After last summer’s manic outing of ‘Splosion Man, with its fiery solo protagonist, Twisted Pixel are back to focusing on another comedic paring with their latest XBLA title, Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley. There’s no denying that it’s a welcomed return. While ‘Splosion Man was so bonkers that he didn’t need to be coupled with another character, their first release of The Maw demonstrated that they were able to create something quite unique when having two central characters to play off against one another.
In Comic Jumper they’ve really honed in on this idea, with the titular Captain (who literally has a smiley emoticon for a head) and his sidekick Star, making for the most entertaining buddy team-up since Nick Nolte was first charged with babysitting Eddie Murphy for two whole days. Not that Star has much of a choice, what with him being bonded to Captain Smiley’s chest. Which would really make him more of a chestkick…
The bumbling and bickering pair have actually managed to get their own comic book series cancelled so, with the help of the team at Twisted Pixel, they’ve been given a new lease of life by moonlighting as guest stars in other comics in a bid to rebuild their popularity. What follows is as much a fast paced and hilarious homage to comic book genres, as it is to action platformers. Set over the course of four different comic styles, the game follows the pair through Modern, Fantasy, Silver Age and Manga settings, each one riffing off their own unique visuals and enemies.
For the majority of the time, Comic Jumper’s gameplay focuses on running around and using the right analogue stick to aim at enemies, all of which vary depending on the theme of the comic book being played through. Of course this is a Twisted Pixel game, so don’t expect enemies in the Fantasy comic to simply rely on swords and armour. Instead the game mixes in some zany twists as the story progresses and these delicious liberties are present throughout each of the styles. It would be easy to spoil them here but we won’t, since half the fun, delight and humour obtained from playing the game is the result of encountering them yourself. Suffice to say if you can’t find something to laugh about in the entire time Comic Jumper lasts, then you can at least die happy knowing that the money you spent on that sense of humour bypass wasn’t wasted. Between the settings, or the almost constant banter and rivalry between Smiley and Star, there are giggles and some genuinely laugh out loud moments to be enjoyed, something which is still a true rarity in videogames.
The game mixes up the action by including shorter melee only sections and separate quick time events. This breaking-up of the levels is also achieved by flipping from 2D to 3D throughout the course of each. One minute you’ll be traversing the level sideways, and then you’ll be running through it in 3D. The flip to the on-rails-3D view can be slightly disorientating at first, since it uses the opportunity to throw more enemies at you and gives you greater depth of movement, but this is a minor issue to which the the player will quickly become accustomed. The fact that the comic backdrop often allows for a brief (and intentional) pause as the page turns over, also gives the player time to adjust when it happens.
Even the 2D sections use the 3D space to good effect, so battering enemies with a melee attack will send them flying backwards through doors or towards the screen. In an incredibly bold and clever move, the game also breaks into real life with FMV, which adds to the comedic nature. Those who are old enough to remember when FMV was all the rage will cringe at the thought of this, such were the horrors it inflicted upon gamers in the 90’s. However it’s used sparingly here, and done to a high standard so that it adds to the game’s charm. In fact it shows just how far Twisted Pixel have come.
Comic Jumper really feels like them flexing their creative muscles to see what they can accomplish by trying something different, supremely confident now that the games they’ve produced before have been received so warmly. It’s to their credit that it all works well and you can feel this in everything from the characters, humour and even the music. Suffice to say if you were a lover of ‘Splosion Man’s Donut Song, then the stats screen for Comic Jumper will be something you’ll be happy to just sit and watch.
There are also lots of things to do in-between each level, with earned cash being used to upgrade Smiley’s abilities. The hub area can be explored to gain extra dough, as well as providing extra laughs with the dialogue between the games characters. Cash can also be earned by in game challenges, and there’s a wealth of comic covers, statues and other unlockables to purchase (including new levels for ‘Splosion Man). These have a dual purpose as they boost the amount of money you earn during levels, and also go some way to compensating for Comic Jumpers lack of multiplayer (which would have been an unnecessary inclusion anyway). There’s certainly plenty here to keep the completionist in you occupied for some time.
If you had to nitpick, you could accuse Comic Jumper of being quite repetitive since it’s mostly running and shooting, but that would be like accusing Mario games of consisting of mostly running and jumping on platforms. Once again Twisted Pixel has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that style, humour and irreverence go a long way in making an enjoyable title. The generally forgiving nature of the checkpoints proves this is a game that they just wanted to you enjoy and to have as much fun playing it as they clearly did when creating it.
Given what they’ve accomplished here, we’re already looking forward to whatever it is they decide to turn their hand to next.