In a perfect world, a product would be fantastic just by the sum of its parts. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and good things have to be thought out and carefully constructed in order to turn good, and even then, they might be plain bad. Jump Force is the prime example of a mishmash gone wrong. Bandai Namco’s newest anime game isn’t anything new, per se; the same idea has been done before, that is, to make a game that mashes up the many franchises under Japan’s famous Shonen Jump magazine, who holds the rights to beloved series like Dragon Ball, Naruto, and One Piece, to name a few, having heroes and villains join forces in what should be an epic brawl. Jump Force is sure epic, but in a let down sort of way.
It all starts with a portal opening up in the middle of Times Square, bringing in the destructive forces of Freeza, the big baddie from the Dragon Ball Z universe in. Your character just happens to be a bystander in the middle of all of this, and ends up killed. Luckily for you, you don’t remain dead for too long, since the forces of good, led by Son Goku pop in and drive Freeza and his goons off, with your help after reviving you and turning you into a hero yourself. You’re then led to the Jump Force headquarters, where you’re filled in on the positively ridiculous circumstances that the world finds itself in — there’s an evil entity gong around opening portals to other universes and stealing heroes and villains in order to have them serve their purpose, by controlling them with umbra cubes, weird red devices that apparently you’re the only one able to remove and dispose of. Jump Force, led by Son Goku, Naruto, and Luffy (the stretchy dude from One Piece), is tasked with stopping that plan from taking shape with your help, a nobody turned superhero.
While that premise might sound okay for an excuse to bring in and have you control a whole bunch of characters from the Jump universe, the game manages to be anything but fun. The main problem is that even though the fighting system is very streamlined and approachable, it’s too simple, lacking any sort of depth at all. You can dash to your heart’s content to dodge attacks, but in order to close the distance between you and your opponent, you can only rush forward a set number of times before you run out of stamina, resulting in the complete opposite of what an anime fight should be: slow and plodding. And even when things do get fast-paced, the camera fails to home in on the action, losing track of what’s going on, confusing the heck out of anyone playing. Moves can be unleashed by holding the right trigger and pressing a face button, depending on how high your charge level is, which like a normal fighting game, goes up as you do and take damage, or like in true anime fashion, you charge up, yelling at the top of your lungs and flashing, by pressing and holding the right trigger. But thanks to some idiotic opponent A.I, it’s very easy to exploit their blocks, resulting in very repetitive fights where you spam specials until they’re defeated.
It gets even worse when you consider the glitches that show up during these brawls, resulting in special attacks just plain missing opponents thanks to bad hit detection, or worse, invisible obstacles and buggy level geometry. I ran into an even worse problem during a particularly annoying bout with Toguro, the main villain from Yu Yu Hakusho, where my character simply lost the ability to attack all of the sudden, for the remainder of the mission, forcing me to quit out and start it all from the very beginning.
Moves can be purchased with the coins you earn by finishing missions, alongside a list of consumables and clothing options with which you can boost stats, heal, or customize the look of your avatar. You can even combine skills from the various shows, like the Kamehameha, and add them to your arsenal. Mixing and matching also comes in via items from a variety of anime shows. That proved to be the most entertaining part of the game for me, as it gave me the chance to create some of the dumbest looking characters, or better yet, it gave others the opportunity to do so much better than I ever could, given the online lobby’s walking atrocities I rushed across when playing.
You’ll be doing plenty of running around while playing Jump Force, at least when between missions, as the lobby in the game is gigantic, but absolutely devoid of anything worth exploring or discovering. The main hubs of activity are the three team bases, split between Son Goku, Naruto, and Luffy, which you’ll pick at the beginning of the game. Each has a shop and a mission counter that you can make use for the majority of the game, but there’ll be times when quests will come from other characters that are standing around the map. As you unlock more heroes, this’ll happen more often. The missions are borderline abysmal in terms of design, or lack thereof, since pretty much all of them boil down to fighting drones, or as is the case of the portions of the game where you’re unlocking team members, taking them down directly. Sometimes you’re required to fight the same enemy multiple times, or have more than one fight in a series, but that’s as “varied” as it gets.
Even visually, Jump Force manages to disappoint, delivering some of the ugliest character models in a modern anime game. With efforts such as last year’s Dragon Ball FighterZ sporting such an incredibly faithful presentation, it’s just plain sad to see just how bad Jump Force looks. All of the characters have a weird doll-like quality to them, and they rarely animate, even during dialogue. When they do move, they’re really stiff, and their base models make them look like they’re all suffering from an acute case of arthritis. Ridiculously enough, there are even moments in the game where half of the characters on screen go on talking in a text box, while others have spoken lines of dialogue, in the very same scene. Not that the dialogue itself is anything worth paying attention to, mind you: it’s a pain and it takes way too long to sit through. Thankfully there’s a skip function for almost all of it, but the thing is, you still have to slog through the same repetitive gameplay after skipping them. The flashy moves that play out during fights manage to look okay the first time you pop them, but by the 100th, you’ll probably think differently.
It’s a crying shame that Jump Force is just so boring, because its core concept has a ton of potential going for it, such an exciting mixup go to waste in a game like this. It’s hard to find any redeeming qualities to this when it feels like not a whole lot of care went into it in the first place. Sure, seeing a lot of the original voice cast come back to reprise their characters might be fun for the more hardcore of fans, but would they really want to have to listen to it all while playing this game? I for one can’t really say I do, and I’ve been a HUGE fan of the Jump properties since a kid. Be it Saint Seiya, Yu Yu Hakusho, Hunter X Hunter, Rorouni Kenshin or even bread-and-butter Dragon Ball, I much rather go back and watch those shows than see them relegated to a lesser game like this. Those franchises have seen their share of far from stellar game adaptations over the years, which makes Jump Force that much more disappointing.