One of the best things about this current generation of video games is the ability to download games directly to a console via XBLA, PSN or Wii, and consequently this is the first real time independent games have gained mainstream recognition. Braid, Cave Story, VVVVVV, Charles Barkley Shut Up and Jam Gaiden, La Mulana — just a few of the good, sometimes brilliant, unique games we got thanks to convenient online connectivity and the larger indie scene as a result.
…And then there’s the Comic Jumper!
Developer Twisted Pixel, who had something fun and interesting in ‘Splosion Man, put all their efforts into Comic Jumper‘s jokes rather than the actual game, and they are merely mirthless, mean-spirited potshots — the kind of typical, repetitive “hurr your mother’s a whore” stuff that better fits Seth MacFarlane’s three hour FOX monopoly than a casual romp through comic book history. It reeks of trying way too hard.
Every line of dialogue, every explanation, every minor detail has to have a joke rammed in. It’s tiresome. It’s overkill. Every time titular (Heh heh, tit! GET IT?) superhero Comic Jumper loses a percentage of life, or gets hit, his surly sidekick, Star, makes fun of him for it. Cute for the first couple of times, but after the 73rd time — holy shit. Maybe a good idea in theory, but in practice it’s incredibly obnoxious, which was the intention, I’m sure. But it’s incredibly annoying. In a later level, every hit landed results in an ultra-obnoxious Comic Code Authority graphic stamped all over the screen, with accompanying cloying voice sample. Every single hit. The game offers some mercy in the options screen, where one can lower the music and voice volume, but the game never offers a “fun” option.
A disconnected mash-up of game styles, Comic Jumper switches between thoughtless run-and-gun sections and endless rail-shooting segments. You just hold the right trigger and never let go and jump once in a while. The game switches to a beat-em-up mode where simple fun almost occurs, but then it will switch back to Gunstar Heroes Past Their Prime or Sin & Punishment for Jerks. Difficulty comes in cheap enemy placement, enemies who take way too many shots to take down, flaccid attempts at “bullet hell” and unfair checkpoints.
Here’s a common (er, the only) scenario: Endless wave of the same bad guy comes at you. Some stronger enemies appear. They’re easy to get around since they have one attack. They take way too long to take down. Finally get to an annoying (and numerous) hang-on-railing section. Star makes a masturbation joke. Endless wave of enemies. Get killed by cheap shot. Get sent to the area before the first endless wave. Turn game off.
The premise is great. Comic books haven’t been addressed in a game since, what, Comix Zone for the Genesis? And the art design’s all right, especially the comic covers and the transitional scenes where Comic Jumper leaps between panels. I was charmed by the game’s live-action cutscenes, too. The humor worked in the beginning, when the kids hated Comic Jumper so much they’d rather go to school than hang out in the playground and read his lousy comic book. But I don’t play games for their jokes. If you do, great, maybe you’ll have a blast. Vampires Suck did boffo box-office, and The Cleveland Show‘s not off the air yet, so there’s an audience out there. Maybe there’s some kind of overlap appeal.
The comedy genre’s not often tackled in this medium. Earthworm Jim, the LucasArts point-and-click adventures and Tim Schafer’s stuff are all that come to mind at the moment. Many other games are funny — Mother 3, Grand Theft Auto and the Metal Gear Solid series to name a couple — but it’s never their objective. If a game’s only motivation is is to tell outdated jokes, well, there’s different media for that. Or Newgrounds. Oh, wait. Newgrounds became quite the haven for the indie scene. Guess I’m the one who’s outdated, huh, Star!? What an IDIOT I AM DURRRRRR.