The absurd fourth-wall breaking plot sees star of his own comic book series, Captain Smiley lose his readership base. His comic book is cancelled and he has to find a way to win back his fans to earn a relaunch, and so he guest stars in other publications to gain new interest. A number of different comics recruit the smiley headed one and this is a brilliant excuse for Twisted Pixel (both as developers and stars of the game) to utilise a number of different styles. From the modern day comic to the silver age, taking in a Conan-style Mayan/jungle theme and Manga along the way. The small touches are the best and brilliantly, in the Manga you run and gun from right to left rather than left to right.
Each comic is vastly different in look, sound and overall feel, and each is a wonderful homage to its source material. Unfortunately while the game and the comic book styles are undoubtedly beautiful, they can cause the gameplay to suffer at times. The Manga is entirely in black and white and looks incredible, but means that enemies and particularly projectiles are very difficult to spot a lot of the time. The jungle theme, with its muddy palette of soft browns and greens suffers from the same trouble.
Even when not having to deal with these issues, the game is incredibly tough. Captain Smiley’s life can be depleted with four or five hits, even when the hero is fully upgraded. With the enemies coming thick and fast, no way to restore your health and far too long between checkpoints, expect to die a lot, and to have to replay half of the game as you’re sent back ten minutes to the last checkpoint.
It’s really frustrating losing that progress because outside the presentation and the incredible script full of genuine (no, really genuine) laugh out loud moments, the game can feel repetitive and monotonous, and replaying sections you’ve been through already is tedious. However different the comics may be in style, the gameplay is always the same. You run through the level aiming at and shooting enemies with the right stick and right trigger. However, the same enemies populate every style, albeit with a different look and so each stage feels similar, even though they look different.
To break the monotony, there are some variations on the standard gameplay that work to varying degrees. Occasionally the game transforms into an over-the-shoulder on rails shooter which plays great about half the time, with the other half using a camera so close behind Captain Smiley that much of the screen is obscured and it’s impossible to avoid hazards without memorising the enemy patterns. Further to those, there are also sections that play like a horizontal shooter, but with so much fire on screen an unclear hitbox makes this mode less fun than it could have been. Short QTE sequences make an appearance too, since it was decreed that any game that shipped without QTEs would be branded illegal and the creators sent to jail.
There are problems with the gameplay, but in a way the game's personality makes up for it. It frustrates but then within minutes you’ll be laughing again, the problems fade away and you’re happy to endure a bit of average gameplay to get to the next awesome cut-scene. There’s one thing the gameplay absolutely does have going for it.
It has a number of epic boss fights, and they are incredible. They take the aforementioned gameplay styles and tweak them slightly to create some tremendous moments. Each boss is massive and has loads of attack patterns to learn. While this means you’ll probably die a few times as something unexpected happens, it also means that every single time you fight a boss you learn more and get better. Soon you’ll really believe that you can beat a boss that wiped you out in seconds, without even taking damage. They’re epic, exciting, and great fun.
Completing levels earns cash, and this can be used to purchase upgrades for Captain Smiley. More health, stronger attacks etc are available. Suddenly, this changes the early part of the game. Rather than dying five or six times, early levels can be run through with ease and it turns into a speed run game with places on the leaderboards at stake. Here, the gameplay comes into its own as you work out who to kill, who’s safe to leave, and how to get through as quickly as possible for the maximum time bonus.
For those that are ready to moan about the 1200 point price, consider everything that Twisted Pixel have crammed in here to offer value. There’s a premium theme, gamer pictures, and some avatar awards (including Captain Smiley’s head). Quite uniquely though, there’s also some DLC for Splosion Man, consisting of a couple of levels if you happen to own that game already. It’s an interesting way of developing interest in their older titles, and both Splosion Man and The Maw are linked to in a small arcade in Captain Smiley’s base. The arcade machine of The Maw is worth checking out…
When you’re playing the game, the flaws are right there to be seen and it can be annoying, but as soon as you’re not, you forget them and just fondly remember how great it felt to be in that world, how stylish it was, how much it made you laugh. The relationship between Captain Smiley and Star. Star and Brad. It may not be the best game you’ll play this year, but it’ll certainly be the funniest.