Jump Force is a weird beast. For someone who isn’t that well versed in its extensive lineup of silly-haired scrappers and explosive combos, it’s a bit overwhelming. The bloke with the freaky staring eyes is from One Piece Pirate, and of course there’s Son Goku, who, my Dragon-Ball-loving mate reliably informs me, was voiced by someone who passed out when performing his death metal-style scream.

Clearly though, Jump Force is a love letter to fans: a 50th birthday pressie from Shonen Jump magazine, offering a massive 40-something roster that makes it perhaps the biggest crossover royale this side of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. It really wants to be something special. Problem is, it misses the mark in so many areas that even a casual fan like me can tell it’s a bit of a letdown for such an important milestone.

Jump Force’s story chucks you right in the middle of things. If you were to explain it to the bloke down the pub, it goes a bit like this: Frieza and his baddies from the manga dimensions (known colloquially as Jumps here) invade our world, and it’s up to Goku, Luffy, Naruto, Vegeta and chums to kick their arse and save the day. Simple. Most of the time the baddies are Venoms, ordinary citizens who have been corrupted by Umbras Cubes, although along the way you’ll come across classic manga characters who need a pummelling to free them of the cubes’ influence. 

The issue here is that the cutscenes that propel the story are... well, just a bit naff. There’s hardly any voice acting going on, so you’re forced to read walls of text as everyone stands there silently, stiff as a board, with all the emotional nuance of Mr. Bean. Given the source material, I expected something with a bit more pazazz befitting of its manga heritage. Meanwhile, your main character is some random casualty who is revived using those magical cubes I mentioned earlier. You can customise them as much as you want, but at the end of the day they’re still a blank slate whose contributions to the story could have easily been filled by someone of more importance in Shonen Jump’s illustrious history. 

Once you’ve been recruited to Jump Force, they take you to their HQ, which functions as a hub with all the bits and bobs you’d expect: shops, mission centres, offline/online battles, and a place to generally run around and bump into other players. You can also ride a frog if you want. This is where the meat and potatoes of Jump Force is; not that you’d really know, as the game doesn’t do a great job of communicating where you go next. I just sort of stumbled around until I found the right person to talk to. From here, it’s a case of taking on missions to advance the story, recruiting others to your cause, and that’s pretty much it. It’s all very perfunctory in execution. 

Pleasingly, Jump Force’s fisticuffs are absolutely mental, and pretty easy to get to grips with. Most of the time you can get away with mashing square and triangle for standard and tough blows, respectively, which can inflict a surprising amount of damage and send your opponent flying across the screen. I mean, there’s no question about it; Jump Force wears its manga trappings proudly. You’ll fly all over the place, duffing up foes in mid-air, send them crashing to the ground creating massive craters in the process. It’s pleasing on the eyes for sure. 

To its credit, the game does try to mix things up. Your Awakening attack, which is basically a health-zapping super move unique to each fighter, can be activated by holding R2 and hitting the X button. These are governed by a meter that must first be charged, so you can’t spam them willy-nilly. Awakenings punctuate the flow of battle nicely, and look bloody awesome too; from massive fireballs, huge sand monsters, stylish swords shenanigans, and countless more, these can turn the tide of battle and inject a nice bit of strategy into the mix as you have to plan and time them well.

You can also execute other special abilities via R2, which, while not as powerful as Awakening attacks, are still aesthetically pleasing and help spice up the ebb and flow of combat. Elsewhere, the mobility gauge accommodates a whiff of tactical play, as you can dash your enemy when it's full enough or dodge attacks with a meticulously-timed button whack.

I actually tried to squeeze as much out of the combat system as I could, and yes, it is satisfying. The problem is, you don’t need to; you can literally win battles mashing out your rudimentary combo, maybe side-stepping here and there, and that’s it. The action isn’t smooth either, with erratic movements and choppy frame rates eliminating any sense of fluidity to bouts, and at times I found it difficult to figure out just what the fuck was going on. Meanwhile, all the equippable skills and buffs are handy to have in a pinch, but there’s just no real incentive for hunting them out when your basic repertoire gets the job done. Hell, even levelling up feels inconsequential. 

Jump Force is also marred by some annoying technical mishaps, the most egregious being the load times. They’re just bloody awful. Whether you’re loading up a menu to fiddle with your avatar settings, or waiting for a match or cutscene to fire up, you’ll be doing a lot of hanging about reading the same ruddy hint messages over and over again. The frame rate coughs a bit during hectic moments, too, and even basic movements, like running, look incredibly dodgy. 

There’s definitely sparkles of brilliance throughout Jump Force. The fighting arenas – ranging from New York, Mexico, Japan, Paris, and New Zealand – are vibrant and packed full of detail, while the characters are suitably stylish, retaining their iconic designs. Punch-ups are typically full of visual spectacle, too; it’s just a shame that there’s no real incentive to dig deeper into the game’s mechanics, as there’s a competent scrapper buried in there somewhere. As a 50th anniversary celebration of Shonen Jump and a fighting game however, Jump Force whiffs its knockout blow.

Developer: Spike Chunsoft

Publisher: Bandai Namco Games

Available on: PlayStation 4 [reviewed on], PC, Xbox One

Release date: February 15, 2019

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