Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley review

  • Obviously built with love for comics and games
  • A couple of hilarious moments
  • Beautifully varied art styles
  • Repetitive, simplistic shooting and melee mechanics
  • Avoiding bullets is like playing Where's Waldo
  • Mistakes pop culture references for parody

This review is going to be painful, because I really wanted to like Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley. It shows a deep love of comics, of 2D platforming and twin-stick shooting, and it slathers art style all over itself with shiny confidence. It also wants to be funny, which is rare for a game to even attempt. However, it failed to engage me with interesting gameplay, and it succeeded at infuriating me constantly. I'm going to be a dissenting opinion on this, as I'm sure a number of comic fans and hardcore shoot-‘em-up fans will somehow squeeze fun and hilarity out of Comic Jumper, (and even in our office, other editors had very different reactions) but for me it didn’t work on any level.

Above: Every level features palette swaps of these robot women - they all behave almost exactly the same, and you'll have to shoot hundreds of them

Comic Jumper stars Captain Smiley, a superhero of unknown origin (is he even human? Who knows!) with no super powers and no cool gadgets. He punches dudes and he shoots with two pistols, and that’s it. He’s accompanied by his symbol, a star on the chest of his costume that can talk, and which makes fun of him constantly. Both of them have irritating voices, and they bicker throughout the game. The idea that a superhero’s own symbol is a character is pretty clever – it’s too bad the execution is obnoxious. Captain smiley also has the requisite voice in the ear, Gerda, who only serves to scream at the player things like “You’re at %50 health! Stop sucking!” Considering how difficult the game is, those annoying insults come out of the TV constantly.

There are two main types of gameplay in Comic Jumper. The first, and less frequent, is melee combat. This consists of walking on a flat 2D surface with no variation while pressing X repeatedly to punch guys. Occasionally, two guys will attack from either side, and pressing A does an all-around attack to push them back. That’s it. You can’t jump in these sections. You can’t grab, throw, or do anything that brawlers were doing back in the 80s. This is simpler than Final Fight by a huge margin.

The main type of gameplay in Comic Jumper is side-scrolling, twin-stick shooting. Smiley runs along shooting his dual pistols in all directions, fighting wave after wave (after wave) of identical enemies. Look, I love twin-stick shooters. I love Contra. I love difficult shooters. But Comic Jumper gets the fundamentals of these games wrong, and doesn’t provide a single new idea to freshen up these formulas.

Above: A few sections play similarly to Space Harrier or the base levels of Contra. They are somehow more basic and less interesting than either of those games

Most of the game is spent shooting identical enemies that appear in the same patterns over and over. Even on different levels, the enemies just have different art while behaving the same way. But there are several huge problems that make the shooting action not just dull, but aggravating. First, Smiley himself is too big. A basic foundation of a shooter is that you need to be able to skillfully maneuver your character through tight gaps and barely edge past projectiles. Smiley is huge and unwieldy. Sometimes he won’t jump when you press jump. When he does jump, he doesn’t to a flip – now, this may seem unimportant, but it’s actually a big deal. Think back to Contra. Those characters don’t just flip in the air to look cool – they flip so that their sprite shrinks to a manageable size. See, whenever you jump in just about any game, you lose maneuverability – you can direct your trajectory somewhat, but it’s going to be an arc, so you commit yourself to certain constraints. That’s why characters flip when they jump – you need to be able to jump between waves of bullets. Smiley’s jump keeps him bulky, making jumping as an evasive move a crapshoot.

Add on top of this that his massive sprite has no wiggle room whatsoever for collision. If a bullet even comes close to Smiley’s toe, you get hit. The other option for evasion is a slide move, which actually looks and feels really cool when you pull it off – he goes all Chow Yun Fat with both guns blazing. Too bad it doesn’t work half the time, instead making Smiley jump right into bullets. And yet it gets worse: the bullets themselves are a gigantic problem. In the first level of the game, the enemies shoot nice, colorful, glowing bullets that are easy to see. For the rest of the game, most projectiles have nothing to make them stand out against the background – we’re talking projectiles that are literally the exact same shade and color of the background textures. It’s been a fundamental component of shooters since they came into existence: if nothing else, make the bullets clearly visible.

