• Jump Super Stars Review - Nintendo DS

    Before E3 2006, it seemed that most people had forgotten Jump Super Stars. Close to a year after a flurry of reports from various media outlets about its stellar launch in Japan, the game had suddenly become almost invisible among the videogame community and the media Ė especially in the West. Admittedly, despite the globalisation of the games market, Japan-only games usually remain in relative obscurity Ė even in the quirky DS import market, the success of Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! notwithstanding. But what is strange about the case of Jump Super Stars is that even Nintendo seemed to have forgotten about its own game.

    E3 proved that these fears were unfounded, but at the same time it also confirmed that Nintendoís priorities had shifted. With the popularity of the titles in the "Touch! Generations" series (Brain Training, Nintendogs, etc.) soaring, it seems that Jump Super Stars has been pushed aside in turn to promote a different image for the DS. There was enough interest in the game to warrant a sequel, but the announcement of a follow-up, Jump Ultimate Stars, came by word of Jump! magazine (the "sponsor" of the game) with nary a mention at the exhibition. Perhaps the understated announcement was a hint that JSS was considered a relative disappointment; despite the hype, the game didnít set the world alight, and this in turn strengthened the fear that, in comparison to games like Touch! Kirby (AKA Kirbyís Magic Paintbrush/Kirby: Canvas Curse), the fighting game genre wasnít entirely suitable for the platform.

    Indeed, always being described as a "Super Smash Bros. clone with manga characters," it was going to be difficult for Jump Super Stars to establish a unique presence in the DS market, especially when thereís nothing immediately obvious to set it apart from the likes of Guilty Gear: Dust Strikers. Like SSB (and its sequel), the fighting in JSS is set in an open, multi-levelled arena with occasional items strewn around the stage, featuring up to four characters engaged in a free-for-all mÍlťe displaying relatively limited moves (light and strong attacks, jump, defend, and a couple of special techniques), ensconced in exaggerated physics and bold, colourful graphics. However, despite superficial similarities, perhaps JSS actually shares more ideas with Capcomís long-running series of cross-over games, such as Marvel vs. Capcom. Because what makes JSS different and really interesting goes beyond the influence of SSB. Well, maybe not beyond: it would be more accurate to say that the innovation of JSS happens below the action.

    As if validating its inclusion into the ranks of "worthy" DS games, the whole touch screen of the DS is dedicated to a blue grid of squares controlled entirely through the touch interface thatís essentially subservient to the "real" action occurring in the upper screen. This is what the game calls the koma system, through which you can switch characters, aid and change the status of fighters, request help and organise special combos and techniques not accessible through any button combination.

    What makes it essential to the complexity and enjoyment of the game is its customisable, trading-card-game-like aspect, to which the atoms of the koma system, the koma themselves, are key. A koma refers to a square frame that forms a part of a manga page, and in the game each koma has a specific function or effect broadly categorised within three groups (Help, Support, and Battle) which in turn can be arranged, comic-book/manga-style upon the grid to build up your own "deck" for battles.

    JSS promotes a more tactical facet to fighting, with multiple characters for each turn and an emphasis on character balance and attributes, so deck-building becomes a crucial ability to play the game, as battles can be won or lost before any character has put his or her foot down in the battle stage. Moreover, the game demands quite a significant amount of flexibility on the part of the player, thanks to a koma-quota and the limitations of the grid. Youíre encouraged to move away from the idea of a perfect koma deck and build several different decks for different situations. (Itís very easy to get lost for hours at a time customising decks, once you have gotten over the slight user-unfriendliness of the interface Ė especially after having unlocked a substantial amount of koma.)

    It sounds complicated and quite confusing, but the game eases you into using the system quite successfully with help menus and tutorials available at any time to teach you about the koma system. Interestingly, however, despite this and the inclusion of a training mode, itís the single-player "Adventure" mode that emerges as a quite substantial tutorial for the game. In essence itís an expansive tour of the game made up of short lessons, special missions, and battles against the various characters from the Jump! manga universe, all wrapped around an unspectacular "save the world" storyline.

    The lack of complexity of this mode is made up for by the sheer amount of goals to be conquered at each stage. Except for a long stretch in the final stages, the various goals (throwing enemies off-stage, breaking barrels, and juggling treasure chests) are quite varied and addictive Ė perfect for bite-size chunks. And, at the same time, these additions make the game a very personal experience, as itís through the single-player mode that you get to know the game and build up and test your decks. What seems an annoyance at first is a well-paced training regime to get accustomed to the battle and koma systems. (Although the simple AI of the enemy characters and strict goals of some stages threaten to spoil the experience at times.)

