Comic Jumper succeeds where other comedy video games crash and burn
Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley (Twisted Pixel; Xbox 360; rated teen)
So-called comedy games are often beleaguered by inconsistency. A good example would be Hothead Games’ DeathSpank; though it was built to be funny and yielded positive reviews, its joke writers frequently put up air balls.
Designer Ron Gilbert (DeathSpank, Monkey Island, Penny Arcade Adventures) is a witty dude, too. So how does unfunny happen?
In part, it may be the result of haphazard attempts by developers and publishers to balance kids’ and adult humour.
More broadly, few writers, however talented, have “mastered” the game as a platform and delivery mechanism for jokes. Not only does tech keep changing, ultimately tempo and timing—key comedic variables—are in the player’s hands, and not those of the joke-teller. In other words the punchline doesn’t come at the right time if the player doesn’t press “A” at the right moment.
Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley, the latest from Twisted Pixel Games (The Maw, ’Splosion Man), is more Harvey Birdman or Drawn Together than DeathSpank, not just because, like those cartoons, it can extract a laugh with either a sharp wit or a sledgehammer, but also because its jokes consistently hit. And we’re talking real, laugh-out-loud hard comedy, not just the soft smiles-n-chuckles stuff.
In addition to being pants-crappingly funny, as well as monumental (at nearly two gigabytes, and with stellar production and presentation, it has unquestionably raised the bar for $15 downloadable games) Comic Jumper features terrific writing. It’s snappy, self-referential, and insightful as it anatomizes comic and game design, and good dialogue endears us to the main characters, despite them being such ass clowns.
Captain Smiley is the hapless and twitchy superhero, Star is the talking logo stuck to the Captain’s chest who, despite being a legless, fully dependent hanger-on, is bossy, crass, and sarcastic—yes, exactly who you want talking in your ear in trying times. Their interplay is generally hilarious; the Captain is Frye to Star’s Bender (though in actual fact Star is equally as rude as Bender, but much more useless).
Stepping out of the modern comic era, the Captain and Star quantum-leap into guest-starring roles in three different comic books from three different eras. These books are penned in Fantasy, Silver Age, and Manga styles respectively, each with its own cast of characters, each equally tribute and parody, and each transforming the game aesthetic with a distinct drawing style and colour palette for everything, including the Captain and Star.
Comic Jumper’s gameplay isn’t perfect. Essentially a side-scroller, where the player moves with the left analog stick and aims with the right, it works well mechanically, but quickly becomes repetitive, and struggles to find that sweet spot where difficulty has the desired effect on enjoyment.
It was precisely at the point I’d begun to lose enthusiasm for Comic Jumper, that a new chapter began, the subsequent cut-scene had big laughs, and the art style completely changed—everything was fresh again, not to mention hilarious. Immediately, the game won me back.
Chris Vandergaag is a Vancouver-based freelancer. When he's not gaming, writing, or forwarding links of questionable moral repute, he's asleep.