All Smiles for ‘Comic Jumper’

“Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley” has finally arrived on Xbox Live Arcade, and it has been worth the extended wait. The developer Twisted Pixel had quickly earned a name for itself in 2009 for its quality downloadable titles, “The Maw” and “Splosion Man,” and expectations of their ambitious third game were very high.

Starring the failed super hero, Captain Smiley, and a foul-mouthed star on his chest named Star, “Comic Jumper” is a brutally hard 2-D action game.

With his own readership at an all time low, Captain Smiley’s comic book was cancelled. Thankfully, Twisted Pixel has given him a device to jump into other comic books in order to guest star in them to raise his own popularity and simultaneously get enough cash to pay the bills. The game absolutely obliterates the fourth wall as Smiley constantly interacts with both his own developers and the player.

The four comic book styles — modern, fantasy, silver age and manga — not only change the look of each stage, but also come complete with their own sound effects and music. These four styles inject variety into the title as it brings Smiley out of his element and into hilarious situations. Even as a guest star, Smiley steals the spotlight in each plotline he is thrust into.

Although the art and music change, the gameplay remains constant. Typically, Smiley is armed with his twin guns and the player must use the right stick to target foes while jumping and dashing to avoid enemies and obstacles.

Although the controls are easy, the game is anything but. It is hard to evey last a minute without getting hit due to relentless swarms of enemies with varying attack patterns. While Smiley has a decent amount of health, there is no way for him to recover HP. There is no penalty for death, but it happens frequently and can often send you back to a faraway checkpoint. This can be quite frustrating, especially when it becomes nearly unavoidable to get hit by attacks, although it isn’t a deal breaker.

The game constantly mixes up the action. Sometimes Smiley is unarmed and has to do some basic melee combat to get by. More exciting however, is when the perspective shifts and Smiley is be controlled on rails similar to “Sin and Punishment.” These moments of gameplay offer a great change of pace and are equally exciting and chaotic.

Set piece moments abound as well, showcasing Smiley riding on a robot down a skyscraper and later freefalling off of one. Smiley often battles some difficult bosses, and these too have really standout moments in them. Each boss is unique, and often provides opportunities for Smiley to do some stylish maneuvers. Overall, the great pacing of the game mostly overcomes frustrations related to repeated failing.

Yet what really sells the game is the excellent voice acting and writing. The voice actor for both Smiley and Star handles both voices very well and their exchanges are really funny. When Smiley isn’t arguing with Star, the duo often comments on the absurdity of each situation. It’s sometimes hard to laugh with a game but “Comic Jumper” brims with personality and humor.

The supporting cast is equally well voice acted and equally bizarre. In addition to Smiley’s Star, he has his own pathetic but endearing rogue gallery such as the Putt Master (whose nefarious crimes revolve around miniature golfing), a partner and his narcissistic arch nemesis,  Brad.

Twisted Pixel itself also plays a significant role in the game. In addition to providing the Captain with his new base and comic jumper device, they can even assist him in battle via live action cut-outs where they punch enemies off the screen. One of them even head-butts the screen for a finishing blow.

It is apparent that Twisted Pixel poured their all into the game. Every inch of this game was polished and given a personal touch. Even something as simple as the stats screen is given the care and attention the rest of the game has, as it sports its own theme song with lyrics.

In addition to the main quest, there are additional challenge levels which task you to survive a small and short stage without getting hit. These demand serious skills, but they have their own leader boards and a significant cash reward. The money is used for upgrades and a plethora of cool collectibles.

Comic Jumper is easily one of the most original games of the year. It takes a simple premise and executes with a level of flair that puts most retail games to shame. It currently sells for $15, so  don’t miss it.

Rating: 5 out of 5