Review: Arkedo Series 01: Jump! (Sony PS3)

Arkedo Series 01: Jump!
Publisher: Sanuk Games
Developer: Arkedo Studios
Genre: Platformer
Release Date: TBA (released on 08/24/2011 in Europe)

Ever since I played Big Bang Mini, I’ve been on the lookout for new games by Arkedo Studios. The game had all of the charm, color, and quality I could ask for. Imagine my happiness when I found out about the Arkedo Series arriving on the PSN. These were a series of games that were developed a couple of years ago for the 360’s indie service and were all well received. Finally, PS3 owners would get to experience them.

At the moment, the game is not available in the United States and no firm release date has been set. Thankfully, I have a European account and was able to get my hands on this baby.

Is this game worth the effort, or should it just stay overseas?

Modes

There is no real story to this game. It only has a basic setup. You play as JumpBoy. After a giant robot crab shows up and starts throwing bombs everywhere, it is determined that only JumpBoy can save the day. He’s sent off to collect the bombs and deal with the threat.

At first, you only have one mode to play around with. This is Adventure. In this mode, you play through thirty levels one after another. You have a set number of lives that can be increased by collected 1-ups, and when they’re all gone, the game is over. The game is very retro is this regard. You can’t save in the middle of the adventure. Heck, for some reason, you can’t even quit. Once you’ve started this mode, you’re in until you run out of lives. The concept is outdated, but it lends to the game. It forces you to master the initial levels in order to have enough lives to complete the later levels. The ability to quit would have been helpful though. It was missed.

A lot of charm sneaks its way in by means of the text. Level names pay tribute to games like Mario and Metal Gear. Best of all are the messages that appear when you pause or die. Pausing causes the game to ask you to wash your hands, as it assumes you’re using the restroom. When you die, various messages pop up, including one that says “pro tip: press X to jump”. I enjoyed these every time.

After you’ve completed Adventure, you unlock the challenges. These give you the same levels, but now ask you to collect every coin, gem, and treasure chest before you finish the level. You can select any level you want, which is nice. If you can beat all thirty levels, you unlock a final challenge that will really put your skills and concentrations to the test.

There’s nothing beyond these two modes, which is a shame. That isn’t to say that these modes don’t satisfy. The reason I say it’s a shame is because I wanted more because the game is high quality. If they added a few modern features like a quick save or the ability to quit to the menu, it would have been even better. As it is, these modes are solid because of the concept and because the rest of the package is up to snuff.

Graphics

This game is full on retro. Everything is pixelated and animations are kept very simple. The look is solid though, thanks to some solid choices. Sure, everything is blocky, but in a good way. You never have trouble telling what something is, nor are things non-detailed. In fact, the sprites and backgrounds are alive.

The color in this game is the reason everything looks so good. The colors are rich and vibrant, helping the game stand out despite the outdated look. After playing something like Black Ops, the sheer amount of color I was seeing was a revelation. It looks better than most comparable games. It even looks better than modern comparisons that use better technology.

It just goes to show you that with attention to detail and use of color, even pixels can look great. This is the kind of game that makes you wish we never got updated systems and their diehard focus on graphical power.

Audio

The sound effects should be familiar to anyone who’s played Pix’N Love Rush. The same sounds are used for jumping, grabbing coins, and the killing of enemies. The reason for that is that the third game in Arkedo Series, Pixel, was the introduction of the cat from Pix’N Love. I didn’t know that going in, but it makes the quality of that game make a lot of sense. It’s all very old school and all very timeless.

The music is great in the way it is incorporated. For the first ten levels, the music is very laid back, fitting the easier tone. After that, the music picks up until it eventually becomes a great tension builder. It lets you know you’re nearing the end. The tunes are perfect background music in that they help set the tone of the game. However, none of them are songs that will stick with you after you’ve beaten the game. While it’s quality stuff, it won’t be making your list of best 8-bit tracks any time soon.

Basically, the audio package keeps it retro and shows that old school can still be pretty cool.

Gameplay

Jump is about as simple as it gets. Pretty much all you need to know about the game is in the title! This is a pure platformer where timing, reflexes, and speed are key to success.

The controls are very simple. You move with the d-pad and jump with the X button. Simple controls to be sure, but many games have screwed this up thanks to bad physics, button delays, and a myriad of other problems. Thankfully, there are no such issues here. In fact, this is one of the smoothest platformers I’ve ever played. To be frank, it controls like a dream. You can direct your descent with the d-pad and land a perfectly precise jump so long as you have the skill to do so. I really couldn’t ask for more.

For the most part, you can’t fight enemies. Jumping on an enemy crab will only result in death, despite the game telling you how much they hate hugs. You do get one weapon though. In some levels, you’ll find a knife. This handy weapon can be thrown and will instantly kill one enemy. The only problem is that once it is used, it is gone forever, AND you can only collect it once. That means if you pick up a knife, use it, and then die, the knife won’t reappear. These can make tough spots much more manageable, but their rarity turns them into a precious commodity that must be used with cation.

There aren’t many enemy types, but they will still find ways to make your life a living hell. The basic enemies are crabs. These plucky little crustaceans merely shuffle back and forth and hope to run into you. They rarely cause death except due to a lack of focus or a badly timed jump. Up next are bats, the bane of many a video game protagonist’s existence. They move erratically around an area, and to touch them is death. When they’re in force or are in cramped corridors, they’ll find a way to steal a life on more than one occasion. Finally, you have skeletons. These guys shuffle back and forth as well, but throw deadly bones into the air. These suckers have differing trajectories and speed, making it hard to predict where they’ll go. When these guys are in force, every step becomes perilous.

