Review: I want a theme song...
Twisted Pixel has built quite a name for themselves among Xbox Live Arcade developers. Both of their previous games, The Maw
and 'Splosion Man
, were well received by players and critics alike. So their third game, the recently released Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley
, came with some decently high expectations.
Looking at the stars of Comic Jumper (including an anthropomorphic star named Star, who is permanently attached to the hero's chest), it's unlikely that anyone ever had high expectations for any of them. The characters are the very definition of zany, including a down-in-the-dumps superhero (the titular Captain Smiley), his harried gal Friday (Gerda) and a group of villains that includes a minigolf-obsessed Brit, a nutty professor and many more.
But they all pale in comparison to Star. While the character doesn't have a body of his own, he's clearly the bright, shining star (if you'll pardon the pun) of Comic Jumper. He's crude, he's pushy, he's constantly horny and he's basically an ass to everyone he meets. Except for Brad, Captain Smiley's nemesis and some kind of unholy mash-up of Duke Nukem and Johnny Bravo. Star fawns over Brad in a way that even makes the developers from Twisted Pixel uncomfortable. Fans of Penny Arcade may even notice that Star's attitude is very reminiscent of a certain drunken media device.
All of these characters (and many more) come to the Captain's aid when his comic book is canceled. The good folks at Twisted Pixel shatter the fourth wall and offer to bankroll a new comic book starring the character... but first he has to make a few cameos in some classic comics thanks to the developer's comic jumping machine.
Once the Captain begins comic jumping, the game takes the form of a pretty standard side-scrolling shooter. A variety of other gametypes creep into Comic Jumper including short beat 'em up sections, rail gun shooting sections and several Quick Time Events. The problem is that the side-scrolling shooting found in Comic Jumper is too
The biggest offense is that the good Captain is armed with a pea shooter for a weapon. While I realize the point of Comic Jumper is that Captain Smiley is a hapless superhero, his complete lack of firepower makes the shooting quickly become boring. Adding to the boredom is the fact that the game includes no way to regenerate health (so you're constantly replaying sections), throws the same two or three enemies at you in each era and offers no additional weaponry.
Thankfully, the game's four comics zones (Modern Superhero, Silver Age, Conan the Barbarian
-like Fantasy and Manga) are filled with tons of wacky characters of their own. The Arnold stand-in Nanoc the Obliviator has an eating disorder. The Silver Age Paper Lad is undergoing puberty and reveals his desire to be tied up by the era's villainess Mistress Ropes (who, as you may have guessed, is way into bondage). In the Manga levels, there's an extended section where you have to protect Brad's innocence
(note the italics) from a gaggle of teenage girls. You do this by shooting them in the head. As you can see, Star's sarcastic sense of humor isn't the only thing that will make you ask "Did I really just see that?" (as my wife constantly did while watching me play). Twisted Pixel has very faithfully recreated these comic styles on your television screen with hilarious results.
It's this humor that elevates Comic Jumper from a mostly ho-hum side-scroller to a worthy candidate for "funniest game ever." Throughout the game, the jokes fly freely, and the fourth wall is broken again and again Occasionally, the Twisted Pixel team will appear in the background of the Captain's lair and offer advice. But the developer's crowning moment of awesome is clearly the "Help Me" attack. Like many action games, this special move will clear the screen of enemies. It's notable in that the thing doing the clearing is the arms and legs (and one headbutt) of the Twisted Pixel team. I also cackle like a supervillain every time I hear the Stats Screen Song (yes, the screen showing your statistics like "number of enemies defeated" has its own theme song).