If you even have only a vague knowledge of Japanese manga and anime, chances are you’re familiar with at least one of the dozens of series that got their break in the hugely popular Weekly Shonen Jump manga anthology. Coming up on its 50th anniversary, it’s here that Naruto, One Piece, Dragon Ball, Haikyuu, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Yu-Gi-Oh! and countless others debuted, spawning anime series and more than a few video games along the way.
Jump Force sees all the most famous heroes and villains springing forth from the manga’s pages and into the real world, doing battle in a new crossover 3v3 tag team fighting game. It was one of the big surprises coming out from E3, but left me with more mixed feelings after going hands on with the demo.
The E3 demo brought together just six characters – Goku, Luffy, Naruto and their respective arch nemeses – letting me mix and match, and then do battle in New York’s Times Square or up in the Alps. As the fights evolve and the destructive superpowered attacks tear up these locations, the battle can also move between different parts of the arena.
The core combat is nice and weighty, with a somewhat stereotypical little stutter with every hit that lands, and I adore the way that heavier attacks (from simply holding an attack button for longer) add a dramatic pause into the animation instead of changing it up. Real world physics be damned, it’s a cool touch and one that plays into the broad anime universes that Jump Force will draw upon.
Of course, you can string together simple combos through button mashing, pull throws, as well as time fast dodges and counters. Building up a meter lets you unleash a variety of special attacks that each of these characters will have pulled dozens of times in their respective comics, while entering Awakened Mode transforms them into their more powerful forms. Goku goes Super Saiyan, Luffy shifts into Gear Fourth, and Naruto can call upon his Kurama chakra form.
It’s a tag team battler though, and if you’re finding yourself under the cosh or wanting to press the advantage, you can call the next of your allies in to strike and then slickly switch to controlling them. A tactical element is removed or reduced here, as you don’t have individual health bars for your team. It’s shared and that encourages you to simply switch to the character you want at a given moment, while also leading to shorter feeling battles. I would also say that it makes the bigger, more over the top attacks feel like they’re just tickling the opposition when you only get to see a small chunk of their health disappear. It’s a case of just chipping away instead of feeling like you’re dealing the killer blow.
On the whole, I must say that the way that Jump Force looks misses the mark for me. Instead of going for a cel shaded anime aesthetic, each of the characters has been given a weirdly shiny solidity, almost like vinyl figurines brought to life – this ties in with the game’s “manga become reality” story, but it still looks weird. Then there’s combination of the over the top attacks and rapid camera cuts during combos that put even the most hyperactive Hollywood action sequence to shame. Despite the camera trying to follow the action over your character’s shoulder, the cuts and excessive effects makes the combat nigh on impossible to track at times, pushing me toward mere button mashing instead of actually trying to learn the game’s combat system.
Thankfully it’s still early days for Jump Force, with a release not planned until 2019. This early demo just didn’t do it for me, especially as it trots out the Shonen Jump characters that have featured most often in video game form. However, there’s much more interesting things on the horizon, with Light and Ryuk from Death Note teased in trailers and such a wealth of other stories and universes to drawn upon. As long as they add the Karasuno High School volleyball team, I’ll be happy tag teaming people with