PAX 2010: Comic Jumper Hands-On Preview - More Like Genre Jumper
Written Friday, September 10, 2010 By Nate Gillick
While Comic Jumper may be third game released by developer Twisted Pixel, the ideas behind it had been floating around the office for a long time. Captain Smiley, the star of Comic Jumper, began his life as the brainchild of Creative Director Josh Bear, back before he’d even graduated high school. Twisted Pixel had always wanted to use Smiley in a game, but hadn’t felt ready at first. After developing The Maw and ‘Splosion Man, they felt they were finally ready to make Comic Jumper, and we caught up with them at PAX to take a hands-on look at their latest creation.
In Comic Jumper, Captain Smiley is the star of a failing comic book, one that just can’t keep its readers interested anymore, and in a bid to stay relevant and draw in an audience, Smiley loans himself out to take part in other comics. Over the course of the game, Captain Smiley will punch and shoot his way through four distinctly different comic worlds, including a modern comic style, silver age comics, fantasy comics, and manga, which each have a different look and feel.
“It’s really four games in one,” said Mike Wilford, CEO of Twisted Pixel. “None of the assets we use in one comic style can be used in any of the others.” The effort involved in creating the assets needed to have such diverse worlds led to a total development time of 13 months, more than twice as long as it took to make ‘Splosion Man.
We began our hands-on time in the game with a brief look at the central hub. Between missions, Smiley can purchase upgrades to his health, the damage he deals, or purchase a “Help Me,” which we’ll explain in more detail shortly. When the time comes, Smiley hops into a special car that screams down a track toward a brick wall. “It’s an idea we got from the movie Time Cop,” Wilford explained.
Once in the Silver Age, we found ourselves inside a museum, beating up enemy after enemy while moving to the right across the screen in a manner that evoked memories of old-school beat-em-ups like Streets of Rage. While enemy after enemy fell before Smiley’s might, signs warning of “Violations for acts of Comic Obscenity” kept popping up on screen, an intentional parody of the Wesley Snipes movie, “Demolition Man.” At the end of the hall, enemies jumped Smiley from all sides. Time to call in the “Help Me” I reckon.
Comic Jumper is the only game in recent memory that has an entire gameplay mechanic devoted the breaking the fourth wall (and, of course, helping players). In the upper right corner of the screen you’ll find the Twisted Pixel logo, with the square starting off as an empty gray logo to begin with, but gradually filling with its trademark red color as Smiley executes combos on his enemies. Once the Twisted Pixel logo has been filled, Smiley can call in a “Help Me,” a screen-clearing barrage of live-action punches and kicks that eliminates all enemies, culminating with the face of the almighty Frank (one of Twisted Pixel’s founders) floating across the screen.
With that wave of enemies cleared, the camera view shifted. Suddenly, instead of beating up everything within reach, a targeting reticule has appeared on screen and Smiley uses it to blast away a group of enemies taking shots at him from the background; providing a slice of gameplay similar to old school SHMUP games. After clearing another hallway, a rope fell from the ceiling, and once again our play style changed. As Smiley climbed the rope, using his blaster to shoot at flying enemies on either side, we felt like we’re playing Contra with prettier graphics and tighter controls. At the top of the rope, we met our death several times while juggling the needs of shooting flying enemies and jumping from pipe to pipe. Clearly, we’ll need to be improving our Comic Jumper skills. In the interest of time, we zipped ahead to take a look at one of the manga levels.
Smiley probably isn’t too happy about finding himself in the girls’ love manga “Cutie Cutie Cute Cupids,” but gamers should enjoy the pitch-perfect recreation of manga at its most absurd. These levels are rendered in black and white to match the style of the comics, and, like traditional manga is meant to be read, the levels scroll from right to left. Without spoiling anything for manga fans, if you can think of any long-running manga cliches, the odds are good ol’ Twisted Pixel has parodied them in these levels. We took our long-haired Smiley down a hall, slashing our way through a throng of school girls, before having a shootout against an army of ghosts in the school’s gymnasium with the aid of Smiley’s bubble and heart shooting guns. Did it make any sense? Of course not, but it felt so right.
The HUD in Comic Jumper is deliberately limited so as not to disrupt the impression that gamers are looking at a panel from a comic book. Besides the Twisted Pixel logo that appears while building up for a “Help Me,” Smiley’s health will show up as a comic panel of its own in the upper left corner, but only when he takes a hit. This health box looks different in each comic universe, in keeping with its respective art style. As Smiley takes damage, his health panel begins to fade away, as if he’s being erased from the comic.