PAX Prime ’10: Comic Jumper Impressions (I Didn’t Know I Could Get)
You always expect to see some surprises on a PAX show floor. There’s hundreds of games from seasoned and newbie developers, from trippy side-scrollers and puzzle FPSs to toy-based MMOs. But you only get these things in small sizes: demos of five-to-20 minutes (if that) of the final product. Then you come across a different kind of surprise: not a game demo, but an entire game available to you. This is the story of how I played (almost) the entirety of Comic Jumper before it was released.
If you’ve never been to an industry event like PAX, I can assume you know you’re missing out. One thing you might not be aware of is the exhaustion factor. With the sheer size of PAX you’ll be doing a whole lot of walking. That means you’ve gotta find a place to relax, and your hotel room might be too far away to do that easily. Many times you’ll just need to find a booth on the floor with a game, a stool, and as little of a crowd as possible. My little respite spot was an area in front of the Microsoft booth. In this roped-off section where a few chairs and a table with four TVs and 360 slims. Each TV touted its own game; one for Hydrophobia, another for Super Meat Boy, yet another for Pinball FX, and the one I fell in love with, the one with Comic Jumper.
This new title from the minds of Twisted Pixel has been on a lot of people’s waiting lists since ‘Splosion Man was released last July. In it you’re Captain Smiley, a low-rent comic book superhero with a star-shaped, wise-cracking partner on your chest named Star. Your days are spent staring in your comic book and fighting off enemies like Brad (the broiest muscle-headed douche you could think of) and The Puttmaster (a supervillain obsessed with minigolf). Since no one likes your comics, you have to go into other comics’ worlds and get money by helping out other heroes with their problems. The other comics in here come from all over the comic spectrum, from Silver Age misogynistic space adventures to overly-happy shojo manga. Even if you’re not a comic fan, you’ll get an immense kick out of each of the environments on display. Twisted Pixel have one again made a hilarious game, made even better now that they can use actual dialog to convey humor (each previous TP game has been rather silent).
I sat down to begin my (presumably) short time with the game. The first level is great; you’re on the run from Brad as he follows you in his Bradcopter, throwing his robotic groupies at you. Here’s where you get into the meat of the game. CJ is a side-scrolling shooter with elements of the Contra games in it. Left stick runs and aims, and right stick shoots (in a simple dual-stick shooter motif). You can also jump and slide to pull off some John Woo-like gunplay. There were also a few melee section early on, with only two attacks available (punch with X, and a knockback attack with A), and a quick-time section which ends with a rather spectacular feat of surfing on a robot. There aren’t any weapon or health pick-ups, but liberal checkpoints in case you die (though that will hurt your pay, as I’ll explain later). In fact, as the health drains from Cap, so does his color. It’s more than a little scary to walk through a level in black and white, knowing the next hit you take could be your last.
The level ends with a rather spectacular battle with the Bradcopter, then Captain Smiley is taken back to his HQ. From here I moved on to the next comic, Nanoc the Obliviator. In the comic you’re on the run from a tribe of chicken and golf-putter-wielding savages who wish to take you down for killing a fellow tribesman. This level was much the same as the first, but an aspect of the first level presented itself more. At some points the game puts Cap on-rails while you move left-right/forward-backward, and a reticule pops on screen, turning the game into a bit of a shooting gallery. These tend to be some of the harder parts of the game. Thankfully there’s a screen-clearing move that Cap can perform to deal with all the pesky enemies on-screen. For a price, you can buy the ability to call forth the Twisted Pixel team (yes, the actual devs) and have them punch and kick the hell out of the screen, destroying everything in sight. It’s quite a sight to behold when you first use it.
To get such an ability, you can buy it from your home base using money you accrue through each comic. At the end of each level you’re awarded cash for staying alive, not using the Twisted Pixel power, and completing certain areas of the level without getting hit. The money can also be put towards upgrading your shooting power, life, and various other abilities. The money system works great, and is actually well grounded within the story presented. It’s little touches like these that I really enjoyed while playing.
I proceeded to finish the next comic when I noticed something. I was getting achievements. As you might know, that doesn’t happen in trial versions of games. I thought this was odd, so I kept on playing. Once I got through all three issues of Nanoc, I knew something awesome was happening. I wasn’t just playing the demo on the show floor; I had access to the entire game. This was a huge revelation: I could play the entire game, from start to finish, before it’s even been released! That’s huge, especially for a game I’ve been waiting for as long as this. So I played on.
The next level available was the Silver Age adventures of the Improbable Paper Pals. This comic has you fighting off Mistress Ropes, a woman hell-bent on having *gasp* equal rights for women! Yep, as it’s stuck in the Silver Age (the 50s and 60s) this comic gets rather sexist and racist. One of the heroes, the Origami Kid, might be one of the greatest and worst Asian stereotypes I’ve ever seen. This might be my favorite of all four comics. It perfectly references all aspects of the comics from back then, even introducing censorship to Star’s foul mouth.
The game finishes up with Cutie Cutie Kid Cupids, a manga that has Captain Smiley transform into a Cloud Strife look-a-like to save a captured Brad. I don’t know much about this comic, as I stopped before playing it. Why? I had access to the entire game and I could’ve easily finished it on the show floor. But what good would that have done? Twisted Pixel, in my mind, can do no wrong. I think of them much like people in the film industry thinks of Pixar. These guys put out quality title after quality title, and all of their work deserves to be played and paid for. Even though I played through almost the entire game, I wanted to make damn sure that I pick up Comic Jumper the first day it’s released. These guys deserve my money; they’ve created a spectacular game that will once again give them the recognition they deserve. I’m only hoping you’ll agree with me, and pick up Comic Jumper when it’s released October 6th.
(P.S. I didn’t realize that Twisted Pixel had been advertising the full version at PAX until I had returned home. Guess it wasn’t the big secret I thought it was.)