There's something about seeing iconic characters crossover and duke it out in dream match-ups that makes a good game great. Jump Force is that game, a celebration of manga and the heroes (and villains) that come from that world. So throughout the overlong and unnecessary campaign, its still hard not to smile seeing Luffy partner up with Vegeta or witness the creation of some other out-of-this-world super-powered duo. With all its quirks and borrowed game play elements, Jump Force makes a name for itself as a fun fighting game, nearly on roster alone.
2018 marked the 50th Anniversary of the Shonen Jump manga series. In celebration of this weekly anthology's legacy, Bandai Namco partnered with publishers Shueisha to make Jump Force, a fighting game featuring the very best fighters of the world of manga. It's a veritable who's-who of ninjas, pirates, and warriors, spanning series like Dragon Ball, Naruto, and One Piece, to name only a few. The game features an impressive 42 character roster (with planned DLC) so it's easy to get lost in the selection screen. But once the players find their way to an actual battle, the anime action impresses in spades.
Jump Force is an arena fighting game, similar to Tekken or the Naruto series of brawlers. Characters move around in a 3D space, chipping away at each other's health bars with increasingly powerful attacks. Not to be unoriginal, the game also borrows a popular mechanic from 2D fighters, namely the ability to swap between three different fighters. This tag-team mechanic was of course popularized by Marvel vs. Capcom, but is also seen in the more recent tournament favorite Dragon Ball FighterZ. Though in these titles the characters each have their own health bar, in Jump Force, the three share one.
What initially feels like an odd choice actually helps to de-emphasize the tagging out of characters in a positive way. Characters can still be swapped in and out frequently, which can help with breaking out of long combos or occasionally lead to the start of a powerful counterattack. Each also has the ability to hop into the ring for a moment for an assist. But without the recharging of health bars (seen in both aforementioned games), there's less strategy to the team build. If a player prefers a certain hero, they could feasibly use them for the entire round. Inversely, it feels like Jump Force should simply offer the ability to play games with tag teams or simply 1v1, though this is not a necessary addition.
The fighting itself in Jump Force feels like the source material come to life. Each attack shakes the ground and sends enemies flying. Players will often find themselves having to chase down their opponent because they've simply knocked them too far away. There are of course basic attacks and grabs; it's easy and fun to string them together to deal massive damage. Blocking is difficult to pull off with the fast-paced movement and frenetic (some might say button-mashing) style of the game. Constantly dodging and staying on your toes is the only way to avoid getting hit around the arena like a punching bag.
However, a round of Jump Force won't see too much action of the basic attack-variety, and that's a good thing. Where the game truly shines is in its use of special moves. Each character has three main specials that use a certain amount of special meter (built up through damage or by charging) and one "awakening" move. The three main specials are already ridiculous enough, with some summoning dragons or rocket launchers or blades from the ether. But the awakening move puts all those to shame. These insanely powerful moves come straight out of manga heaven (or hell) and can take out about 1/3 of an opponents health bar. Most are impossible to dodge, and some have about a 15 second "movie" that accompanies them, but they're all amazing to watch. Even if your the one getting pummeled by a special move, it's hard not to laugh at the destructive beauty of the scenario.
Jump Force is a fighting game and it does the 1v1 action right. Many of its struggles come from finding its own voice as a single-player experience. Similar to FighterZ, the game features a hub-world that players must traverse around in using their customized avatar. Here they can accept single-player missions, play online, and more. It would be a totally acceptable premise if it didn't suffer from an awful framerate online. Additionally, the world itself is far too large for the limited amounts of things to do. There are several places where the selection options are the same; why not just cut out the redundancies? It takes time to get from one spot to another and (at least at this stage) feels massively empty and hollow.
This quality of hollowness unfortunately carries over into the campaign, where characters cameo and reference their worlds, but nothing is genuine. It's all fan service with none of the bite, action, or humor that really makes each of the individual mangas stand out. Most of the "jokes" are about characters being hungry; perhaps the younger audiences will eat this stuff up. The plot itself is bare bones, but functional. Simply put, all the worlds (or Jumps) have now merged with Earth, giving Frieza free reign to try to take over our planet. It's up to the Jump Force, an elite group of heroes (including you), to stop him and his minions. Missions see the player fighting different villains (think Super Smash Bros. campaigns but overlong and with too many cutscenes) as their customized avatar.
The avatar creation is a blast; it thankfully allows a player to add an additional female character to the disappointing lack of women present. Players can choose a fighting style, add big hair, and enter the ring as someone totally unique. A player's character might actually end up being the most palatable of all of the roster. In addition to not quite nailing the voice of each manga hero, Jump Force doesn't do a great job of making them all "fit" in our world. Goku standing next to Luffy feels right and wrong at the same time, their conflicting animation styles and textured 3D appearances not quite uncanny enough to ruin the joy of their union.
Because that's what Jump Force is all about. It's the Smash Bros. of manga, a collection of favorites and newcomers alike that finally get to face one another in battle. So even with the concessional misstep or missed opportunity, enjoyment is guaranteed.
More: Metro Exodus Review
Jump Force is available on February 15, 2019 on PC, PS4, and Xbox One for $59.99. Screen Rant was provided with a PS4 copy for purposes of this review.