The always-superbly-selling Weekly Shōnen Jump manga magazine has brought countless iconic characters to life over the years, including the stars of such anime shows as Dragon Ball Z and Yu-Gi-Oh! And now, to celebrate the mag’s 50th birthday, Bandai Namco Entertainment has thrust together fan favourite faces from Weekly Shōnen Jump’s manifold franchises into one massive fighting game.
Going by the title Jump Force, this title is sure to serve up heaps of fan service, with 40+ characters from the manga confirmed to appear. The story of the main campaign will see the real world colliding with the Shōnen Jump universes, prompting iconic heroes to team up in a newly formed ‘Jump Force’ and tackle the fiendish foes responsible.
Three-on-three tag-team content is the game’s central mechanic, and we got a good chance to check this out during a hands-on session (on a PS4) with Jump Force’s Versus mode. Separate from the main story, this mode allows you to pit any teams of three that you wish against each other in epic combat. We spent an hour and a half playing around in this mode, with the full roster of fighters, and this is how it went…
Without any tutorials to guide us, and without having the good sense to look at the combat controls on the pause menu, we jumped straight into a battle – we built a team around Son Goku from Dragon Ball Z and pitted him against an array of baddies including his old foe Frieza. And, well, we’re not ashamed to admit that we got absolutely thrashed.
If all you do is jump around and spam the colourful buttons on the front of your controller, you’re likely to get bested, and you’ll probably feel like you’re missing out on all the biggest moves. That’s because, as we learned after bothering to look at the menu, the key to unlocking the most powerful moves it to hold down the R2 button (or RT, presumably, if you’re on an Xbox). Doing so will bring up a list of special moves on the screen, which, depending on how much energy you have saved up, can deal massive amounts of damage to your enemies.
It’s these special moves that really make the characters come to life, and there’s something infinitely enjoyable about seeing Goku dish out massive attacks that will feel familiar to fans of his anime and manga outings. Using his biggest move even makes him go Super Saiyan, showing off a glowing second form that is bound to be a hit with his manifold admirers.
Certainly, as you’ll also find with Mortal Kombat and Injustice games, there’s a level of fun to be had by just flitting between characters and trying out all their special moves. This is basically what we did with our 90 minutes of gameplay, and we found that there are some really snazzy graphics at points, especially with the big-ticket moves. In fact, things get barmy and bombastic at regular intervals, and trying out these huge heavy hitters in conflict with your chums is bound to be a hoot.
The more you play, the more you’ll start to discover which characters really float your boat. Being most familiar with the Yu-Gi-Oh! and Dragon Ball Z side of things, we initially relished seeing Yugi Moto dishing out card-based attacks (including an epic dragon-summoning attack) and Goku dropping huge enemy balls on his iconic enemies.
But the more we played, the more we found other contenders for our affections: Ryo Saeba from City Hunter, who literally brought guns to a superpower fight, had a neat array of attacks including a really satisfying grenade launcher move. Dragon Shiryu and Pegasus Seiya, both from the Saint Seiya series, had cool armour and mystical attacks to match. Kaguya Ōtsutsuki from Naruto, meanwhile, had an entrancing floaty design and some surprisingly lethal moves.
Speaking of Naruto, the sand-based attacks at Gaara’s disposal seemed to be particularly rewarding to dish out, from his sneaky grab moves to a massive mausoleum-constructing special attack. There were also characters that looked really striking and unique, such as the ginormous pirate Marshall D. Teach, from the One Piece series, who unleashed some visually arresting onslaughts involving dark fruit.
Essentially, this was a really fun and varied roster to spend an hour and a half with. We’ve got a strong idea of who our top three choices would be for our tag team, and we look forward to testing our tactics against other players (as opposed to the tough-but-not-too-tough CPU settings we were up against in this preview).
As for nit-picks, we only have a few. The locations, although plentiful, didn’t feel particularly interactive. Compared to some of the smash-able and changeable locations we’ve seen in other fighting games franchises recently, Jump Force’s staging grounds felt a bit basic and static (although the battles within them were anything but).
There were also points at which the controls felt a bit fiddly. It could have just been us, but within 90 minutes we still hadn’t got to grips with effectively blocking (although the L1 quick-travel technique provided a handy dodge). We also found that it’s easy to get stuck in a string of combos that goes on for ages: while it’s fun to dish these out and see your enemies flail around hopelessly, it is frustrating when you get hit by the same sort of move and just have to watch your character get thrown around like a ragdoll for an indulgent amount of time. At these points, with the incessant attacks in full flow, the game’s yelp-heavy in-fight dialogue also became a bit grating.
But, for the most part, we did have a fun time with Jump Force’s Versus mode. Great mates who plan to play this game together should expect epic battles and familiar faces, along with a huge heap of eye-pleasing special moves. We’re looking forward to playing the full campaign and battling with other players, and we’ll be sure to bring you more thoughts once we have.
Jump Force is released in the UK for PS4, Xbox One and PC on 15 February.