Bringing together many of the most popular anime and manga series to spring forth from the voluminous pages of Weekly Shonen Jump, Jump Force intends to be the one, all-encompassing crossover brawler. Just like the old arguments about who would win if the USS Enterprise D went up against a Star Destroyer, or crossover stories where Doctor Who ends up in the Star Trek TNG universe and helps stop the Cybermen and Borg combining forces, there’s plenty of anime and manga fans who love to speculate about how their favourite universes could collide.
There’s some story here of how Earth has collided with the Shonen Jump universes, some grand threat to reality and that all the heroes are uniting to take on a league of villains. You create a custom character and join the Jump Force, but that’s not the side of the game that we played earlier this week. Instead, we just dove into the roster of 40 characters, picked our trios at semi-random and threw them up against a set of random opponents. Before we go any further, I can confirm that Ryo Saeba from the classic City Hunter series is easily, hands down, the best character in the game. I’ll tell you why a little bit later.
Of course, this being a fighting game, and these being universes where battles can last hours and feature as much discourse and introspection as they do flying fists and ground-shaking powers, Spike Chunsoft have done the sensible thing and tried to balance all the characters out. Whether it’s a regular guy like Ryo or someone that wields the most awesome of powers like Jotaro Kujo, Goku or Naruto, they can all go toe to toe in a fight.
Now, I’m going to be quite brutally honest here: I don’t like the 3D graphics in Jump Force. I get why Bandai Namco have done it, trying to give common ground and unify the dozens of contrasting anime styles that exist throughout Shonen Jump, and also trying to distinguish itself from the countless others anime and manga fighters out there, but the game just ends up looking like that Halloween episode of The Simpson where Homer ends up being subjected to the third dimension through the best graphics that mid-90s computers could muster.
In some ways it doesn’t go far enough. There’s some characters that are shiny and plasticky, others that are matte and have hand drawn flicks of shadow and highlighting, there’s characters with eyes as big as dinner plates alongside those that basically look like very muscly humans. It just doesn’t quite work in the same way that something like Street Fighter X Tekken does, where it starts off in similar design territory and could be homogenised.
And then there’s the way the action is sensationalised with fast camera cuts, explosions and an endless amount of particle effects. It’s disorientating at times.
But, and this is where you have to hope the game manages to appeal most, it is fun. I didn’t understand all of what was happening, and was largely button mashing with the unified control scheme that all the characters share, but I was enjoying myself exploring the roster and pitting various teams against each other.
Since the last time I played it, the game’s twist on the tag-team fighter has started to make sense. Instead of having three characters each with their own health bar, you have a single health bar and fight across multiple rounds. It’s more akin to a solo fighter in that regard, but you’ve got more strategic options here in your team composition and the ability to switch between them on the fly. Go for someone that’s a real in your face brawler, combine them with character that’s got range, and another that’s a big lump, and you’ve got a well-rounded trio.
The unified control scheme takes a small amount of getting used to. Instead of a “light” attack, you have a short-ranged dash attack that looks to close the small amount of distance between you in the 3D arenas, and should then lead into the more commonly named “heavy” attack, which can further be chained when switching between your team. Pull a trigger and you’ve then got four face buttons of abilities and awakening attacks that need to be powered up through combat and simply standing around powering up before you can use some of them, and they often lead to spectacular moves.
The awakening attacks are show-stopping mid-fight cutscenes, and they are a lot of fun to save up and pull out at just the right moment – some are more situationally dependent than others. It’s here that we come back to Ryo Saeba. Sure, Naruto can call on the big nine-tailed fox thing, you’ve got Jotaro and his Stand’s endless “ORA ORA ORA”, Luffy tanks up into a barrel chested beast, and yet they’ve got nothing on Ryo, who rocks up with a magnum and shoots his opponents in the face in glorious slow motion, or he whips out twin homing RPGS – yes, really – or for his awakened attack pulls out a rocket launcher, shoots the enemy, drives a mini cooper through the explosion, steps out and then shoots at three explosive barrels that appeared from somewhere? Oh, and doesn’t look back. It’s the perfect finisher.
Jump Force is a game that I feel is right on the bubble. Despite the marmite visual style and the overly frenetic action, there’s something to it that works, throwing all of these disparate characters into the arena together, giving you relatively simple to pick up controls for bombastic, button-mashing fun. Whether it holds up after more than a few hours, we’ll have to wait until reviews around next week’s launch…