Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley - Xbox Live Arcade

‘Splosion Man was a huge surprise for me last year and ended up being not only my favourite downloadable title of 2009, but ended up cracking my top 10 list at the end of the year. I’ve been eagerly anticipating Twisted Pixels’ follow-up even before it was announced. At first, Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley only had a logo, which was more than enough to peak my interest; since then, it has become my most anticipated XBLA title this year.

Well it’s here, I’ve played through it, and I’m happy to report that this is a worthy follow-up to ‘Splosion Man, if not completely on par with it.

Comic Jumper tells the story of comic book star, Captain Smiley. After losing his own comic book, Smiley is forced to earn money by guest starring in other comic books until he has enough cash to re-launch his own. He “jumps” into other comic genres, including the Silver Era, a Conan the Barbarian inspired world, and one that I absolutely refuse to spoil here.

If you had to classify this game, I suppose the appropriate term would be “side-scroller” in the sense that you spend much of your time running from left to right. At first you switch between a beat ‘em up and a Contra-esque shooter. For the beat’em up sections you have a limited variety of attacks, with the ability to hit someone right in front of you, or a move that attacks people on both sides. It’s about as basic as it gets, but still relatively satisfying. They do go the extra mile by having your punches launch guys out of the windows in the background, which the sadist in me very much appreciates.

Once you pull the guns out it’s a matter of shooting everything in sight while dodging enemies, projectiles, and also doing the occasional bit of platforming. It’s simple, easy to understand, and pure fun. It’s also delightfully old school, and reminds me of the shooters of the 16-bit era.

Were these the only two gameplay elements, Comic Jumper would still be fun, but they went so many steps further with this one. Just as you’re getting used to that, the game will all of a sudden switch gears and turn into a behind the back, on-rails shooter, or something resembling a bullet hell “schmup”. The best part is that each of these sections is incredibly fun and well-designed. There’s no section that stands out as being particularly weak, with possibly the exception of the beat-em-up sequences which are enjoyable, but a tad underwhelming. Throughout Comic Jumper it’s very rare that you are doing the same thing for a long stretch of time, and this variety is the first of many things that make Comic Jumper such a great experience.

I mentioned earlier that the game is delightfully old school, which is applicable to the gameplay, but also to the difficulty. I need to stress this – Comic Jumper is not an easy game. ‘Splosion Man was certainly a challenge, but they gave you the option to skip a level at any time. You aren’t presented with that here. If you keep dying, your only choice is to man up and follow the advice the game gives you – “Stop sucking”.

Although it’s certainly a challenge, it’s not a frustrating game by any means. The checkpoint system is quite generous and victory always seems like it’s just within your grasp. It’s just hard enough that it’s manageable, but there’s still a sense of satisfaction when you complete a stage.

I’ve talked about the gameplay, which is a blast, but I haven’t touched on the primary reason you want to play this game – the humour. Anyone who knows Twisted Pixel knows they can bring the funny, but they have gone above and beyond here. I don’t want to spoil really anything, since a great deal of the fun is watching the sheer insanity unfold in front of you. I will say that this is easily the most self-referential game I have ever played, with jokes a plenty at the expense of Twisted Pixel (both their games and their staff) but it’s done in a completely charming way that could have easily fallen completely flat if this were in the wrong hands. The final world (which I still refuse to spoil) is one of the funniest sections of any game I have ever played and needs to be experienced by every human being out there.

What’s even more impressive is the sheer amount of jokes and dialogue being thrown at you. With the exception of the warnings you get as your health is depleting (these you will hear a lot), the dialogue very rarely repeats itself, which is a refreshing change of pace after Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. Characters always have new things to say and will often comment on events as they are happening. Whether they’re mocking how ugly a child on a billboard is, or just acknowledging how little sense the events around them make, there is constantly new material bring thrown at you, with the jokes landing far more often than not.

I am hard pressed to think of a single, logical reason why you shouldn’t pick up this game. I guess if you don’t have hands maybe? No even then there’s no excuse. It’s 15 dollars for a game that’s insanely fun, full of humour and personality, and will easily give you hours of entertainment that most retail products can’t come close to providing. NO EXCUSE!