Jumpman Junior (Colecovision) Review

Any gamer who’s moderately well-versed in useless trivia should be well aware of the fact that Mario was originally named Jumpman during his breakthrough debut in Donkey Kong. It’s generally agreed that Jumpman, as a name, is about as creative as a schoolyard bully giving a Hertz Doughnut, and Nintendo wisely chose to rename him before the moniker stuck. But apparently San Francisco developer Epyx saw gold, and *ahem* jumped into Nintendo’s dumpster to dig the name out.

Epyx’s version of Jumpman (or in this case, his son) stayed truer to his title than Nintendo’s Mario ever did – none of this hammer bullshit, just pure jumping, running and climbing. He’s certainly a more primitive-looking character in comparison – Mario’s hat has more pixels than Jumpman’s whole body – but Jumpman’s easily twice as nimble (at least until Mario became super). He feels a tad “sticky” initially, but once you get properly dialed in to his movements, you’ll be able to make him jump around like a… well pretty much like you’d expect someone named Jumpman would be able to do. And whereas Mario clings to ladders like he’s got a dreadful fear of heights, Jumpman, ever in a hurry, can jump off ladders early, barely grab the platform, and scurry up it at full speed.

And he’s damn well justified to be in a hurry, since the whole purpose of the game is to defuse all the bombs on the screen (planted there, according to the manual, by the evil Alienators). Granted, you can loiter around a level all day and those bombs’ll never blow, but you won’t find me lamenting the lack of a time limit; the game’s challenging enough as it is.

Despite the fact that all the levels – a mindblowing twelve of em – are all centered on collecting bombs, the game stays fresh by constantly serving up new challenges. Each single-screen stage has a distinctive gimmick, and you never know what sadistic challenge you’ll be presented with next. One level has fires springing up every time you collect a bomb, another starts you out in pitch darkness, forcing you to slowly inch your way through it, even making a few nerve wracking leaps of faith into the abyss.

Some stages require complete memorization, which will undoubtedly perturb a certain breed of gamer (you know who you are), but personally I’ve never seen that sort of thing as a flaw. Jumpman Junior’s one true flaw is the fact that cheap deaths are sometimes unavoidable, due to the homing bullets which hound you during half the game’s levels. As far as I can tell, these single pixel nuisances appear completely randomly, and when you’re at the top of the screen, you’re pretty much fucked if one decides to appear right above you. It only really becomes problematic on a couple stages (the second one in particular), but it occurs with frustrating frequency.

Jumpman openly takes inspiration from Donkey Kong, but it feels like anything but a ripoff. Actually, if you were looking for a reference to compare it to, Jumpan less resembles the game it was inspired by, than the game it would later serve as inspiration for; a popular little title by the name of N+.

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~ by Krooze L-Roy on December 21, 2008.

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