Twisted Pixel is a development studio on the move. Less than two years ago, no-one knew who the hell they were. Then came The Maw in January of ’09, and many people immediately took notice of the charm and clever design at play. Fast forward to July of ’09, and the release of the widely popular ‘Splosion Man during Summer of Arcade pushed their thumbtack of relevance squarely into the map.
The studio is looking to capitalize on the momentum that the success of their last two titles has generated. They’ve recently moved from the middle of nowhere Indiana to Austin, they continue to draw high-quality talent onto their team, and they’re making plans to expand into a two team operation. It’s just like they say in Vegas — you never leave the table when you’re on a heater.
After spending some time talking with Twisted Pixel’s Mike Wilford at PAX and getting my hands on the full build of their latest, Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley, it doesn’t look like their luck’s running cold anytime soon. I cannot wait to play this game in October.
Captain Smiley is a comic-book hero without a home. People hate his comic so much that it gets cancelled (and used as toilet paper). So, the once proud do-gooder is forced to moonlight by jumping into other comics (in multiple styles like modern, fantasy, silver age, and manga) to earn money to bring his franchise back. It’s an inventive premise that walks the talk by backing up the great art direction with solid gameplay mechanics and a healthy dose of humor.
Comic Jumper uses the comic panel conceit to dabble in both 2D side-scrolling twin stick gunplay/brawling and reticle based 3D shoot ’em up. Wilford wasn’t shy about sharing that the team was influenced by games like Gunstar Heroes and Sin & Punishment in the design process, and trust me, that’s a good thing. The controls are responsive, the animations are slick, and shooting up the different comic book worlds is a great deal of fun.
What put this game over the top for me, however, was the humor and the way the game is constantly playing with the fourth wall. The Twisted Pixel guys themselves are actually a part of the game, but they exist outside of the comics. They show up in a live-action video to fund Captain Smiley’s operation and get him back on his feet, for one. This even bleeds into the gameplay; you can earn tokens that allow you to call for help from Twisted Pixel, and when you trigger them the developers unleash a flurry of actual punches and kicks on the screen, culminating in one of them headbutting the comic panel and destroying all the enemies.
The game is chock full of goodies, including the ability to play both ‘Splosion Man and The Maw directly from the HQ in-game if you have them or buy them if you don’t. The game will offer challenge missions in addition to the story content, so you can grind those for cash to get upgrades if you have trouble beating a section. There’s even two new ‘Splosion Man levels you can unlock as you earn cash, giving fans of previous titles even more reason to pick this one up.
Comic Jumper will release on Oct. 6th in a line up with Hydrophobia and Super Meat Boy as part of Microsoft’s recently announced Game Feast. Based on my time with the game, I think gamers are going to find it both challenging and genuinely funny. Did I mention that there’s a massive nod to Jean Claude Van Damme’s Timecop in Captain Smiley’s HQ? I rest my case. Gimme, gimme, gimme.