Meet Captain Smiley. He’s a comic book super hero who’s had a bit of bad luck lately. You see, his comic book sucked so hard that it was quickly cancelled. Even worse, Smiley has a living, breathing, talking, mean-spirited star on his chest who complains and insults Smiley every step of the way. And Star has a man-crush on Smiley’s arch-rival, the narcissistic “Brad.” So what’s a super hero to do? Well, for Captain Smiley and Star, they must jump into other comic books to guest star in them to make enough money to re-launch their own series. It’s up to you to help them in this run and gun 2-D action platformer on Xbox LIVE.
Captain Smiley runs, jumps, slides, climbs, and shoots through various comic book levels. Each comic book genre has its own look and feel, and varies greatly from each other. The modern age has your typical super hero city nightscapes in Smiley’s own series. In the Fantasy comics, Smiley will wage battle with barbarians while saving Nanoc the Obliterator’s land from being turned into a miniature golf course.
Next, Captain Smiley will travel back to the 1960’s Silver Age of comics to fight against racial stereotypes, sexism, and Comic Code censors. But before he can re-launch his own series again, Smiley will warp to Japan for a black and white adventure in a Manga comic. Here he’ll fend off giddy schoolgirls and cuddly mutant monsters in the hallowed school halls of Hent High, home of the Fighting Tentacles (groan).
But while the premise of Captain Smiley is creative and fun, the actual gameplay isn’t quite as original. If I had to compare it to existing games, I’d say it plays a lot like Earthworm Jim, with a bit of Viewtiful Joe and Comix Zone thrown in for good measure. Fans of classic styled action games who don’t mind a bit of repetitive gameplay will be quick to forgive.
Play control takes a bit of getting used to. You use the right analog stick to aim your guns and the right trigger button to fire. This is the best way to blast all the enemies around you but it does make it a bit hectic when you also must use the left trigger to jump and slide. The game is challenging, but not impossible. I was able to beat it, so it can’t be THAT hard. You do get unlimited tries, but sometimes the restart checkpoints seem a little far off, and the levels a tiny bit too long. After levels, you can use earned cash to upgrade Smiley’s abilities. Also, you can unlock more than 200 goodies, including art, inside videos, gamerpics, themes, and avatar items!
So while you won’t play for the originality of the gameplay, you will definitely want to try it for the humor. The voice acting is very professional and top-notch. And while the humor can feel a little forced and juvenile at times, the witty lines and visual jokes still work. Plenty of fourth wall breaking, too. Captain Smiley will often talk with Twisted Pixel, the game developers, and they’ll talk right back! One of the special enemy clearing moves even has Twisted Pixel’s employees offering their fists, kicks, and even headbutts to aid Smiley on screen! I especially like how you die in the game. You explode exactly like another popular blue video game hero!
I can’t finish this review without talking about the music, too. Every main character has a hilarious theme song with vocals and everything. Heck, even when you check your stats on the menu, there is a special song where they sing and taunt about your game statistics! Twisted Pixel is located in Austin, TX, a city that’s also known as the Live Music Capital of the World. I should know, I lived in Austin for four years when I went to college, and there are a lot of indie and garage bands out that way. A lot of the music you can unlock in the game is from smaller bands, possibly from Austin (they play it on Captain Smiley’s radio in his base). Since Austin is a very musically-minded town, the tunes in Captain Smiley helped the game have more a local feel. At least for me anyway. I remember having to fight for game reviewing space in the UT college newspaper: The Daily Texan, because the music section was so big! Playing Captain Smiley makes me want to go back and visit Austin and check out the campus and eat some Stubbs BBQ! Yum!
Well, enough of that. Sorry for going off on a tangent there. Comic Jumper isn’t without its problems, though. As I said earlier, gameplay isn’t terribly original and play control isn’t always perfect. At nearly 2 gigs required, it’s also a pretty big memory hog for download. And at only 11 full stages, it’s a fairly short game, too. You can always go back and retry stages to get a better score, and there are some mini-challenges here and there, too. But it doesn’t up the replay value that much. Plus, while the game’s varied visuals is one of the strong points, it can be hard to see enemies in the earth tones of the Fantasy stages or the monochromic hues in the manga levels. And like Earthworm Jim, Captain Smiley’s game is certainly more fun to watch than to play. I can’t help but think that he would make a better comic book or cartoon character.
But even though Comic Jumper is one of the more costly Xbox LIVE titles and has a few problems here and there, I would still recommend this game to anyone who loves comic books, off-the-wall humor, and classic styled action games with a local, homebrew feel.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go bang my head against the wall to try and make the game’s “I Love U” manga song get out of my head. Curse my inability to resist anything sickingly cute and adorable!
Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley is rated T for Teen with ESRB descriptors of Cartoon Violence, Crude Humor, Language, and Suggestive Themes. Captain Smiley kicks, punches, and shoots all manner of enemies. Everything from robots, beasts, tribespeople, security guards, wooden puppets, giddy schoolgirls, disembodied photo-realistic floating heads…anything that moves, really. But there is no blood or gore. Bad guys just disappear, fly off the screen, or explode. The game is FULL of crude humor. Everything from toilet humor, mean-spirited offensive stereotypes, sex jokes, and bad movie and comic references. Plenty of light cursing, too. The star on Smiley’s chest even seems to delight in cursing in the Silver Age comics, just to get the censors all riled up. Female cast members wear revealing outfits and have unrealistic proportions, so that and all the sex jokes is where the suggestive themes come from. With all that, plus the challenge level, Comic Jumper is best for teens and older kid gamers.
Comic Jumper could almost be considered educational. How? No, not in THAT way, get your mind out of the gutter. But, there are so many unlockable videos and sketches showing how they came up with the ideas in the game, that players will get a better sense on how video games are made. At least in the art and voice departments, anyway. Plus, all the comics you go through provide a bit of history on the medium.
If you do have kids who may be too young for Comic Jumper, don’t fret. Twisted Pixel has another Xbox LIVE game that may fit their bill better. It’s been out for a while, but The Maw is a fantastic LIVE game and one of my favorites on the 360. You guide a purple alien who can eat anything, absorb other creatures’ powers, and grow to an enormous size. You must use his powers to overcome puzzles and obstacles in this clever 3-D platformer. The challenge level is just right for younger gamers. I highly recommend you give that one a try, along with Comic Jumper (due out Wednesday, October 6).