[leadin]Jump Force is a 3D fighter that leverages[/eadin] many of the characters that have graced the pages of weekly Japanese Manga magazine Shōnen Jump. Shōnen Jump, if you’re not familiar with it, is a massive periodical that’s packed full of stories about Naruto, Death Note, One Piece, and countless other popular franchises that even non-Otaku will recognise. In its 50 year reign at the book shops in Japan, it’s gone on to spawn a huge number of related magazines and books, as well as cross over into various other forms of media - including videogames.
Out of the box, Jump Force gives players access to a whopping 42 playable characters; 16 different Manga series lend their headliners to the roster, and there are two brand new characters, too. There are a further nine fighters to be added to the game, but none of these are available at the time of writing.
The core of the experience is, obviously, the bit in which you duke it out in a big 3D box with other characters. You can take a group of three into most bouts and switching between them is easy; you can even leverage them as part of special attacks if you like and the controls for these more advanced moves are logical and quickly learned.
The camera always keeps your target in sight, allowing you to plan and adjust your moves without losing track of the enemy. The huge distances it’s possible to attain between the active combatants means that rounds typically contain quite a bit of posturing and positioning before the gap between fighters is closed, so that the real action can get underway.
Blocking can be combined with direction inputs to help you move around the battlefield, even while you’re under attack. Good timing here can expose your opponent for a follow-up attack and is therefore desirable for more than just avoiding damage. You can also expend some of your earned “meter” in order to extricate yourself from the middle of a combo you’re currently being pounded by, and there are ways in which you can leverage this and the similar “chase” system (which is used to rapidly close the gap between fighters) in a rock-paper-scissors dynamic that has so many layers it still surprises me after dozens of bouts.
The massive roster has a large diversity to their move set, and attacks can be extremely dramatic (think: “summoning a meteor-sized ball of plasma and slamming it into the ground” dramatic); combined with the camera angle, speed of battle, and complexity of the counter system, the game can be quite hard to “read” a lot of the time; as a result, most of the counters I managed to pull off were more the result of fluke than good judgement.
When playing against the AI, fights can be somewhat bewildering. Your enemy will alternate between pounding you with a series of killer moves and just, well, standing there. It’s not as big a deal as it sounds, but it’s also clear the AI lacks the smarts that are evident in other games, and this can introduce a noticeable “random” element to combat. Fortunately, playing with other humans completely eliminates this, and the total lack of apparent lag makes player vs. player combat the star of the show.
Outside of the combat itself, you can create your own character and, through combat, earn yourself enough in-game currency to unlock new moves you can use to change the way your character plays. You can also purchase loads of different costume elements that significantly change the way your avatar appears. This well-executed feature meant that I actually spent most of my time fighting as my created character - despite the huge array of fantastic fighters to choose from.
If you really want to like this game and are reading this to reinforce your preconceived notions as to how this game should be perceived, now’s the time to stop reading.
Still here? Ok. Everything else about the game is an unmitigated disaster. To make selections in story mode and purchase things from costume/ability vendors (or even start a fight) you need to run around inside a big 3D “home base” thing. The concept of that is bad enough and something I thought I’d seen the last of with Diddy Kong Racing on the DS after it was conclusively proven to be a dumb idea. Here the environment you have to run around is HUGE, and you’ll sometimes find yourself exploring ALL of it in order to trigger the advancement of the story.
Then there’s the animation. Holy crap the animation! For context, I have - on occasion - found myself judging the output of 24 or 48-hour game jams in which students attempt to craft a complete game insanely quickly in order to try out concepts simply or to just test themselves. I don’t recall ever seeing anything resulting from any team ever that looks as bad as the animation in Jump Force. It’s horrible.
How about the story? It’s fine. But it’s presented by way of animation, for the most part, and - as discussed - we know just what that component of the game contributes to proceedings. As a result, the cutscenes here are some of the most lamentable, painful, awkward, and just plain horrible that there have ever been in the history of gaming. I gagged in places; it’s so bad.
Then there’s the loading. Holy crap, it takes soooo loooong and happens soooo often I would encourage any of you that do buy this game to please, please take regular breaks for your own sanity. Loading into a cutscene so you can watch terrible animation then load into another cutscene for more horror before loading into the game (yay!) before… you can guess the rest. It’s torture.
I would have given Jump Force two extra review score points if it replaced the stuff described above with a menu - even if that meant completely deleting the story mode (which, as discussed, is fine). Hopefully, an upcoming patch will do just that, making the game worth buying for more than just hardcore Manga / Anime fans. As it stands, however, it’s really not.