The goal of each level is to collect a target number of bombs. These are often scattered around and placed in areas that are hard to reach. Once they’ve all been collected, the door to the next level will unlock. Make it to the door, and you’ve won! Huzzah!

What makes this game awesome is the sheer diversity among levels. Sure, every level has you collecting bombs to open up the doorway, but they each do it differently. Some levels are all about jumping, some give you extremely limited time to collect the bombs, some force you to figure out which bombs need to be taken out first, some are about making every jump correct the first time, etc. There are even times where the bombs you need to collect are almost an afterthought. In one level, the whole point is to get past a bunch of enemies and tricky jumps. Once you do that, all of the bombs are sitting right in front of the door. Some require you to collect a target number of points before you can collect the bombs. In these cases, you’ll often have to take risks in order to grab gems and coins. For a game with only a few buttons, the amount of variety is pretty sweet. It helps keep the game feeling fresh even though the formula is still just a lot of jumping.

When it comes to platformers, the first hurdle to cross is the controls. This game passes that with flying colors. The next part is creating a variety of things to do so that the levels don’t start to feel monotonous. This game also passes that test. All told, Jump is one of the finer example of platforming gameplay I’ve ever seen. It keeps things simple, and thus stands out.

Replayability

Well, once you’ve beaten Adventure, there really isn’t anything left to do in that regard. You can replay it, but there are no high scores or harder difficulties to tackle. Every time you play it, your experience will be the same. I suppose some might find some replay value in attempting to beat it without losing a life. I’m not one of those people, however.

The challenge mode is also only good for a once over. Since these are the same levels you’ve played before, it doesn’t throw anything new at you. There is one bonus level, but one is hardly enough. If the challenges were specific actions instead of collecting coins, this mode could have added some serious value.

As it is, the game is really only worth a single playthrough, because it doesn’t offer any content that extends the life of the game. However, the experience is good enough that you may want to replay it simply for the joy of replaying it. That keeps the score here from plummeting.

Balance

Some platformers are too easy. Others are too hard. This one finds the balance between the two and creates a challenging but not frustrating experience.

Firstly, you will die. There are a number of tricky obstacles to overcome, enemies to avoid, and timers to beat. No one is going to beat this game on their first try. However, dying rarely causes frustration, because you know that you can beat the level if you just play smarter and maintain focus.

That isn’t to say there isn’t the odd level in the bunch. My least favorite was a level where you’re forced to run across the ground while dozens of skeletons toss bones at you from below. You can’t get high enough to avoid them, and several areas of the ground can disappear. If you fall, you’ll meet a spiky death. I’ve gotten better at this level, but it still manages to kill me more often than not.

So, while it may not be perfect, this game has a great sense of balance and a fine difficulty curve.

Originality

Well, I’d love to keep the high praise going, but it had to end somewhere. As per usual, that end point is the originality section. If anything, this is another reason I don’t like rating games bases on originality.

This is a port of a two year old downloadable title on the 360. In addition, it’s a bloody platformer. There is pretty much nothing left undone by that genre, and although Jump mixes things up a bit, each of its features can be found in other games.

There’s nothing original here, but let me assure you that this game is still a breath of fresh air. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and the fact that this is a port shouldn’t affect your enjoyment of it in any way.

Addictiveness

It is very easy to keep playing this game.

In particular, running out of lives is more of an “aw shucks” moment than a moment of frustration. You’re disappointed in yourself for letting the game down, and you can’t wait to prove yourself worthy by conquering all of the levels. I mentioned that the lack of an ability to quit to the main menu was saddening. The truth is that you’ll hardly miss it because playing the game is so much fun.

The reason for this is because of the variety, charm, and challenge that each level will provide. This is a rare combination these days, and as such, the game sucks you in quite easily. I’ve rarely plowed through a PSN title this fast.

Appeal Factor

Unless you’re a staunch hater of platformers, you’ll enjoy this game. I think even Alex Lucard could find plenty to love here. The controls are spot on, the presentation is great, and there is more than enough charm to woo players over.

If it ever gets released in America, the price is set at two and half dollars. That is practically a steal, as this game is cheaper than a gallon of milk and much more satisfying. It’s the price of a Mini, though this is a full PSN title with trophies.

I have a hard time thinking of anyone that wouldn’t want this.

Miscellaneous

There are no extras to speak of. You have the two modes and the ability to watch the credits. The package is barebones.

There are trophies in the game, and they’re pretty easy to get if you ask me. Four of them are gotten simply by beating the game, while two more are landmark trophies. The final two simply require you to not die for a while to unlock. While there’s no platinum, trophy hunters looking for a few quick and easy ones should check this game out. It isn’t often you can farm for trophies with a good game for under five bucks.

I’m very glad I decided to review this game. It’s yet another reason why I wish Arkedo would make some new games for current consoles and/or handhelds. They just have a way about them that creates simple yet addictive titles that show how powerful gaming can be even when all you do is jump around.

The Scores
Modes: Decent
Graphics: Very Good
Audio: Very Good
Gameplay: Classic
Replayability: Poor
Balance: Great
Originality: Worthless
Addictiveness: Very Good
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Great
Final Score: Enjoyable Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

Jump is a great game that is only held back by its lack of replayability and originality. Still, the presentation is great, the gameplay is excellent, and the game is simply fun to play. If and when this baby comes out in the United States, I urge anyone with a PS3 to pick it up. It isn’t often such joy can be gotten so cheap.

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