There’s an entire section of the game that seems designed to hurt your eyes. It’s a manga-inspired theme. Everything is black and white, and the contrast is washed out to the point where the bullets practically disappear into the background. And this goes on for several levels. During this time, Smiley rides on the back of a unicorn that kicks up big clouds around its hooves. Guess what can get obscured by those clouds. Bullets.

Above: Can you spot all of the bullets? Hint: there are more than one. This is actually an example of the easier-to-see bullets

For a shooter, it just gets so many little things off that add to the frustration and boredom. Smiley moves slowly - he looks like he's running against a treadmill. There are many sections where you hang from pipes, as inspired by Contra III on the SNES. Yet Contra understood that these sections needed to be short and not filled with bullet-firing enemies. Why? Because while hanging from a pipe you can't shoot and move at the same time and you're stuck to a single line of horizontal movement. Yet Comic Jumper fills these sections with enemies that rush you and shoot at you from weird angles. It's like playing a shooter while wading through glue. The enemies also take way too many bullets to kill - even the most basic enemies have to be shot continuously for 1-2 seconds, dragging the pace down. And remember - there are no powerups, no way to replenish health, no weapons to use other than the starting pea-shooters. Even upgrading the guns' damage seems to have no noticeable effect on their power.

Here's an example of how much of a slog the game can be: in the Nonac levels, there's a point where a tiger/dinosaur creature comes out. It takes roughly 45 seconds of continuous fire to kill it. To avoid it, you jump up to a pipe and shoot down at it. The creature waddles underneath you and does a slow leap, attempting to bite you. You jump sideways to avoid it. It waddles back. You jump again. The sequence contains zero challenge, zero tactics or thinking, and it goes on for 45 seconds. Amazingly, another of these monsters comes out immediately after you kill the first one, and you have to do it all over again. And this scenario happens more than once.

Aside from the lovely comic book art presentation, with its stylized visuals changing to match different genres and time periods, the other non-gameplay appeal that Comic Jumper goes for is comedy. Like I said before, I'm glad when developers attempt comedy because so few do. But holy hell is Comic Jumper not funny to me. Understand that I'm a geek myself, but this represents the worst of geek “humor.” Comic Jumper references other games, comics, and movies… and that’s basically it. It makes the mistake of thinking a reference is the same as parody. Here’s an example: in the Nanoc comic (Conan backwards… get it?) Smiley encounters the Nonac character. And what is he? A stale, tired-ass Ah-nold impression. But wait: he’s also fat. Fat people are funny, right? Most other attempts at humor in the game are really a guessing game of Spot the Reference. When Smiley dies, his explosion looks and sounds similar to Mega Man’s. See, as a geek, you can congratulate yourself for recognizing that. That recognition is supposed to make you laugh. Successful parody requires wit – the writer pokes fun at something by doing something clever with it. Imitation is just that – imitation. There were a couple of genuinely funny moments in the game – and they were not just chuckle-inducing, but hilarious. I won’t spoil them here, as that would take away from their unexpected hilarity.

Above: The background art is always beautiful and perfectly suited to the genre of the comic you're in. It's the best part of the game really

I really, really wanted to like Comic Jumper. It’s built out of love – for games, comics, and pop culture. It just feels like a first-time attempt at a twin-stick shooter, but the devs didn’t look at what makes these games function smoothly or provide an interesting and fair challenge. In fact, I think with some (not insignificant) tweaking of controls, pacing, visibility and enemy design, Twisted Pixel could possibly produce a fantastic shooter.

I need to emphasize that my problem isn’t that Comic Jumper is difficult – I love difficult scrolling shooters – my problem is that Comic Jumper is difficult for all the wrong reasons - and to top it off, the game constantly insults your incompetence with grating voice work. I bet that many geeks will be able to forgive the gameplay hurdles and may even love the game’s humor. I don’t want to stop those that will love Comic Jumper from considering playing it, but I do want to warn that it’s not a comfortable pill to swallow, and for some geeks – like me – it could be a downright unpleasant experience.

