Plenty of games are known for being tough as nails, from the endurance-testing action of Dark Souls to the twitch-reflexes needed to master Ghosts n’ Goblins or Doom Eternal. It takes skill and patience to overcome challenging titles like these, but they often include numerous game design elements that ensure you’re at least able to maintain your progress or grow your character. At the end of 2017, though, a video game was released that threw all of those conventions out the window: Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy.
In this taxing, torturous platformer, just one wrong swing of your momentum-fueled climbing hammer could send you plummeting back to the very beginning of the game. Progress only matters in the moment, with no checkpoints through the massive climbable environment. It’s a punishing game that both tests and rewards your patience unlike anything else in the medium. Last year, a spiritual successor to the hyper-punishing platformer throne quietly released on Steam by the name of Jump King. Now that game has hopped over to PS4, Xbox One and Switch.
Much like Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy, Jump King provides a seemingly simple challenge: you are at the bottom of a massive vertical level, and you must make your way to the top. There isn’t any story to speak of beyond a few talkative NPCs and the promise of “a smoking hot babe” waiting for you at the top of the tower. Instead, all that needs to be focused on is your jumping.
There’s only one button in Jump King, and it’s the jump button. Your jump strength changes based on how long you hold the button down, and you can only choose to jump to your left, right, or directly above. You can’t walk around, you can’t cling to ledges, you can’t climb walls. All you have is your jump.
The point of Jump King is to be an extreme test of your patience and endurance. It certainly succeeds in that. One wrong jump can send you falling back one or two screens. One incredibly wrong and supremely unlucky jump can send you careening through dozens of screens straight back to the beginning of the game. Failed jumps often land in that second category.
The major challenge in achieving successful progression is that you’ll need to learn what kind of jump every section of the tower requires, as there’s very little room for error. Even once I’d memorised which jumps are needed at which moments, on numerous occasions I found myself failing a jump because what I tried to do and what the the kind actually did were entirely different.
With no on-screen indicator of how much your jump has charged or any way to back out of a jump you might have accidentally started charging or overcharged, there’s always a frustrating unknown element to your adventures in Jump King. It can be easy to lose focus and let go of a jump slightly too early or hold it down for too long, but even when you manage to achieve perfect zen and pour your spirit solely into that jump button, you’ll end up with some accidental jumps.
To its credit, Jump King never purposefully tries to distract or disorient you. While the level design can certainly be vexing, the simple and saturated style of the pixelated world you’re jumping through is always clear and concise. There’s never a narrator nagging at you or filling your head with useless facts as you try to nail a jump. There isn’t even music, as the only audio you’ll ever hear is the ambiant sound of the world and the repetitive clunking of your boots against the ground and your head against the floor.
This is a game that wants to hurt you, and it wants to hurt you often and instantly. The feeling of making a poorly timed jump and losing an hour of progress in seconds is heartbreaking. The feeling of memorising a section that previously tested you for ages or successfully reaching a new region of the tower, though, is all too satisfying. Jump King constantly gives you an inch and takes a mile, but it’s that slow and steady progression in the face of crushingly difficult game design that makes this as much a nail-biting test of patience as Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy.