PAX 2010: Comic Jumper Hands-On Preview - More Like Genre Jumper
Written Friday, September 10, 2010 By Nate Gillick
In Comic Jumper, Captain Smiley is the star of a failing comic book, one that just can’t keep its readers interested anymore, and in a bid to stay relevant and draw in an audience, Smiley loans himself out to take part in other comics. Over the course of the game, Captain Smiley will punch and shoot his way through four distinctly different comic worlds, including a modern comic style, silver age comics, fantasy comics, and manga, which each have a different look and feel.
“It’s really four games in one,” said Mike Wilford, CEO of Twisted Pixel. “None of the assets we use in one comic style can be used in any of the others.” The effort involved in creating the assets needed to have such diverse worlds led to a total development time of 13 months, more than twice as long as it took to make ‘Splosion Man.
Once in the Silver Age, we found ourselves inside a museum, beating up enemy after enemy while moving to the right across the screen in a manner that evoked memories of old-school beat-em-ups like Streets of Rage. While enemy after enemy fell before Smiley’s might, signs warning of “Violations for acts of Comic Obscenity” kept popping up on screen, an intentional parody of the Wesley Snipes movie, “Demolition Man.” At the end of the hall, enemies jumped Smiley from all sides. Time to call in the “Help Me” I reckon.
With that wave of enemies cleared, the camera view shifted. Suddenly, instead of beating up everything within reach, a targeting reticule has appeared on screen and Smiley uses it to blast away a group of enemies taking shots at him from the background; providing a slice of gameplay similar to old school SHMUP games. After clearing another hallway, a rope fell from the ceiling, and once again our play style changed. As Smiley climbed the rope, using his blaster to shoot at flying enemies on either side, we felt like we’re playing Contra with prettier graphics and tighter controls. At the top of the rope, we met our death several times while juggling the needs of shooting flying enemies and jumping from pipe to pipe. Clearly, we’ll need to be improving our Comic Jumper skills. In the interest of time, we zipped ahead to take a look at one of the manga levels.
Smiley probably isn’t too happy about finding himself in the girls’ love manga “Cutie Cutie Cute Cupids,” but gamers should enjoy the pitch-perfect recreation of manga at its most absurd. These levels are rendered in black and white to match the style of the comics, and, like traditional manga is meant to be read, the levels scroll from right to left. Without spoiling anything for manga fans, if you can think of any long-running manga cliches, the odds are good ol’ Twisted Pixel has parodied them in these levels. We took our long-haired Smiley down a hall, slashing our way through a throng of school girls, before having a shootout against an army of ghosts in the school’s gymnasium with the aid of Smiley’s bubble and heart shooting guns. Did it make any sense? Of course not, but it felt so right.
The HUD in Comic Jumper is deliberately limited so as not to disrupt the impression that gamers are looking at a panel from a comic book. Besides the Twisted Pixel logo that appears while building up for a “Help Me,” Smiley’s health will show up as a comic panel of its own in the upper left corner, but only when he takes a hit. This health box looks different in each comic universe, in keeping with its respective art style. As Smiley takes damage, his health panel begins to fade away, as if he’s being erased from the comic.
Everything we’ve seen leads us to believe Comic Jumper is set to match the standard of excellence set by Twisted Pixel with The Maw and 'Splosion Man. The Austin based developer has taken their off-beat sense of humor and paired it up well with four distinctive art and gameplay styles that seamlessly transitions from beat ‘em up to shooter to action platformer and more, bringing back fond memories of similar retro titles every step of the way.
Comic Jumper is set to release on October 6th for 1,200 Microsoft Points.