Oct 7, 2010

More Info

Release date: Oct 06 2010 - Xbox 360 (US)
Available Platforms: Xbox 360
Genre: Arcade
Published by: Twisted Pixel Games
Developed by: Twisted Pixel Games
ESRB Rating:
Teen: Cartoon Violence, Crude Humor, Language, Suggestive Themes


  • Miasmaoffaith - November 21, 2010 3:53 a.m.

    This is pretty much exactly how a review shouldn't be done. It is obvious that the complaints presented are really stretches in order to try to justify a low score, which is in essence letting bias guide the review, which of course is bad. Examples come from the intense detail on the failures of the game, but the complete disregard for the positive moments. Sure, the positive moments are somewhat mentioned, but only after paragraphs of what are really minor issues have been discussed (the low health remarks? Really?). For instance, the reviewer would have the reader believe that the humor is all parody driven, save for a few "hilarious moments" that are conspicuously vaguely described. In actuality there are many extremely clever scenes of dialog and general jabs at the comic industry and several great live action cutscenes. I agree that the game is far from good, but the seething bias and inaccuracies in this article are hard to ignore.
  • d21lewis - October 15, 2010 10:34 p.m.

    I probably have zero credibility here but this review is wrong. I didn't like the demo that much but the last few minutes of it intrigued me enough to make me want to see more. I bought it. After a few minutes, I was hooked. There's some mis-information in that review. If you guys are considering this game (like you should with any game), read multiple reviews. Personally, this game is right up there with Shadow Complex and Castle Crashers and its even better than 'Splosion Man for my money.
  • Kitsuta - October 9, 2010 4:22 a.m.

    Thank you for clearing up that issue @GamesRadarMatthewKeast. I had a vague recollection that Nonac wasn't quite right so it's nice to know I'm not crazy (in that regard). I forgot to mention, I look forward to buying the game... when it's on discount. I don't appreciate short XBLA games being sold for 1200 points, and I'm not about to buy an overpriced game that also has gameplay issues. I don't know if it's Microsoft doing this or what, but it's a very odd disconnect with the pricing of other DLC.
  • GamesRadarMatthewKeast - October 8, 2010 9:34 p.m.

    Argh, the Conan confusion was my fault - I misspelled the character in the review - it is supposed to be Nanoc.
  • Kitsuta - October 8, 2010 4:44 p.m.

    Although a very low score, this is an excellent, well-articulated review. I really appreciate that the reviewer obviously thought this through so much, even though I disagree with a couple of key points and look forward to buying the game. One thing is the voice acting, which I did not at all find obnoxious. This may depend on volume, which I tend to keep pretty low, but it would impact the enjoyability a lot. The other thing is the humor, which I thought was in general entertaining and funny. I don't think they meant a Mega-Man-style death to be funny, just a nice allusion. The humor I saw was more self-referential comments on the devs, the genres they're working with, and the game itself - plus the contrast between different genres (like putting modern characters in a medieval fantasy genre). There was also plenty of insult humor, which the reviewer clearly did not appreciate (probably because of the voices). Finally, though I haven't played the Nonac (Nanoc?) section, the "he's fat" revelation just sounds like it's subverting your expectations, since he's built up as this awesome warrior king. If you weren't surprised, it's not funny. For me, these two points are key, and I'm willing to put up with the apparently dodgy gameplay to experience the rest of the game. The good news for anyone on the fence is that it's easy to see for yourself with the demo on XBL, so I encourage people to still try it for themselves. Hopefully Twisted Pixel can improve the gameplay, because the problems are not that hard to fix for all future games (as opposed to bad writing or bad voice acting, which is a much more per-game thing). Humor differs per person, but good gameplay does not.
  • Tagboomer - October 8, 2010 3:34 p.m.