    However, despite its wide scope, the Adventure mode is disappointingly constricted and incomplete. For a game that boasts such a vast universe based on its manga roots, it comes as a surprise to find that the game ends so suddenly, without fulfilling its promise. Itís not the anti-climactic nature of the "story," its role as a tutorial, or the progress of the last third of the adventure thatís disappointing per se; whether it was so intended, the slight incompleteness of the Adventure mode feels like a prod to graduate to whatís arguably the central pillar of the game, the multiplayer mode.

    Itís in the multi-player mÍlťe that JSS truly comes alive, and itís fascinating to see the game in its full-fledged glory, as the possibilities of the game system are taken to their apex. Freed from the constraints of goals or AI, multiplayer battles are infused with a freedom of carnivalesque cartoon fighting that resembles another Capcom game, Power Stone, in its wacky zaniness. Not in terms of fighting viewpoints or environments (arenas are generally sparse, which is slightly disappointing), but in the sheer amount of action that occurs in any battle.

    What JSS does best is suggest that at any given moment youíre likely to be assaulted by fireballs, flying punches, and giant pink turds Ė and youíre supposed to fight back like any self-respecting cartoon hero would in that situation. At its worst, the game can seem like just a nonsensical, chaotic mess of flailing limbs; at its best, (especially with a large number of players) itís a chaotic free-for-all right out of the pages of a manga, with its own logic and momentum.

    And itís a pleasure to see that the game handles multiplayer battles adroitly: fully-featured combat in multi-card mode is expected, of course, but even in the limited single-card mode (which only allows players to choose among pre-set decks) it manages to be quite entertaining. Thereís an added perk to multi-card playing, too: building upon the trading-card-like aspect of the koma system, the game allows players to trade decks with other JSS owners.

    Inevitably, however, the constraints that held back the Adventure mode are magnified in the multiplayer mode. More than any other criticism, itís ironic that the weaknesses of JSS are exacerbated by the reason for which the game was made: the various manga licenses provide such a wide scope that it would be almost impossible for any game to meet its expectations. The relatively limited choice of stages and characters in the game is the worst symptom of this problem, but one wishes that it had been handled more evenly: itís odd to see that a series such as Bleach, with its large cast of characters, is represented by only one character when other series like One Piece are represented too well.

    A few other details also let the game down. The variety of goals that one encounters in the Adventure mode is nowhere to be seen in the multiplayer mode: there are no fruit-collecting or barrel-destroying mÍlťes, just KO and survival modes, customisable only by team options, the length and location of the bouts. Adding to the disappointment is the feeling that the koma system itself feels as if it holds the action back, acting as a mini-monolith in battles that would be more interesting if there were more flexibility and interactivity with other players within and before battles.

    Indeed, what ultimately holds the game back is its conservatism: a deep-seated desire to play it safe, whether itís in terms of graphics, sound, design, or fighting system. On its own, JSS remains a charming and fun game, full of energy and enthusiasm that, like the characters in the game, is incredibly optimistic about the fact that this its own "ultimate showdown", full of pirates, ninjas, and outer-space primates. But the concept behind the game holds so much potential, and presented such a great chance for Nintendo and Ganbarion to expand their game portfolio in one great stride, that it reeks of a missed opportunity. Yes, itís a fun game, but Jump Super Stars could have been even more super. Perhaps itís no coincidence that, instead of adding a numeral after the name, the upcoming sequel has been titled Jump Ultimate Stars.

    (Note: Prospective importers of the game should be cautioned that Jump Super Stars features very little English script and most menus and goals in the single-player Adventure mode are written in Japanese. Fortunately, the Internet is replete with guides, but non-Japanese speakers are cautioned that referencing may be required before each level to unlock everything in the game.)


    Text by: David Teixeira

    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Mairus's Avatar
      Mairus -
      yea I remember it, fun game
    1. MikeWill07's Avatar
      MikeWill07 -
      Wow, those are fond memories, thanks for the description. But I don't think I have the perseverance to get to the end
    1. kryss's Avatar
      kryss -
      Getting all the manga sections unlocked was enough for me. Shame the sequel went in another direction for character unlocks, it just didn't hold my interest.
    1. Mairus's Avatar
      Mairus -
      yesterday I completed the full run of this game, very cool, a lot of memories!