Whisper it quietly, but I love anime. There are few admissions that drop your status on the social ladder quicker than that one, but it’s not an act of evil. Simply put, I’m a huge fan of DragonBall, Bleach, Naruto and One Piece. So of course it's only natural that I was very, very, very keen to take a look at Spike Chunsoft’s newest Weekly Shonen Jump collaborative fighting game Jump Force.
I’ve been lucky enough to have this game for about a week. Is it something to Jump up and down about or is it as Forced as this pun? Let's find out.
We begin with the biggest question these types of crossover games ask: what the hell is going on here? Without giving too much away, a dark entity has managed to bust down the barrier between our real world and that of the multiple alternate universes from which popular characters like Goku, Kenshiro and Yugi amongst others exist. This big evil doesn’t like getting its hands dirty though, so has grabbed some of the most fearsome villains and let them loose to cause chaos. It’s in the midst of one of these battles between Goku and Frieza, where you come in.
In other words, it's just fluff for the sake of a game.
Jump Force’s central plot is told from the perspective of your own custom character, after being critically injured in the fighting and given new life and a new look by Trunks and the ever helpful robot called Navigator. Weirdly, they pop a cube inside you - which sounds dirtier than it is - and you are reborn.
You then join the ranks of the Jump Force, a group of heroes from across the realms called together to help rescue other allies, defeat the mysterious evil and engage in fan service the likes of which has never been seen before.
If that seems like a bit of a stock plot, it’s because it ultimately is. In fact, in many ways you could switch out the plot for last year's Dragon Ball FighterZ.
Doesn't it matter? Not overly; the formula works. You team up, recruit allies, fight faceless goons, smash the bad guy's head into their neck. There are some twists and turns here but nothing you won’t see coming a mile off, and the late game surprise is something that will leave you saying “well duh” more than it will blow your mind.
There are fighting games that elevate the storytelling of their genre, such as Mortal Kombat's latest instalments or Injustice, but this is not one of them, so take that as a positive or negative based on your care for a story in a game essentially about scrapping.
The character creation suite is pretty limited at first but does expand the more you explore and the more missions you complete, so it’s very possible to adorn your avatar with a tonne of different styles, accessories and of course over the top scars.
My guy was called Gill-an. And he sucked for a fair old while. Partly because I was getting to learn the game, but also because Jump Force takes some time to get warmed up, positing tutorials all over the place before actually letting you unleash some fury. While I didn’t mind so much how I was being taught - through pretty stock battles against uniformed mobs of enemies called Venoms - I did get pretty tired of the excessive loading screens throughout.
That's 30 seconds of punching, a two minute wind down as the game loaded, and then a one minute cutscene which then went back to the loading. It creates an experience much like reading the mangas themselves. Brilliant for short bursts, then a lot of downtime waiting for the new issue to be released.
It also might have something to do with the fact that arenas, character models in the fight and all of the particle effects are utterly beautiful, and it’s clear, as it should always be in a fighting game, that it’s the battles where the most love was given. Particle effects dominate the battlescape and it’s so easy to be wowed by the sheer flair of the special attacks and the ground shattering punches.
Watching back successful fights and feeling every kinetic blow is where this game not only hits its stride but smashes it through to the Earth’s core. It’s just a shame therefore, that Jump Force feels very inconsistent with its visuals.
For example, while the character models look great in battle and show degradation should they fall below a certain health cap, outside of battle they move like the developer hadn’t ever studied human anatomy before. The animations in cutscenes are clunky and frequently feel like they’re missing any semblance of weight, making for moments which cheapen the clear love and attention that’s gone into the models' shading and lighting.
There are some scenes in which characters will fly up to escape situations but there is no change in their character model making it look like the scene in the Simpsons when Poochy was killed off. Hell, there are some scenes where characters' necks look like they’re made of incredibly stretchy rubber for all the sense they make.
This extends to the lip synching, which might well be one of the worst I’ve seen in awhile. That said, the voice acting itself is pretty brilliant with many of the Shonen Jump stars reprising their roles for the game. It’s just a shame again that their dialogue is often contrived, and comprises mainly of them all praising your created character to an almost sycophantic degree that you’ll swear this was a tale ripped from a web forum.
The story is but one part as the really important thing is how the game plays. Now, if you want a point of reference on how this game handles then I would say that the Naruto Ultimate Ninja storm titles are a good jumping off point as you get to build a group of three fighters all of whom share a health bar, there’s the over the shoulder fight camera and there’s a greater freedom of movement within the stages which can be used to avoid and manipulate your opponent. Special moves can be used by holding down a trigger and selecting them from a wheel but each consume a portion of power which needs to be charged up to get the full effect.
An incredibly useful evade move which can be activated right after you take damage drains this energy bar so it means that you’ll need to be careful when to time this in order to lock down a counter attack. It also leaves you without any special moves for a while, so you’ll have to rely on the basic attack combo string that’s mapped to one button until you’re charged again.
Couple this with a useful chase move which sees you close the distance with your opponent and you can begin to see this game as a glorified rock paper scissors affair. You’ll need to attack your opponent, chase them if they back up to regain stamina, and back off yourself and shower with ranged special attacks should the tide turn against you. In these moments, with the beautiful array of special visual effects, the game is singing its own anthem. This is Jump Force at its best. Yet it’s not without some issues which hamper the battling ever so slightly.
The special moves aren’t listed in terms of short range, mid range and long range on the mini menu which can mean that, especially for first time character tryouts, that you’re going to be whiffing harder than Blackbeard's armpits a fair few times. In the long term this is fine just because you’ll get used to knowing what range each move has but in the short term, or against friends in casual play, it might cause a bit of frustration.
Another odd choice is to not have any of the characters come with a palette swap if they face off against other versions of themselves. It would make much more visual sense if two Vegetas didn’t look identical when fighting as sometimes it can be confusing in the heat of battle. Also while the fighting itself is a fun and adrenaline pumping experience, the repetition of battling in the singleplayer really does start to drag.
At one point in the late game you have to fight multiple versions of the same boss with different groups of three around the world. In principle, this would make for a fun encounter but it becomes painfully clear that you’re just exploiting the game's boss shortcomings with groups that you might not have even wanted to unite. At another point you’re fighting so many Venoms back to back that it’s the literal definition of a filler episode, all because the single player story is so artificially bloated that it needed to be broken up with a slight bit of action.
It’s world’s colliding that prove to be Jump Force’s strongest selling point and it’s unfortunate stumbling, as while it’s outstanding to see the likes of Dio taking on Gaara with glorious visuals and thematically interesting stages, it’s hampered by a story that feels phoned in and cutscenes that seem like they’re made out of cardboard. The worlds of engaging single player experiences and visceral action heavy combat are meeting here, but they aren’t merging in a cohesive manner.
With over 40 playable characters, a season pass adding even more and an online world that will soon be populated by bizarre looking fan creations, there is a LOT of content here to be enjoyed. It's just a question of whether you’ll want to sit through the single player at all given the slapdash feel of it. I had a blast when I was actually playing - I just wish that control wasn’t wrestled away from me so often.
Jump Force is an above average game with excellent graphics, for the most part, but this is really only going to be one for the diehard weekly Shonen Jump fans out there. For others, the patchy animations and stop start gameplay might be too much of a barrier to entry.