    @fauxFurry dude youve took a crap Xbox live arcade game way too seriously. I played the demo of this last night and it sucks ass, cant beleive Microsoft are asking for 1200 points for this tripe.
  • FauxFurry - October 8, 2010 1:35 p.m.

    I was really hoping that, to paraphrase the Castlevania: Lord of Shadows demo disclaimer-"The quality of this demo is not representatitve of that of the finished product". I'm not going to be hyperbolic and claim that it was the "Worst. Demo. Ever." just to stick with the comicbook theme of Comic Jumper. I will say that it made me want to play the side-scrolling run-and-gun shooters of yesteryear but only to be reminded of what I saw in the genre in the first place. Oh,as CaseD and gernboes pointed out, they got even the Conan name inversion gag wrong unless they seriously meant for a Conan spoof to be named after the concept of Canon in reverse. Noone expects a Cerebus level spoof and deconstruction of the Fantasy genre from Twisted Pixel but is it too much to ask that they name their broad parody stock character more fitting? One more thing--what was the Mega Man explosion reference for? Mega Man never exploded in any of his manga adaptations. They got a bit off theme with that one. They could have picked any number of Super Hero deaths for him to re-enact...or just had him stuffed into a refrigerator.
  • CaseD - October 8, 2010 11:10 a.m.

    Has anyone realised that Conan backwards is NOT Nonac, it's Nanoc. Or am I being stupid here?
  • KaiokenKid - October 8, 2010 7:21 a.m.

    Ive only played the demo, but from what ive played I liked. The gameplay is kinda messed in parts and its rather hard. But the charm of it is undeniable.
  • gernboes - October 8, 2010 6:16 a.m.

    Actually, Nonac is Canon backwards... ;)
  • CH3BURASHKA - October 7, 2010 11:48 p.m.

    Wow, 4? Really? Not questioning it, I'm just very surprised. I think their previous two games have earned them a lot of good faith with other people. I also wasn't really looking forward to this game, the character just didn't stick with me. Sucks that they slipped up on this one, and I wish Twisted Pixel much luck in their future endeavor. Preferably a Splosion Man 2.
  • ThatGuyFromTV - October 7, 2010 10:47 p.m.

    I felt the same way with this that I did with Shank: knew it wouldn't be that good, no matter how much it should have deserved it.
  • PlainLikeVanilla - October 7, 2010 10:36 p.m.

    Was I the only one who was expecting this?
  • TheBoz - October 7, 2010 10:26 p.m.

    Sorry, I meant the PREVIEW for this game not the review, the one with the video.
  • TheBoz - October 7, 2010 10:25 p.m.

    I'm not disappointed, if you remember the review, you may remember my comment. Some games are very easy to read without playing them, this is one such game. Looks good, then again, so did so many women the night before.
  • Phazon117 - October 7, 2010 9:48 p.m.

    Looks like Game Feast is turning into Game Feces! *rimshot*
  • veryweirdguy - October 7, 2010 9:35 p.m.

    Yeah, I've been looking forward to this for ages. Was up early on Wednesday to download the demo in excitement. I was so disappointed by it. Oh well.
  • getlefty - October 7, 2010 8:57 p.m.

    Shadow Complex has the bar set at the right position, 2d games have to be at least as good as it to be made and inferior games that can't even see the bar are still getting released. This is sad. It's too bad MS doesn't screen games for quality because the demo was horrible, I can't imagine paying full price for it.
  • Crimsonkingx - October 7, 2010 8:45 p.m.

    Have to agree with you all the way here. I wanted so bad for this game to be good. The presentation is all there and I personally love the humor. It is like they forgot what makes a shoot'em up game though. Controls are taxing to say the least and you can say there is variety but...there isn't! It is all the same crap! I want to play through the game annoying to actually play and a few laughs along the way is not enough to keep me through all the cursing and frustration that comes with it. GREAT REVIEW MAN!
  • OnyxOblivion - October 7, 2010 8 p.m.

    The humor was enough to sell me. I just started the manga stage. I'm never replaying it, though. The game is frustrating, and not in a good way, like Splosion Man was.

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