I said this in my review of ‘Splosion Man upon its release and I’ll say it again here: Twisted Pixel are probably one of the best indie developers out there. I’ve not seen a team so dedicated to immersing themselves (literally) into their work as these guys. Both The Maw and ‘Splosion Man felt like a labour of love and I felt privileged that they’d released these games for me to play. You can see the sweat and blood they put into their games and Comic Jumper is no different. Each time they return with their next big thing, it’s something completely fresh and this time it’s the most fourth wall breaking; no scratch that; demolishing game you’ve seen since probably the Monkey Island titles.
Comic Jumper centres around a failing comic book star known as Captain Smiley and his… chestkick(?) Star (he’s stuck to Smiley’s chest 24/7, much to the annoyance of both). Captain Smiley’s own comic is poorly received and struggles to keep going. It’s eventually cancelled and he soon finds himself without any money. Luckily the team at Twisted Pixel (yes the guys who made the game. I said it was fourth wall demolishing) are able to step in and lend a hand by creating a unique device which allows Captain Smiley to guest star in other people’s comics in order to raise money to re-launch his comic series.
This allows the game to place Smiley and Star in four completely unique comic book worlds, with its own visual style and quirky characters. The first of these is the modern comic book world with Captain Smiley’s own comic book series. It’s very bold, brash and typical of your bog standard action hero comics. The second is Nanoc: The Obliterator, a fantasy world similar to the comics of the 70s; with the art style mirroring that of the late Frank Frazetta. In the third, we delve into the Silver Age of comics, when stereotypes and sexism were rife but the censors came down hard on foul language or violence, with Improbable Paper Pals. Finally we see the duo enter the world of manga in Cutie Cutie Kid Cupids.
The art style and characters change often, with Nanoc going for a more watercolour feels whereas Cutie Cutie Kid Cupids aims for a black and white line drawn effect. Each level is a joy to play for this reason, but the gameplay itself doesn’t differ much from level to level (although in the manga levels you move from right to left instead of left to right to show how the Japanese read manga). For the most part it follows a Metal Slug style of moving with the left thumbstick and aiming your guns with the right. It’s definitely got origins in side scrolling shooters; with a distinct bullet hell feel at times making it extremely difficult. But it never crosses the “controller smashing” line that most bullet hell games bring as standard. Liberal use of checkpoints and unlimited lives make dying a slight inconvenience more than anything. Sure, it’s annoying but you’ll only be starting a few minutes at most away from where you died.
With Star commenting “This again…?” frequently throughout the game at various points things can start to grate. Luckily, Twisted Pixel mix things up with a side scrolling beat em up, although a very simple version based around two attacks, and an on-rails shooter, with the player being given control of Smiley to move left and right and jump to avoid attacks whilst shooting at the enemies. This is definitely the most fun of the different play styles because it is not as overly challenging or overly simple as the other two.
Comic Jumper shines in its writing. It has some of the best dialogue of this year. The back and forth between Smiley and Star is hilarious, as is the interaction with the secondary characters specifically Mistress Ropes, a diehard feminist who takes anything against her as being down to her sex. It’s so packed with movie references which come at such speed it feels like some of the dialogue in Gilmore Girls on crack. It even has a fantastic reference to Total Recall and Ghostbusters that had me rolling on the floor with laughter. Of course, some jokes fall flat, but the tone of the voice actors manages to keep it alive and still marginally funny. There are little background jokes such as the school in the Manga section being named Hent High and the end of the first manga levels is probably one of the funniest scenes in a game for a long while. It even has fantastic original songs (remember Everybody Loves Doughnuts?) in the form of a song during the stats screen and a hilariously obnoxious ode to the roided up arch nemesis of Captain Smiley.
The humour is carried over to the extra content, which you will definitely want to unlock. The descriptions of the concept art and comic covers are all done with tongue firmly placed in cheek along with some hilarious video interviews too.
Comic Jumper is probably the most unoriginal of Twisted Pixel’s titles, with it sticking firmly to its inspirations. But it’s not like that’s a bad thing. It’s still miles ahead of a lot of the XBLA titles being released at the moment. It’s the first Twisted Pixel game to suffer from the dreaded “repetition” but it had to come eventually. Looking over the gorgeous visual, the great audio style of the different worlds and the fantastic script make this a must buy for any fan of Twisted Pixel games and one of the most memorable games of the year.