Monday, December 7, 2009

Jumper: Griffin's Story

Congratulations are in order for Collision Studios and Brash Entertainment, the minds behind Jumper: Griffin's Story. After all, any game can suck in ordinary ways, but it takes monumental indifference to quality or even basic competence to create a game like Jumper. If there were such a thing as a "Shitty Video Game Hall of Fame" Jumper would be a first ballot honoree. It's easily one of the five worst games I've played on the 360, and bear in mind that I've spent time with some real turds.

I didn't see the movie (I have a fairly strict life policy concerning films that feature Hayden Christiansen), but it's about some people called Jumpers who have the ability to teleport. Like Nightcrawler from the X-Men, they're feared and misunderstood by the public. Unlike Nightcrawler, they're dull jerks with little personality who have no qualms about killing people by the dozens if it suits their needs.

The game follows Griffin, one of the characters from the movie (I gather). He's chasing after a Paladin (people who hunt Jumpers) who killed his parents. That's the whole plot...there are no interesting twists or revelations along the way. Griffin goes from one locale to locale, finding one clue that leads to another, until he meets up with the bad guy at the end.

As for the gameplay, this is a strictly linear brawler with no puzzle elements or exploration. Every fight is basically the same, with little evolution as the game progresses. You can find new combos or weapons if you care to, but none of it makes the combat feel fresh or different.

Speaking of combat, the fighting system in this game is really strange. Instead of mapping attacks to different buttons, they went with cardinal directions instead. So if the enemy is facing you and you want to attack his right side, you push the B button (on the right side of the controller). Rear attack? That's the Y button. In isolation it makes sense, but once everything starts moving? Not so much. See, if the camera turns, then the enemy's back may now be on the left side of the screen. So now a rear attack is X, while Y attacks his "right side". I'm not sure if this makes any seems like it would be easier to explain with a complicated diagram. But then, that tells you about how well combat flows in Jumper.

Further muddling matters is the fact that enemies have "strong sides" and "weak sides". If there's a little green bar on one side of an enemy, it's his weak side. Attack him there and you build up a special meter. But if the bar is red, it's his strong side and he'll immediately block incoming attacks from that direction and counter for heavy damage. It gets worse...the strong and weak sides move around the enemy at random moments while fighting. And sometimes enemies hunker down into a "defensive position" in which they're completely surrounded by red bars. So what we have is a fast-paced battle against numerous enemies where you can only attack from a specific direction that keeps changing, with a camera that's wildly rotating around the screen and the attack buttons remapping along with it. Fun!

This may make the game sound really difficult, but in fact Jumper is, as they say, "piss easy". Oh, you'll definitely die from time to time. But not because the bad guys outsmarted you. It'll just be because either 1) you got caught between camera rotations a couple times in a row or 2) because a couple enemies locked you into an unstoppable combo until you died. What's crazy is that these things just sort of happen randomly. You'll get your ass kicked in a fight thanks to some cheap camera/button remapping crap, reload, and breeze through it the second time. But outright failure is pretty rare. I'm not sure why these Paladins chose to feud with Jumpers...if this game is any indication then a single Jumper can mow through hundreds of Paladins without breaking a sweat. And if you ever do get in trouble there's usually a health item nearby.

Of course the biggest reason the game is easy is because it's so ridiculously short. There's an Achievement for beating it in 2 hours or less, and I assumed that was going to be difficult. Nope, actually I got it on my first playthrough without really trying. There are only six levels, one of which is the tutorial, and the longest of which is 20 minutes max. I guess if the game is going to be tortuous to play, it might as well be done quickly.

Rounding things out, the graphics are original Playstation quality. In particular, the character models are a joke. In big fights I often lost track of which character was me because all the characters are so bland and poorly designed. Also, it's been a long time since I encountered a camera that made me sick, but the low-resolution graphics and the overly touchy camera controls did a number on me this time. Thank God the game was short!

I should find some positive things to say, so here goes. Between chapters the plot advances in comic-book style cutscenes, which are over-the-top cheesy but otherwise tolerable. And the voice acting for the main character is fine, though he does repeat catch phrases a little too often.

Oh, and it's a great source of easy Achievement points if the camera doesn't make you lose your lunch. There's some mild collecting to do and two playthroughs are required for all the Achievements, but 800+ points for a lazy afternoon of stupidly easy brawling is good work if you can get it.

I don't recommend Jumper to anyone. Not even as a rental. This game is a wretched effort through and through. Jumper makes Disney's Bolt look like Half Life 2 by comparison.

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