NEED TO KNOW
What is it? An anime brawler with a cast of famous characters
Expect to pay $60/£50
Developer Spike Chunsoft
Publisher Bandai Namco Entertainment
Reviewed on i5-7300, 8GB RAM, GTX 1050
Link Official site
Jump Force lifts from the 50 year history of Shonen Jump magazine, a publication that has been the home of some genuinely legendary manga series: Fist of the North Star, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Naruto and bloody Dragon Ball. These are all stories that revolve around their protagonists getting in fights, so you’d think Jump Force would be an easy win. A Smash Bros-esque big brawl featuring all its most important icons should be easy to recommend, but unfortunately it won't leave devotees of any series jumping for joy.
Jump Force is sort of a fighting game. It’s a 3v3 arena brawler based around a simplistic, button mashing combat system. You repeatedly hit the light attack or heavy attack buttons to string together some impressive looking strikes, which you can guard against or dodge. A guarding opponent is open to a throw, or you can charge up a heavy strike by holding the button to perform a guard break. Special moves are tied to a meter you gain through combat or by charging it yourself, which leaves you vulnerable. There’s no execution barrier, here: all the special moves are performed by button presses and although that is fantastic for accessibility, it has an unwanted side effect. It’s all a bit boring.
Not every game has to be Tekken 7, of course, but this means every character feels almost identical to play. They each have their own unique animations and special moves, but you’re triggering them in exactly the same way, no matter which characters you’ve picked. The basic attacks and special moves feel disconnected from one another, too. Trying traditional fighting game techniques like ending a combo of hits with a special move rarely works and there’s no real reason to not just see a chain of strikes through to the end once you’ve landed that initial one.
Although these flashing lights and sounds are authentic enough to entertain fans of the source material for a while, these canned animations eventually outstay their welcome. It’s a touch of what we call the ‘Mortal Kombats’. The over the top ‘Awakening’ moves are awesome the first time you see them (who doesn’t like a good old fashioned Spirit Bomb, eh?), but by the tenth time, I was done with them.
The story is a bit of a means to an end: a typical world-ending crisis has come about as a hackneyed reason to put all of these characters together in one place. You create a silent avatar who is killed during an attack on New York City by an enemy force called ‘Venoms’ and are brought back as a Shonen Jump hero, all super strength, energy blasts and air dashes—as well as ridiculous haircuts, should you wish.
You join one of three teams, headed up by Goku, Luffy or Naruto and take on missions that either progress their storyline or generic ones that net you experience points, or other unlockables like costumes. Experience points increase health and damage output, and you can buy new special abilities, one use items to help you in battle and skills that give you perks like attack buffs, debuff spells and elemental resistance. You can also buy pieces of cosmetic gear for your avatar, and there’s some nice deep cut references within these unlockables that dedicated Shonen Jump fans are going to appreciate.
The characters themselves, as iconic as their source material may be, are a mixed bag. Not just in terms of character variety but their actual character models. A far cry from the astonishing-looking and brilliantly authentic Dragon Ball FighterZ, Goku here looks like a bad action figure. In cutscenes, their movement is stilted and awkward, with some unintentionally hilarious moments, like characters sliding across the screen and conversations taking place without even the slightest bit of facial animation.
Outside of the admittedly impressive awakening attacks, the way they move during combat isn’t much better, again lacking a tightness of control you’d want in a fighting game. This is such a missed opportunity—many of these characters have made the jump from the printed page to beloved animated series and here, they’re these strange, soulless avatars. It’s not all bad, as the various worlds these characters hail from are represented by some excellent arenas, as well as a handful of ‘real world’ ones thrown in for good measure.
The camera gets lost in amongst the action from time to time, making for some confusing situations. Enemy AI isn’t particularly challenging, only really causing issues when they’re levelled to the point of being able to withstand and dish out substantial damage to you, rather than having them attempt to trick and outplay you.
Online, Jump Force is functional, allowing for ranked and casual battles against others, unlocking titles and currency for you to spend on items in the singleplayer game. Unfortunately, battling another human being doesn't make the combat any more interesting, instead highlighting how limited and simple it is. It's like a match against an AI opponent who might actually block and try to use some semblance of strategic play against you, but that's about it.
Jump Force finds itself in a weird place. It offers a line-up of cult characters in a genre known for attracting a hardcore following and yet, doesn’t truly deliver on the promise of the concept to either player type in a satisfying manner.