Review: Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley (360)

Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Twisted Pixel Games
Genre: Run “Ëœn’ Gun
Release Date: 10/06/2010

When game companies try to play off classic themes, they approach it one of two ways: The company either directly harps on the yesteryears or it presents a brand new experience and tucks the classic motif underneath the covers for players to crawl into.

As part of the new Game Feast fall promotion, Twisted Pixel Games has given Xbox LIVE Arcade gamers a vibrant title which falls under the latter. With Spolsion Man and The Maw underneath the Texas developer’s XBLA belt, many references to the developer’s former games and much care has been placed into creating an interesting comic book world in Captain Smiley. The result is a game that has a myriad of substance and flair, and despite a few hiccups, Captain Smiley can certainly hang with the big boys that star stud Microsoft’s promotions.

Actually formulated as a personal comic book during part of the developer’s staff during grade school, Comic Jumper features a super hero that is seemingly the result of a Faceball 2000 character stacked on top of a body builder’s frame, with an attitude cranked up to the max. Sporting kung-fu moves, dual pistols and a smarmy talking star planted firmly on his chest, Captain Smiley is the star of his own comic book and Comic Jumper allows players to flip through the pages of his escapades.

Unfortunately, Captain Smiley’s prima donna attitude and inability to respectfully work with his supporting characters leads his cohorts and, more importantly, his readers to abandon him. This obviously leads to the cancellation of his comic book, leaving him to rot in poverty and obscurity. However, the members of Twisted Pixel Games (actually represented in the game) see an opportunity in the desperation of Captain Smiley to gain his fame and comic book series back again. Through a healthy investment, the corporation builds a complex to house Smiley’s crew and invents a technology to allow the hero to jump into other comic books to take on contracted work. Comic Jumper then throws the player into alternate comic universes until he can make enough money to support a publication of his own again.

While the story might come across as clichéd at times and a fair share of the jokes fall a little flat, the characters involved in Comic Jumper really steal the show and with the catalog of personalities, you could truly believe this was truly a comic book that enjoyed a moderate run. The dastardly English gentleman The Puttmaster, the “Ëœ60s-oppressed female Mistress Ropes and the narcissistic surf boy Brad each have a distinct charisma that add to the humor in plot in a unique way and really drive the story. There is even a handful of fan service in the title, which further adds to the appeal of the game universe, including a guest appearance by Fierce Comic’s The Maniacal Smile, who drops by to call Captain Smiley out on gimmick infringement.

As for modes, the main story carries the entirety of the game, but players can stroll through their headquarters in between levels to catch a number of conversations that build on the history of the franchise. There are also challenges sprinkled through the game’s 11 levels, but this is built entirely around the game’s main game engine. The proposed sidekick multiplayer modes would have been a very welcome addition to flesh out the game’s offerings, but for “Issue #1,” Captain Smiley banks entirely on its story to shoulder the weight.

Comic Jumper‘s graphical muscle mostly stems from the variety found within the game. With each universe Captain Smiley jumps into, the art changes appropriately to reflect Nanoc’s rustic look, The Improbable Paper Pals’ retro “Ëœ60s style, or to the black-and-white styling of manga. Outside of these areas, the game is decked out with an environmental styling that is similar to a lot of current “dark” comic books. Everything is appropriate and looks quite nice and a lot of attention is paid to details in each environment.

I noticed some background glitching in a few areas, but it never happened enough to where it was a big issue. There are also a few areas where the environment obstructs the view of the action, but, again, this doesn’t occur often enough to label it as a huge concern. Given the shooting nature of the game, players will spend a good amount of time looking at the action from a panned-out view, meaning some of the character models don’t get to show off much detail, but there is certainly a lot to look at in each environment and the game flips from 2D to “3D” seamlessly to show off even more of each location. Story segments are acted out panel-by-panel, but are given animations when the appropriate character is speaking. Transitions from area-to-area also showcase comic book page flipping, which can occasionally lead to some strange encounters. Being based on a comic book, Comic Jumper certainly has a lot of expectations placed on its visuals and, in the end, the game fails to disappoint the eyes.

Of course, the reason the cast of the game is truly brought to life is the phenomenal voice acting tucked away in Comic Jumper. Heading the cast is Christopher Sabat, an anime voice actor known for roles such as Dragon Ball’s Vegeta and Piccolo, who shows off great range by portraying both Captain Smiley and Star. The villains sound exactly like one would imagine they would based on their background and appearance and the contextual chatter between Smiley and Star during each level really drives the pace of the gameplay

The stellar quality of the voice acting is a bit of downside in this regard, though, as it outshines just about any other facet of sound in the game. The action gets quickly repetitive with the majority of the time spent listening to Captain Smiley’s guns firing and the pumped up sound effects and voice acting tends to drown out the game’s music. This is a bummer when the game is trying to ring through with anthems such as, “Captain Smiley is Awesome,” but, still the relevant nature of the conversations the characters have with each other during the course of play constantly keeps the sound enjoyable.

