to the finest detail.

Someone in our office saw there was a Manga level, and they jokingly said, “That’d be funny if you had to play it right to left,” to which I satisfyingly replied, “You do!” I know pretty much the bare minimum about comics, but even I found myself laughing out loud at some of the parodies on display here. So if you’re a serious comic book fan, I can only imagine how much enjoyment you’ll have seeing these genres parodied so lovingly.



Pow! Kick! Uh-Oh...

Sadly, the gameplay isn’t nearly as satisfying as the presentation and overall design of the game. Combat consists of either constantly holding down the right trigger to fire (and by constantly, I mean constantly for the 5-plus hours of the game) and aiming with the thumbsticks to hit the overwhelming number of enemies on screen, or punching/kicking a steady stream of entirely unthreatening enemies.

It sounds weird complaining about a shooter where all you do is shoot, but the fact that you use the same dual pistols for the entirely of the game and they never feel very powerful even after you’ve leveled them up, means you’ll be doing the exact same thing at the end of the game as you were at the beginning (this also kind of happens to be literally true as well, but there’s a reason for that which I’ll let you discover on your own).



The combat is also a bit frustrating because almost every key combat scenario lasts about three or four waves too long, and since you can never regain health, and there are some checkpoints that are way too spread out, some of the sequences end up being far more aggravating than they need to be. I don’t mind a challenge, and I never had to replay a section more than a couple times, so it’s not impossibly hard by any means, but it could have been served well by dialing back some of the action just a tad.

This is a shame too because the game is constantly changing how the combat is presented. For instance, one moment you’ll be running along in classic side-scroller fashion, then next, you’ll be shooting from a third-person perspective. One sequence has you shooting up at a flaming helicopter that is hurtling towards you as you plummet down the side of a skyscraper, while another has you running up a giant golf fairway taking out deadly golf carts and killer birds. I mean, there’s a sequence where you’re riding a unicorn and firing heart bullets at a giant floating baby head. Guess which section that one’s in? (cough…manga…cough).

A Superhero Ending

Comic Jumper hits all the right notes you’d expect from a Twisted Pixel game about a superhero and his offensive chest co-star parodying comic books from inside comic books. The writing and art styles are top notch, and the mix of genres and mediums give the game a personality all its own. The gameplay can get a bit repetitive after a while; however, the creativity and style with which it’s presented more than make up for it, and help make this one of the best downloadable titles of the year.