Jump Force Needs an Extra Spring in Its Step

On paper, this is a title that can’t fail. Bandai Namco, who have far more hits than misses when it comes to the fighting genre, has put their name to what can essentially be described as anime Smash Bros. Shonen Jump, the Japanese manga collection, has often been the birthplace of so many classic anime characters and, here, lends its name to the Jump Force, the fighting game mashup. Expectations, rightfully, should be sky high with so many big names along for the ride – but must be tempered after having some hands-on time with the game.

Everything from this point on should come with a huge asterisk. This is a game very much in the early stages of development, with 2019 currently listed as its tentative release date. That being said, Jump Force needs some work.

In the build I played, you were given the option of several iconic characters – from Naruto, Goku, Monkey D. Luffy, and more – on two stages in a 3 v 3 battle. It’s more Marvel vs. Capcom in style than Smash Bros, yet takes place on a wide-open 3D environment, with the emphasis on one-on-one duels.

First up was the neon-lit New York. You can tell immediately this is a good-looking game. Ignore the dead-eyed stares from some of the characters and you’re instantly transported into an episode of your favorite anime. Sparks fly, color hums and hisses from the street signs and you’ll be hard-pressed not to find a smile creeping over your face as two titans from the pages of your favorite manga stare each other down. It’s the perfect anime game – until the fighting starts.

Jump Force Preview: Power Levels

jump force preview

Again, it’s an early build, but the nagging doubt that this will be a paper-thin simulacrum of a fighter is one that is hard to shake. Super moves are incredibly easy to pull off – fine, you want it to look epic as possible, I get that – and can be spammed into oblivion before your opponent even takes a tentative step towards you. Complex, it ain’t. Things were aggravated further by the AI’s seeming lack of, well, any brains. It would often pause mid-combo and let you get a few hits in – no difficulty level was given – and those fighting across from you would more often than not let you get the first blow in. I found myself deliberately trying to lose so I could witness a few more of the game’s powerful moves and combos. That’s never a good sign.

Which is a shame because, when the game is in full flow, it’s a real delight to watch, if not as convincing to play. It could be feasibly ripped straight out the pages of manga, as each character’s Awakenings and Abilities (far more powerful trademark moves more akin to a Final Smash than a simple flurry of punches and kicks) tip their hat towards their respective franchises. Want to perform a Kamehameha on one of the Straw Hats? Sure, go nuts. Feel like getting a little Three Sword Style action in on Frieza? Why not? There’s so much potential here but, right now, it feels a little wasted because the core mechanics haven’t been sorted down pat.

Jump Force Preview: Shonen Flump

jump force preview 2

The second stage, the Alps-inspired Matterhorn level, does play more to the game’s strengths, however. The sprawling fields, from which you can be kicked pillar to post, forcing you to switch to a different part of the environment as you’re flung high into the air, makes it feel suitably more epic and less restrained. New York felt like a leftover Street Fighter stage; the Matterhorn is pure anime porn (don’t Google that). The thrum-thrum-thrum of a typical anime showdown is replicated far better in the lush fields than the urban jungle of the Big Apple. Characters glide around, lasers are dodged, and your two teammates flit in and out with ease.

Except you won’t want to do that. In fact, the support characters seem so overpowered (a hold of LT/L2 has them rushing in to pull off some insane moves) that you can – and I did – win matches simply by holding that button down. Again, it feels as though the fundamentals are lacking – and it’s something I really hope gets seriously tweaked before the game’s release.

From what I’ve played so far, Jump Force leaves a lot to be desired. Fanservice (again, please don’t Google) aside, it’s a shallow brawler. When compared to its contemporaries, it simply pales in comparison. The fighting is loose, the AI bordering on brain-dead and you’re left with the sinking feeling that so much more – just look at Dragon Ball FighterZ – could be done with the licensed tools at their disposal. Still, 2019 is a long way off. Let’s hope Jump Force finds its footing long before then.