Jump Force Review: A Fun Anime Brawler That Deserves More

The most ambitious anime fighting game is finally here. Jump Force takes all of your favorite characters from the Shōnen Jump manga anthology, like Goku, Naruto and Luffy, and throws them into a chaotic three versus three arena fighting game. With the premise that anime characters are invading the real world, it’s time to band these iconic heroes together and fight back. But is Jump Force any good? Well, it's a mixed bag.

Why Didn't You Dodge?

What makes Jump Force worth playing is its gameplay and huge character roster, which currently sits at 42. There will be nine more added through DLC at a later date.

The gameplay is relatively simple, but it has enough flavors to keep it entertaining. You have your rush attack and heavy attack (which have up and down variations) as well as a throw and guard move. You can switch characters into a combo or call for an assist, but you have only one collective health bar among your chosen three, which isn't bad because otherwise the matches would drag on forever.

The biggest problem with arena-fighting games is that they typically feel clunky and the outcome of the battle can easily be manipulated with spam tactics. However, Jump Force felt somewhat more balanced, as it also features escape maneuvers, counters and quick evades in combat.

You also have your abilities (supermoves), which are displayed on a wheel brought up by the Right Trigger (R1 for PS4). Holding that same button will actually charge your energy, making ability moves more seamless to use. The abilities (like the Kamehameha) are the most satisfying to use, but they aren't as overpowering as you’d expect. You can block or evade most of them, given enough time.

Jump Force doesn’t go crazy in-depth with the combat mechanics, but it's just enough to make the game fun. When you add that to characters and character movesets that you recognize, it's easy to be wowed by it all.

There are stronger super moves called Awakenings (like the Spirit Bomb), which activate based on a separate gauge that is naturally gained throughout the battle. At 50 percent, you can activate the ability, but at 100 percent, your character can enter an Awakened state. For example, Goku's Awakened state is his Super Saiyan form, which instantly makes me feel like a badass.

Jump Force doesn't go crazy in-depth with the combat mechanics, but it's just enough to make the game fun. When you add that to characters and movesets that you recognize, it's easy to be wowed by it all.

However, the one thing that I wish that the developers, Spike Chunsoft, had put more time into was the movement. When you're in the thick of combat, it feels natural, but if your opponent is far away, you either have to dash toward them and waste your evade gauge, or awkwardly walk there, which takes forever. All in all, there needs to be a sprint button.

Stylish

I give Spike Chunsoft the utmost praise for making each and every move look stylish as hell. While the gritty art style may look a little off putting on some of your favorite characters, they actually look best when their moves are put into action in the midst of the game's realistic maps.

Nothing can compare to hitting someone with Sasuke's Awakening, summoning the power of a giant Thunder God and blasting them away above the streets of New York City. The eye- popping colors that wash over the screen and the sharp details of each character create an intense scene straight out of an anime.

There are 12 stages that cover iconic locations anywhere from the Hidden Leaf Village to San Francisco. Within those stages are multiple areas that you can fight in, and to access them you basically have to punch your opponent really hard (charged heavy > charged rush) when you have your Awakening gauge ready.

The eye-popping colors that wash over the screen and the sharp details of each character create an intense scene straight out of an anime.

The structures in each stage are gorgeous, and while there isn't much to interact with, your moves will create craters and burn marks in the ground, which makes each move feel like it's making an impact.

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However, similar to the gameplay, I wish more time was focused on animation of the movement. Walking and stopping suddenly looks so stiff and jarring, especially when all of the combat moves are smooth and tight.

Where's My JUMP FORCE?

One aspect of Jump Force that completely blindsided me was that the main character is actually your own custom character creation, which was an awful decision.

The game starts with villains like Frieza invading New York and then killing you off, until you're revived as a hero with an umbras cube. Now you're conscripted into helping the heroes fight back against the masterminds attempting to take over the multiverse: Kane and Galena.

The main character is actually your own custom character creation, which was an awful decision.

As a fan of Shōnen Jump, I could care less about my own character in a story like this. I want to play as the characters from my favorite series and I want to see them interact with each other rather than constantly showing a new kid (my character) the ropes. Even when I'm in a campaign mission, I never use my own character anyway unless I have to.

Of course, it doesn't help that the dialogue is incredibly cringeworthy, and the cutscenes look so bad that it makes TeamFourStar's abridged series look like canon. Some of the characters don't act how you'd expect them too, as well. For example, Goku seemed slightly more intelligent than he should've been, and Vegeta said "thank you" at some point to my character… Yeah, I call bologna.

A Lack of Polish

What makes Jump Force so grueling to play are its loading screens. Each loading screen takes about 30 to 40 seconds to finish, and in one of the campaign missions, I had at least nine separate screens occur in between fights. It’s not a good sign when fights can finish faster than the game could load.

Another glaring issue is the constant drop in frames during the fights and cutscenes. Heck, even the loading screens dropped in frames as well, and I'm playing Jump Force on an Xbox One X. That’s just ridiculous. And despite those long loading times, the game would play cutscenes when all of the character models and objects weren't be fully rendered yet, so everything looked like mush for a good 5 seconds.

It feels like no one tested this game to see if it was acceptable to be released.

There should have been more love given to the main menu settings as well, like adding the option to remap the controls, which every fighting game should have. I also wish there was an option to turn off the motion blur, yet another common option in settings nowadays.

The hub experience is a complete mess. There's no way to sprint, so getting from the center of the hub to one of the three team bases takes forever. The map does have a fast travel function, but for some reason, you have to hold Y to pull up the map, whereas it could have been easily mapped to the View button (Touchpad on PS4) for an instantaneous single click.

Before you talk to people in the hub, an arrow appears above their head to indicate who you are targeting, but there’s no way to accurately control the arrow besides sporadically turning your head until it lands where it needs to.

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Granted, some of my issues with the hub are nitpicks, but it feels like no one tested this game to see if it was acceptable to be released.

Remember Your Roots

For those who don't know, Jump Force is actually a spiritual successor to a game called J-Stars Victory VS, which was also developed by Spike Chunsoft.

J-Stars was by no means a great game, but it was crazy fun because it offered fun modes like J-Adventure and Victory Road. The former was a campaign mode with an open-world design that let you travel around on Luffy's ship, partake in side quests and pick up loot, and the latter was a co-op capable arcade mode delivered via a map that would expand as you progress.

Jump Force's Key Missions and Free Missions are the equivalent modes, but they lack in presentation, as they're delivered through a monotonous mission list, and there's no local co-op. J-Stars' campaign was delivered through a charming text-based narrative, while Jump Force's cutscenes were a poorly 3D-animated mess.

If you combined the game modes of J-Stars and the gameplay of Jump Force, I think you'd have a pretty solid game on your hands.

Bottom Line

Jump Force is a schlocky B-movie-esque fighting game. It has a ton of horrible qualities, especially in its design and animations, but it also garners a sort of charm as well. The combat is incredibly satisfying and the animations are pretty darn stylish.

The biggest disappointment, however, was that its campaign and side missions did not live up to its spiritual predecessor whatsoever. Even with the other glaring issues, the improvement of these modes would have made this game worth buying on launch.

Fortunately, a lot of the issues that Jump Force has can be fixed with an update. But until Spike Chunsoft comes in and does some polishing, I would hold off unless there's a major sale.

Credit: Bandai Namco Entertainment