Looking at the mechanics of Comic Jumper, the game can best be described as a marriage of Comix Zone and Gunstar Heroes from the SEGA Genesis, with further SEGA influence in Space Harrier-style “3D” shooting segments. In this respect, the controls are solid because they are so simple. The left stick moves Captain Smiley and both triggers (or the A and X buttons) handle his actions. At certain points, the game will institute brawling sequences where the Captain can unleash combos, with the secondary button throwing out an attack that does no damage, but hits enemies on both sides to create some breathing room. However, the majority of the game is spent in Gunstar Heroes-style gunplay where the enemies are numerous and Captain’s controls are reduced to run, shoot and jump. Players also have access to a defense slide maneuver, but the controls led me to slide in the wrong direction multiple times. After making a few adjustments to how I controlled the Captain, though, it proved to be a life-saver.

Through nice transitions, the gameplay occasionally shifts to a third-person rail shooter, similar to the recent < href="">Sin & Punishment release and there are occasions where the game switches to a more traditional horizontal shooter. These elements kick in just when the running and gunning starts to become a bit tiresome, but, in the end, the game still becomes far too repetitive.

Even though Captain Smiley has four different universes to contend with, each features the same basic types of enemies, just with a different appearance. Thankfully the environments are great to look at and the gameplay does offer a great melee mechanics where Captain Smiley can smash enemies into objects in the background, but, ultimately, the gameplay is just plain simple. The heat comes in the form of a brutal difficulty, which should light the fire of classic gamers, but it could potentially scare away the more casual gamer. Comic Jumper isn’t too shy about pouring the difficulty on fairly early in the game, either, even though the game’s brawling and quick-time event scenes are woefully easy, creating a very awkward balance.

That being said, though, nothing in the game ever seemed unfair as, even though I got smacked around a couple of times, there are patterns to recognize, just like in the games of old. If most players stick with the game, they shouldn’t have troubles making it to the end – a mission further aided by liberal checkpoints and unlimited lives.

The treat in battle comes in the form of the game’s bosses, which, in true form to Gunstar Heroes, Comic Jumper slaps up a ridiculously high number that players have to whittle down to zero. Even the bosses sometimes begin to repeat themselves, but fans of pattern-based gameplay will find a lot to like in Comic Jumper.

Once players gun through the story, there admittedly isn’t a whole lot to come back to. An interesting aspect in the game; however, is in the shop located in Captain Smiley’s headquarters. Not only can cash be spent to upgrade the character, but a large number of unlockable media is featured in the game. Unlike most games where the collectibles are an afterthought, Comic Jumper awards cash bonus multipliers for each collectible bought. Once the entire collection is picked up, the player then racks up an extra 300 percent of cash earned through the stage to really bolster their leaderboard scores and give them a reason to play each stage once more. Plus, I just thought the collectibles were actually kind of cool.

Looking at the overall package, Comic Jumper isn’t shy at all about picking up elements from other games and popular culture and the end result works. Once I picked up the controller, it was hard to put it down until I knew what would become of Captain Smiley – an adventure that unfortunately only took about five hours of my time. Still, the role of awkward and crazy hero played by Captain Smiley is hard to ignore and those looking for a very solid and challenging action title will find much to like in Comic Jumper. Furthermore, it’s hard to find a game that throws in more odds and ends into a game than Comic Jumper – players can check out The Maw and Splosion Man “arcade cabinets” in the headquarters, Twisted Pixel cameos and references are aplenty, players can even unlock extra levels for Splosion Man in the game and the collectibles and atmosphere create a very believable hero universe. The live action scenes featuring people dissing the comic in the beginning and praising it at the end are inserted perfectly into the game and, overall, the humor is spot on.

Story/Modes: GREAT
Graphics: GREAT
Control/Gameplay: VERY GOOD
Replayability: ENJOYABLE
Originality: VERY GOOD
Addictiveness: GOOD
Appeal Factor: GREAT
Miscellaneous: VERY GOOD

Short Attention Span Summary

Clocking in at about five or six hours of game time, Comic Jumper might initially seem like a shaky investment, but the Twisted Pixel touch will make each hour worth it if you can bare the repetitive nature and bone-jarring difficulty. Comic Jumper features one of the best presentations you can find on Xbox LIVE Arcade and the cast is unforgettable with comedy that hits far more than it misses. Borrowing a lot of elements from other games, players get a wide variety of game styles and seeing Captain Smiley jump from comic universe to the next results in some varied presentation. It’s just hard to ignore the game’s repetitiveness, but if you have a heart for classic run “Ëœn’ gun titles, this one should give you a lot of mileage.



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