You’ve got to roll with the punches to get to what’s real
Part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of Shonen Jump, a weekly manga comic so widely read in Japan (7.5 billion copies and counting) that it has inevitably achieved a measure of fame far beyond its homeland, this is truly an all-star fighting game. Anyone with even a passing interest in the genre will be familiar with many of the characters here, because these are some of the most illustrious names in manga.
There are 16 different series represented at launch, including the biggest-selling manga of all time, One Piece, the second biggest, Dragon Ball, and several other titles from the top 20 list, namely Naruto, Bleach, Fist Of The North Star and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. They’ve all been in plenty of videogame adaptations over the years, including the somewhat similar J-Stars Victory Vs, from the same developer, but Jump Force has a particularly special buzz about it.
It’s an online-focused one-on-one fighting game, with the twist being that each player picks three of the 42 characters, swapping between them at critical points to make best use of their abilities. All three share a single health bar, which gives the game a different sort of dynamic to a typical tag-team fighter – by the time you realise your first choice is just a bad matchup for this opponent, half of your team’s collective health could have been wiped out.
A couple of basic attacks are available for chipping away at your opponent, but the serious damage is done with special moves that become available as a second energy meter slowly charges. There are three lesser specials that you can break out almost as often as you like, but once the gauge is half-full you can launch a signature move so epic that it comes with its own cutscene. At full charge you can do the same thing in ‘awakened’ form, which basically means there’s no escape.
It’s also possible to spend some energy on awakening a character, temporarily bestowing enhanced skills and potentially granting a transformation to some other form, depending on the character in question. These powers can persist between rounds, and as the match progresses you’ll see fighters effectively levelling up while their clothes become shredded from damage. At the end of it all, they really look like they’ve been in the wars.
Cut to the chase
Because a solid combo can fling a fighter halfway across the arena, there’s a chase button for closing the gap. It makes you lock on and dash towards your opponent’s location, at which point you’ll either launch into another set of moves or receive a well-timed counter from your foe.
Fights against other humans tend to play out as a tense series of feints and jabs, as each player tries to draw a counterable error from the other, before exploding into a lightning-fast flurry of spectacular violence.
It’s amazing to watch, with special moves that look like they could flatten a city block, and rapid-fire changes of camera angle as the momentum swings back and forth and the pace heats up to dizzying levels. There are more technical fighting games around, but there are surely none that will catch the eye of a casual observer quite like this one. It’s a visual feast.
There’s a rock/paper/scissors thing going on behind the scenes, with almost every move being strong or weak against something else, and that’s where the characterswitching really comes into play. When your go-to moves start getting blocked or countered, switching to the next fighter can change your luck. Swapping characters also has the benefit of instantly closing the distance on an opponent, which is almost like having a free hit, so there’s a cooldown to stop it being overused.
Instead of a menu there’s a huge online lobby where players gather round booths offering various game modes and interact with one another via dances, weird animations and a list of predefined phrases, which goes a small way towards breaking down language barriers. Of course all of the acting in the game is in Japanese, and we can’t imagine the target audience would have it any other way.
On the downside, the frequent loading screens, complete with progress meters that bear no relation to how long you’ve got left to wait, will surely test your patience. Starting a battle or even requesting a rematch with the same characters comes with a frustratingly long pause. It’s completely at odds with the snappy and immediate nature of the actual gameplay, and can tilt the balance from ‘one more go’ to ‘time to go’ if you’re on a losing streak.
Still, it’s the fights that really count, and they’re crazy fun. It goes from being a button-mashing frenzy at the lowest levels to a really cagey cat-and-mouse kind of thing when you figure out what’s going on, and its curious capacity for last-second reversals and victories snatched from the jaws of defeat is either heroic or suspect, depending on who’s on the receiving end. That’s surely the mark of a multiplayer favourite.
“You can launch a signature move so epic that it comes with its own cutscene”
left With two players on one Xbox, the camera swings behind whoever is currently on the attack.
above In the midst of all this there’s an epic comeback in progress.