Jump Force: in praise of its one killer feature

Jump Force may not be a perfect game, but one element of it makes for a really enjoyable time...

Jump Force is a fighting game that mashes together various worlds from the Weekly Shōnen Jump manga magazine, which has spawned iconic anime series and popular movies over the fifty years of its existence. As we spoke about in our hands-on preview of the game, there is a certain joy to be found in pitting characters from universes of Dragon Ball Z and Death Note (to name just two of the manifold franchises that are plumbed into the game) in unlikely battles against each other. But there is, now that we’ve spent some more time Jump Force, one feature in the game which we’d say is even better than the madcap mismatched battles.

This killer feature is not, unfortunately, the lengthy single-player campaign mode’s story. Although we had been looking forward to it, the game’s core play-on-your-own narrative segment is something of a disappointment, consisting of highly repetitive battles and brief uninspiring cut-scenes that are linked together with incessant loading screens. But, thankfully, there was an ever-present feature in the game that made us want to keep on playing. And since we’re not that keen on slagging things off just for the sake of it here on Den Of Geek, let’s focus on that positive instead of dwelling on the bits of Jump Force that don’t spark joy.

What was that ever-present piece of Jump Force that kept the game engaging? Well, funnily enough, it was me. Or rather, the avatar of myself that the game instructed me to make during the opening cut-scene. With a nice variety of options for body sizes, haircuts and facial features, Jump Force allows the player to create a crude but loveable facsimile of themselves – be they male or female – before they’ve even taken part in a fight. Of course, Jump Force isn’t the first or last game to let you make your own fighter, but it’s rare that you see a fighting game that puts your custom creation in such a vital position in the experience.

As the opening cut-scene (which you see before any menus or options) explains, baddies from the Weekly Shōnen Jump multiverse have made it into the ‘real world’ and are intent on causing chaos. Your player-character is caught up in the carnage as Frieza from Dragon Ball Z attacks the centre of New York. Trunks (also from the Dragon Ball universe) decides to resurrect you as a hero by sticking a cybernetic ‘umbras cube’ into your innards without even buying you a drink first. That’s when you get to design your own character, in a nice easy-to-handle customisation screen.

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You’re dead one moment and a superhuman the next. And the moment after that, you’re thrown into a combat tutorial against one of Frieza’s goons. The controls are pretty easy to pick up, so you won’t struggle here. And once you’ve finished this rudimentary training, you’re taken back to a big base to meet the Jump Force – this is the name given to the Weekly Shōnen Jump characters, who seem to be fully aware that they’re comic book heroes that aren’t from the real world. It’s quite a silly concept – an ordinary person that was wandering around New York is immediately given superpowers and sent to mingle with Goku and his chums – but it’s fun to just go along with it.

There’s even some not-clear-if-its-intentional humour which kicks in here, as it becomes clear that your character – despite having a voice to shout commands in battle – is going to be completely mute in every single cut-scene. As various manga icons explain that the world is in terrible danger and you need to learn super-abilities in order to save it, the avatar you just made quietly nods and makes unbreaking eye-contact with everyone. You’re clearly ready for this.

You get the choice of three teams to join within the Jump Force, so if there are particular characters that you want to hang out with, now is the time to tailor your experience and state a preference. But, whichever way you go, the central hub of the game will be the same: there are shops where you can buy new threads, counters where you can pick up missions, and familiar faces dotted around who you can interact with whenever you want.

Your team leader will give you some extra training, and explain that you’ve already learned some special skills from the members of your chosen team. If you joined Goku’s team, this will mean you’ve already picked up the ability to dish out an awesome “Kamehameha!” attack, among other visually appeal assault techniques. Goku’s buried the lead here, though, because what you’ve actually got is the ability to learn shed-loads of moves from any random character that you like in the game.

When you complete battles, your character gets experience and levels up. But you also get some sweet sweet coin, which you can spend in the aforementioned shops. Don’t waste it on robes, though, when there are some perfectly fine T-shirts and trousers for free in the customisation screen. Do what any sensible person would do in this scenario and spend your hard-earned unspecified currency on massive damage-dealing attacks with which to smite your enemies (most of whom are really nice people that just got brainwashed).

This feature gives you something to use as an incentive, which adds a great deal to Jump Force‘s playability, especially where the main campaign is concerned. The set-ups to every battle may be incredibly samey, and most of the cut-scenes very tempting to skip, but completing more battles will help you unlock more moves and earn the dosh to buy them with. Before you know it, the random civilian that Trunks picked up off the streets of New York has transformed into the most bad-ass battler the multiverse has ever seen.

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You can carry four special moves at any one time, and you can compile these from a really wide range of characters. This means you can either take it seriously and go after the stats and move-types that you want (having a good long-range attack comes in handy quite often), or you can just pick moves that look cool and/or weird. “Kamehameha” is just the beginning; you can compile a skillset that includes massive sandstorms, inexplicable dragons, magic swords and ridiculous guns that fire heart-shaped kisses.

Yes, there are still lots of loading screens and there isn’t much in the way of an engaging story, but seeing your mild-mannered human civilian becoming an increasingly powerful hero with an utterly stupendous array of talents is a very fun thing to do. There’s a weird sort of wish-fulfilment to it. You’ll nod politely in a cutscene and make some awkward eye-contact (which is pretty relatable to most of us when it comes to heavy conversations), and then you’ll come into your own during a battle and dish out more damage than a bull in a china shop.

Although it is nice to see all of the manga worlds collide, and the fighting controls are easy enough to pick up and play for a good time with your mates, we’d argue that the on-going appeal of Jump Force is in this: training up your bespoke character to be the best battler in the multiverse, a dragon-summoning and baddie-demolishing master of mayhem that combines all the best skills of the Shōnen Jump franchise but never takes a moment of brag about it (or say anything).

This may not have been what we were expecting from Jump Force, but this hugely customisable central character is still a killer feature that makes the game more than the sum of its parts. And, when the campaign chucks another generic battle at you, it’s a fun reason to keep playing regardless.

Jump Force is out now for PS4, Xbox One and PC.