Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley is a strange game. It’s apparent after playing that Twisted Pixel, the developers behind this and other XBLA oddities, The Maw and ‘Splosion Man, crafted this title with their own ridiculous sensibilities in mind. What resulted is an often hilarious, always absurd ride through four worlds of comic madness that should be experienced in one form or another. It’s a shame that the only sin Comic Jumper commits is a grave one; it is rarely compelling to play.
The story here revolves around the exploits of Captain Smiley and his conjoined companion, Star, comic book characters whose series gets cancelled after the opening level. Luckily, Twisted Pixel (yes, the developers have inserted themselves into the game as actual characters) like Captain Smiley so much they’re willing to donate their technological prowess to get the defunct series back on its feet. Becoming a hero for hire, Captain Smiley takes on jobs from other comic characters for cash, leading him to appear in a dark fantasy, a Silver Age storyline, and a manga throughout the game’s 6 hour campaign. It’s a pretty clever idea, actually, and the execution is filled with ridiculous non-sequiters, in-jokes, movie references, and tons of humor that pushes the game’s T rating to its limit. Not all the humor works, but it is by far the best aspect of Comic Jumper and one that it is almost worth the price of admission on its own.
This is partly because there just isn’t a ton of content in Comic Jumper. From the start, you’re embedded in Captain Smiley’s headquarters where you’ll accept missions and challenges from throughout the four comic worlds you’ll visit. Each world has approximately three missions or “issues” to complete in order to unlock further issues and challenges from the hub world. Completing these earns Smiley money that can be used to not only upgrade his stats in battle, but to unlock the myriad of concept art, comic book covers, video and audio clips from the game’s merchant. There are tons of unlockables and, normally, this kind of secondary stuff wouldn’t concern me. However, whether it’s because there isn’t anything else to Comic Jumper or whether this stuff is genuinely interesting, the auxiliary content is actually pretty neat.
Where the game starts to fall apart is ironically with the game itself. Comic Jumper is, for all intents and purposes, a dual-stick shooter. There are some relatively dull and simplistic melee sections and occasionally the context and style of the dual-stick shooting will change, but that doesn’t alter what the game is. Although the backdrop and enemies fought might change, repetitiveness eventually sets in as you gun down seemingly endless waves of foes level after level after level. It isn’t for lack of difficulty. In fact, with some of the mechanical limitations of Captain Smiley’s abilities, this can be one doozy of a tough game especially if you’re aiming for higher scores for more cash. The fact of the matter is that the lack of variety in Comic Jumper is just punctuated by its often unfair and tedious challenge, making the continuation of Captain Smiley’s saga the sole motivation to keep slogging through.
What really sells Comic Jumper as a great story is the quality of its voice-acting and the distinctiveness of its visuals. Captain Smiley and Star get the most dialogue here, and although they can both come off as a tad annoying on occasion, they play off one another very well and you can tell the voice actors were really having fun with the script. The rest of the actors provide a positively manic supporting cast that fit right in with their respective settings; from the campy Silver Age styling of Mistress Ropes, to the too cute to not be evil characters of the manga issues. These settings look great for the most part as Captain Smiley changes to fit each of the various comic styles he’s featured in. Apart from the manga level in which the black and white aesthetic is a bit rough on the eyes, each of these is a joy to look at. A genuinely funny soundtrack rounds out the presentation package. Trust me, you’ll want to check your stats in Captain Smiley’s headquarters just to hear the goofy song that goes along with it.
This odd combination of the excellent and the mediocre make Comic Jumper pretty difficult to recommend whole-heartedly. The gameplay difficulty combined with the tedium that eventually sets in may just be too much for some people. However, if you love games with comedic elements and have a soft spot for comic books, you can more easily forget its inherent gameplay faults. Comic Jumper is worth experiencing, but perhaps by a smaller audience than old Captain Smiley was hoping for.