Twisted Pixel likes breaking gaming conventions. With Splosion Man, the indie game company built a platformer with just one action button. In Comic Jumper, the developers are actually characters in the game, as Twisted Pixel helps Captain Smiley, a superhero with a crappy comic book, try to redeem himself by guest-starring in other titles. The developers fund him, but can also get hands-on by punching his enemies to death when he calls for help. It’s bizarre, but damn funny.
Players must shoot and punch their way through a Conan-like fantasy title, a Silver Age comic, and a manga book. The game is often viciously hard, though not unfairly so. Practice makes perfect, though the amount of practice required could easily dissuade players who don’t want to repeat sections over and over. Whenever Smiley takes damage, his personal assistant updates him on his current health and chides him for sucking. This can get pretty grating, considering how common death is. Fortunately, the death penalties are light: You get bumped back to the previous checkpoint, and there’s no limit on how many tries you get. The result is that sometimes the best strategy is just to rush to each new checkpoint so you can die and start the next section fresh. This strategy doesn’t always work, of course. Sometimes you’re trapped in a comic panel until a certain number of waves of bad guys are defeated. At other times, the game goes from a sidescroller to a shooter on rails, where you have to avoid obstacles while aiming and shooting down enemies.
Even with the different types of challenges, the game can get repetitive. Whether you’re trying to avoid flying bullets, rocks, fireballs, or chickens, the techniques are mostly the same. Fighting a giant tiger-like creature is fun the first time, but once you’ve mastered the necessary strategy, defeating three more at other points in the level just turns into a slog to get through their massive hit-point totals.
The game’s humor goes a long way toward making up for the weaknesses in gameplay. The banter between Smiley and Star, a gruff star attached to Smiley’s chest, is often hilarious, as are the hero’s interactions with the two out-of-work villains crashing in his base. It’s worth regularly checking your stats just for a chance to hear the laugh-out-loud funny song about them. Comic Jumper is the weakest of Twisted Pixel’s three titles, but it’s still an Xbox Live Arcade standout.