Review: Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley

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After its first two games, The Maw and ‘Splosion Man, Twisted Pixel Games has established itself as one of the most talented and creative independent development studios, as well as a trusted source for games that will, more than anything else, put a smile on your face.

Twisted Pixel’s third game, Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley, is now available on Xbox Live Arcade as part of Microsoft’s ongoing “Game Feast” promotion, and like the studio’s previous titles it demands attention. That doesn’t mean it is an outright winner, but rest assured, Comic Jumper will turn that frown upside down more often than not.

Comic Jumper tells the story of Captain Smiley, who, in the words of Star, the talking star sidekick implanted on the good Captain’s chest, is an “emoticon on steroids.” More specifically, he is a big, yellow smiley face with a chiseled body and a blue superhero suit. He’s completely generic-looking, and that’s the point.

Captain Smiley has fallen on hard times, as the comic book series he stars in has become the laughing stock of all comics and gets canceled. The fine folks at Twisted Pixel – the development team literally stars in the game – give Captain Smiley a base of operations and basically whore him out to other comics to earn money as a guest star in hopes of one day getting his own series again.

From the moment you turn the game on and see the live action intro of the nastiest, sloppiest bologna sandwich you’ll ever see being made…and then smashed with a downward fist-punch, you know you’re in for a fun ride. And in terms of story and characters and humor, this game does not disappoint.

Comic Jumper hits on many styles of comedy. It is charming, sophomoric, raunchy, self-deprecating and obscene all at the same time – and it all works magically. The comedic timing and delivery is pitch-perfect, the voice acting performances are phenomenal across the board, the menu jingles and theme songs are hilarious (going into the Stats menu always makes me chuckle), and the game’s virtual comic book pages are overflowing with nerd culture references galore. The characters are so varied too, ranging from the blatantly generic and stereotypical — like the muscle-bound frat guy with all the chicks named Brad and the Origami Kid, whose Rs all sound like Ls, and Ls all sound like Rs – to the completely ridiculous – like a wad of paper struggling through puberty, a maniacal mini-golf master with a robotic golf bag caddie, and an uber-feminist villainess who is constantly complaining about female oppression in the workplace.

Equally amazing are the game’s art direction and presentation. As Captain Smiley jumps from comic to comic, the visuals and sound effects change to match the format, from a black-and-white Manga starring psychotically happy school girls to a Conan the Barbarian parody comic set in sort of a watercolor-style fantasy world that has been turned into a giant mini-golf course deathtrap. The scene transitions are also very, very cool. To give the illusion of actually reading a comic book come to life, whenever a scene changes within the same comic, you actually watch Captain Smiley leap out of the current panel, hover high above the comic’s pages, and then fall back into the adjoining panel to continue the story. It’s like Comix Zone taken to the next level.

Unfortunately, Comic Jumper’s gameplay pales in comparison to its comedic brilliance and artistic diversity. Comic Jumper is a 2.5D side-scrolling, twin-stick shooter/platformer that also seamlessly transitions into and out of the occasional beat-‘em-up, on-rails shooter, and QTE (Quick Time Event) mode. You run Captain Smiley across the screen with the left stick, aim with the right stick, and hold down the right trigger to spam bullets from his dual-fisted pistols at cut-and-paste enemies that spawn in and attack in predictable patterns. Sometimes you’ll have to climb a rope or shimmy across a pipe, but that’s about as deep as the game goes as a platformer.

The game is certainly fun to play a level or two at a time, but it is so oversimplified and formulaic that it quickly falls into a rut of “meh.” The gameplay never manages to equal the spontaneity and refreshing changes in scenery provided by the game’s ever-changing graphical appearance, and it never really becomes all that challenging either. Therefore, after a couple stages the gameplay runs out of surprises and boredom begins creeping in well before you’ve completed the roughly six-hour adventure.

There are no power-ups, no alternate weapons, no level interactions, no nothing to give the gameplay that extra pep it needs to maintain its hold on you. Well, there is an upgrade system used to power-up Captain Smiley’s abilities, but the effects are all passive and I honestly couldn’t detect any noticeable increase in power whenever I purchased an upgrade, so the process seemed pretty pointless in my experience. There is also a hilarious screen-clearing special attack showing live action footage of Twisted Pixel members kung fu chopping the screen from all sides, capped off by a gloriously bearded man head butting the screen. But again, this is more funny than interesting from a gameplay perspective, and because the game is rarely that difficult you never really need to use it anyway. I only used it maybe three times throughout the entire game, and one of those times was just for the comedy of the attack sequence.

Whether or not you’ll ultimately enjoy Comic Jumper enough to make the 1200 MS Point price tag a worthwhile investment hinges almost entirely on your view of its abrasive brand of humor. Give the trial version a whirl or simply watch the trailer posted at the bottom of this review, and if the game’s sense of humor hits the spot and gets you giggling from the jump, you’ll certainly get enough of a kick out of the full game to be able to forgive its shortcomings. There sure are a butt-load of unlockables to reward your patience and commitment as well.

However, if the humor doesn’t really do anything for you, my guess is that you’ll just find the game too dull and obnoxious to endure.

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Pros:
+ Great humor, writing, acting and comedic timing
+ Incredible comic book presentation
+ Fairly long game with tons of unlockables

Cons:
– Overly simplistic gameplay wears thin rather quickly
– Not much of a challenge

Game Info:
Platform: Xbox 360 via XBLA
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Twisted Pixel Games
Release Date: 10/6/2010
Genre: Side-scrolling Action/Platformer
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!