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Indie Nation #52: Jumpman

3:40 PM on 02.27.2009 // Anthony Burch

It takes some serious balls to call your game Jumpman. Such a title mentally conjures a significant amount of videogame history, beginning with Donkey Kong and ending with this pretentiously-titled little indie title. It compares itself to every platformer ever made, and claims to somehow exhibit a purer form of platforming than most games do today.

It's comforting, then, that Jumpman is really quite good.

Combining simple graphics and initially accessible gameplay with trippy, imaginative scenarios, Jumpman takes the simple joy of difficult (but not punishing) platforming and mixes it with some really damned clever levels.

You can download the game here, or hit the jump as I blather on about how good it is.

At its best, Jumpman combines really unusual physics-based jumping puzzles with visuals that will bring to mind the "I DIVIDED BY ZERO OH SHI--" meme. My favorite levels take the whole world-wrapping thing from Pac Man (where, if you move off the right side of the screen you reappear in the same place on the left side of the screen) except you can't see the wrap boundaries. You'll see literally dozens of mirrored images of yourself and the level onscreen, so that when you press a single button that movement suddenly moves a hundred different Jumpmen at the exact same time. Even when these little visual treats don't affect gameplay (trying to find which way is up, and which exit is the "real" exit, can be a lot of fun), they're just really goddamned pleasing to look at.

Even at the very beginning of the game, the levels are structured such that your current level is the most immediately visible thing in the foreground, but you can see the levels you will be playing deep in the background. Once you reach the exit of your current level, the camera zooms in to the next level, and so on and so forth. It's a graceful, cool way to transition from stage to stage.

In addition to the runny-jumpy-have-a-visual-mindfucky experience, most of the levels (as in, the levels themselves, not just the camera) can be rotated with a single button press, leading to some neat, Echochrome-ish moments where you'll find yourself falling through the air headed toward a seemingly inevitable death, until you frantically hit the "rotate" button a few times and a platform slides into place beneath you, as if by magic. 

Jumpman thankfully belongs to the "introduce something new every ten minutes" school of game design, which means that while every series of levels is united by the same basic design principles -- jumping, rotating the levels, seeing cool shit --  each stage collection is driven by a new and different mechanic. These typically aren't anything mindblowing: one path makes the platforms invisible, another introduces greyed out areas that prevent you from rotating the level, and so on. Still, they change up the gameplay enough that you'll probably end up actually wanting to play the game all the way to the end, even if the last few worlds unfortunately smack of a "hard just for the sake of hard" vibe that the rest of the game so pleasingly avoids through very short stages and instant respawn after death. 

Jumpman also includes a bare-bones (but intuitive and fun) level editor, a "playground" (which is an even more bare-bones level editor, I guess), and even the main menu allows you to play around with Jumpman and draw platforms and enemies by using the mouse. For a game that really just revolves around jumping and rotating levels, Jumpman is remarkably polished, to the point where (like Spelunky) I feel guilty playing it for free.

You should feel that guilt, too.

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