Twisted Pixel is one of those video game development teams for which I have a soft spot in my heart. They’re a company that has absolutely no problem being silly and absurd in their games, quite evident in their previous game, ‘Splosion Man, and taken further in a hilarious press release regarding the fixing of a game glitch. It’s rather refreshing to see a game developer that seems to have as much fun making their games as they hope gamers will have playing them. Whether you enjoy their games or not, in an industry full of cookie-cutter sequels and clones as well as companies more worried about maximizing their profits than producing a quality product, Twisted Pixel is definitely a developer I’m glad is making games.
Enter Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley, Twisted Pixel’s third original IP for the Xbox LIVE Arcade, following 2009’s The Maw and ‘Splosion Man. This time around, Twisted Pixel has jumped into the world of the side-scrolling beat-em/shoot-em up with Captain Smiley, a washed up comic book superhero whose comic series has just been canceled due to poor sales. Teamed up with a belligerent, physically attached talking star on his chest named, you guessed it, Star, Smiley’s adventure takes him through several different comic book styles in his attempt to restore his comic to its former glory. Is the premise sounding a bit on the silly side? Don’t worry, that’s a good thing. If there’s one thing Twisted Pixel does best, it’s absurd, silly humor and Comic Jumper is chalk full of it. Jump past the break for the full review.
After the latest issue of his comic fails to produce a significant profit, Captain Smiley is left jobless. Teaming up with Twisted Pixel Games (yes, they put themselves in the game), Smiley’s only option is to guest star in different comic series in order to increase his popularity and raise the money he needs for his glorious revival. Aided by his sidekick Gerda, who has grown quite tired of being Smiley’s doormat, as well as Twisted Pixel, having provided Smiley with a special machine that allows him jump into different comics (hence the game’s title), Smiley must battle his way through those comics to earn his big payday. Both aiding him and opposing him in his quest, aside from Gerda and Star, are several of Smiley’s comic book nemeses, including deranged scientist Dr. Winklemeyer, the miniature golf obsessed Puttmaster, and the narcissistic, muscle-bound Brad and his legion of female robots named Bradbots.
Each comic genre that Smiley jumps into comes complete with over-the-top references and parodies of the tropes that those types of comics contain. One of the best has to be the Silver Age comic, The Improbable Paper Pals, complete with a very shrill feminist stereotype named Mistress Ropes and a parody of the Comics Code Authority from the Silver Age of Comics called the Comics Obscenity Commission (or C.O.C for short…make of that what you will) who constantly fine Smiley and Star thanks to Star’s foul mouth and Smiley’s assault against cops controlled by Mistress Ropes. The overall story is the real gem of the game, driven both by Smiley’s idiotically comedic way of doing things and a deconstruction of the usual themes and absurdities found in the types comics Smiley jumps into. While some of the jokes fall flat or just wind up being a little too out there, the story never really stops being funny, offering loads of laughs for players.
The gameplay in Comic Jumper is a mash-up of different gameplay styles, combining side-scrolling shoot ’em ups, beat ’em ups, 3D rail shooters, and a few Quick Time Event segments thrown in for good measure, seamlessly blending them together into a fun mix of awesome. That said, the gameplay isn’t exactly what one would call perfect. Calling back to older side-scrolling shooters of days past, Comic Jumper‘s difficulty curve starts out a bit on the high side and only increases from there. The levels can sometimes become unfair, with hoards of enemies spawning and even respawning around you, usually when you’re trying to back up enough to kill a group of enemies. It doesn’t help that the only way to regain health are through the use of a “Help Me,” a special attack that is either earned by completing melee combat segments unharmed or buying them from Dr. Winklemeyer. That’s right, the game doesn’t just give you healing items. You have to earn them.
Still, even with some difficulty issues, including at least one boss in the first manga level that’s guilty of having a damn near unavoidable attack, it is a rather minor problem, especially for people who like difficult games. The controls themselves are rather well done, though using the right analog stick to aim your guns in a 2D setting can be rather annoying at times. To compensate, Comic Jumper offers an aim assist option to those that want it, though, despite aiming without it being a bit annoying, it is possible to get through the game without having to turn it on.
Side-scrolling segments of the game are broken up into two parts: shoot ’em up sections, which usually comprises the bulk of the levels, and melee sections, in which you must take out a series of enemies to proceed. As stated before, completing a melee section unharmed grants you a “Help Me,” an ultimate attack in which members of Twisted Pixel attack the screen in a hilarious fashion, eliminating all enemies all screen and restoring your health completely. Finally, there are the 3D rail-shooter segments, which mostly deal with eliminating enemies and dodging attacks and other onscreen hazards. Also, during certain sections of the level, you are offered an added readership bonus, which awards you with a $3000 cash bonus if you can get through a certain section or beat a boss without taking damage.
With money earned during levels, which includes a base payment for completion and added bonuses based on performance, you can buy upgrades and bonus items from Dr. Winklemeyer. Such enhancements include increased health, increased damage, increased sliding duration, and additional Help Me attacks. Outside of levels, money can be earned by exploring Smiley’s base and talking to people, some of who show up after certain levels are completed. Also, unlocking bonuses, which include two extra ‘Splosion Man levels, adds a score bonus to money earned in levels, increasing with each purchased bonus item.
Rendered in 2.5D, Comic Jumper‘s visuals are pretty damn good, with each different comic type having its own distinct art style, each with different character and level designs. Though they all look rather faithful in their portrayal of the different comics, the manga style’s black and white colored graphics can be a bit visually grating, especially when a lot of things are onscreen. Still, it’s something that can be somewhat overlooked, at least once your eyes get used to it. In addition to the distinct art style of different comics, the game itself feels like a comic book, thanks to impressive comic transitions and word boxes, not to mention an interesting fading effect that happens to Smiley’s colors the more he gets injured. The animation isn’t completely perfect however, with the talking animation for characters being little more than just them flapping their mouths at times. Still, unless that’s something that really bothers you, it shouldn’t be a problem.
For the first Twisted Pixel game to feature fully voice acted dialogue in more than just a limited capacity, Comic Jumper really hits it out of the park with some spectacular character voices, many of which you may or may not recognize if you have ever seen an anime title dubbed by FUNimation Entertainment, including Christopher Sabat (Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z) as both Captain Smiley and Star.
Also, for ‘Splosion Man fans that loved the “Donuts, Go Nuts” song, you’ll be glad to know that Matt “Chainsaw” Chaney is back with a new song for the game, this one about the game’s stats page. And I will say that it is very and awesome and catchy. The game features other songs, at least one of which is intentionally bad. But The Stats Song (yes, that is the official title) is possibly the best.
While a bit on the controller breaking side of the difficulty scale, Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley is quite an entertaining and quirky adventure through the world of comic books. With it’s somewhat varied gameplay styles, clever writing and downright hilarious sight gags, such as the high school mascot being “The Fighting Tentacles” in the manga levels, the game will have you laughing from beginning to end, so much so that you may just ignore the frustrating difficulty. Add in challenge levels to complete and a ton of unlockables, such as the two new ‘Splosion Man levels, behind the scene videos, comics, and concept art, you’ll find that there is a lot to see here. Despite its flaws, Comic Jumper is definitely something worth checking out, even for non-comic fans. It’s a whole lot of fun. Oh, and be on the look out ‘Splosion Man fans. Aside from a few plugs for the game, a certain character returns as a boss. But as for who, well…my lips are sealed.
Comic Jumper is available on Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade for 1200 MSP. Review code courtesy of Twisted Pixel Games.