Let’s face it, Jumpala is not a great name for a video game. It’s a confused jumble of vowels and consonants that seems to give no clue as to the game’s identity. My first instincts? That this is a game about horse jumping, or maybe something to do with Gala Bingo. Thankfully, it’s neither of these things, and its name is actually rather fitting, as this game is a seemingly random mash-up of different genres. It’s best summed up as a puzzler, fighter, platformer hybrid. A concoction so odd that it absolutely positively should not work. But it does work; Jumpala is brilliant.
How to sum up this hodge podge of a game? Well, first off, Jumpala is a competitive experience. Players choose their fighter from a roster of diverse misfits, but instead of pummelling an opponent with fists, blades and ice blasts – though that is an option – the player must instead capture numbered platforms and paint them with their colour in the process. These platforms glide down from the heavens, like particularly dangerous rain, before dropping off the bottom of the screen. Once the captured platform has disappeared, the player is awarded with a corresponding amount of points.
Be careful though, as if a player hangs around on the rapidly disappearing platforms to stop an opponent from capturing them, then they run the risk of their avatar plummeting from the screen. This unwanted outcome results in a loss of points and an even more precious loss of time as they wait to respawn. When the battlers reach the summit of the stage, the points are divvied up and a new round begins. The first player to two hundred points wins.
That’s the basics then, but these clear rules are gloriously, wonderfully, muddied as the game heaps on mechanic after mechanic in a virtuoso masterclass of puzzling brilliance. Each fighter has a number of chargeable special abilities that shake up proceedings considerably. Frore, a suspiciously Disney-baiting ice princess, can freeze all platforms she has so far captured, preventing the rival player from getting their grubby mitts on them. Meanwhile, explosive loving Bommer can drop mines to blow up platforms, cruelly cutting off another character’s escape path and forcing them to fall off the screen. Then there’s Mr Time, who I hate with a passion, as this bearded fella can freeze time completely and gobble up platforms with no resistance. It’s an eclectic mix of powers, that’s for certain. The truly astonishing thing though, is how well these diametrically opposed abilities work, creating balanced, compelling and hugely challenging gameplay.
If all that weren’t enough, then developers Yokereba Games keep on cranking up the complexity until your brain fizzes and your eyes ache from trying to figure out the optimum route to victory. Obstacles start to appear on stages, tumbling from above to instantly wipe out an unwitting player. Then there’s the pièce de résistance, platforms that have a negative number inscribed upon them. These little nightmares will result in a deduction of points when they fall off the screen; requiring some nimble problem solving from the player in order to avoid them, or to use them to their advantage and force their opponent to capture them by closing off other routes. There are so many tactics and strategies to devise and put into practice. This is a game that asks, nay demands, you to tinker with its mechanics, offering up a tremendous amount of freedom in the process.
If it sounds like a lot, then that’s because it is. Jumpala asks a lot of its players and is a mentally exhausting game. Even on easy mode Jumpala was a confounding experience, the bots offering a formidable and intelligent challenge. And, if you manage to find some human players to go up against, then the devious tactics available to you will cause much joyous swearing for hours on end.
Sadly, the human player element is currently one of the main issues with Jumpala: it’s pretty tricky to find anyone to play with online. Allow the game to perform a casual online search and you’re unlikely to get anywhere fast. Instead, you’re best to head over to the Jumpala Discord channel the developer has set-up. Here you’ll find a small but passionate community of Jumpala loving aficionados who will take great delight in punishing your puny single player skills. Yokereba Games has also started running tournaments, so for those who want a challenge, this is the place to go.
There’s also the issue that, despite the never ending variety offered by the gameplay, the actual structure of the game proves repetitive. Single player basically apes an arcade fighter, pitting you against increasingly difficult opponents. Sadly, the order always seems to be the same and there’s little variety to break things up, more team matches – available in local and online play – would certainly have helped keep things fresh, as would shaking up the order of opponents to face. Perhaps the opportunity to beat up a car would be a welcome refreshment between bouts too?
Still, none of those issues put me off for long, as I found myself returning to Jampala again and again. In fact, I reckon I’m ready for the next tournament. I expect to come in last, but I know I’ll have a whole lot of fighting, puzzling, platforming fun in the process.