The last video game from Twisted Pixel was a ridiculous exploration of how good a game you can get out of a character who only explodes. Their new hero has a worse affliction. He stars in a bad comic book.
I watched a developer from Twisted Pixel play through part of the first level of Xbox Live Arcade-targeted Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley at PAX East here in Boston today. The poor Captain was trapped in the equivalent of a bad 90's Image comic (possibly the only logical explanation for the strange shape of the the damsel in distress' body). Comic Jumper's levels will span four hopefully-recognizable comic book styles, with a new look for its hero in each one. The rest are secret, but today I could watch Captain Smiley fight his way through the one that is supposed to stink.
The Captain is in a bad comic. His villains are lame. His adventures are corny. At some point in the game, Twisted Pixel's Michael Wilford told me, Smiley will consult none other than Twisted Pixel itself to get him into better comics. Those will be the later levels, set beyond today's pathetic stand-off against Dr. Winklemeyer, a mad scientist upset about bank fees, beyond later parts of the demo level that pit Smiley against his arch-nemesis, Brad.
The gameplay in Comic Jumper is more varied than that of 'Splosion Man or Twisted Pixel's other Xbox Live Arcade game, The Maw. The bank heist bit I saw featured Smiley running through side-scrolling action, with two face buttons triggering melee moves that knocked Winklemeyer's goons off the screen, often back into the background. Once Brad showed up in his helicopter with his girl robots and cheesy theme song, Comic Jumper had turned into more of a side-scrolling shooter, a la Contra or Gunstar Heroes. Wilford was able to play Contra-style, shooting in the direction he was moving as long as held down an action button — or with directional shooting contro,l using the Xbox 360 controller's right trigger in combination with the right thumbstick.
During one brief bit of action, the game had Smiley bashing through doors while the action was shown from more of a behind-the-back perspective. The controls were reduced to quick-time-style event timers, each prompting specific button presses to let the Captain smash through his enemies. Soon afterward I saw the beginning of an intentionally cliched boss batte: Captain Smiley vs. Brad's helicopter.
The game is intentionally silly. Smiley's talking chest emblem, Star, wishes he was Brad's emblem and kisses up to Brad every time the arch-nemesis shows up. He wants to talk favorite foods with Brad, while he just wants to tell Smiley that he sucks.
Captain Smiley is, in theory, a super-hero. I asked Wilford what the captain's powers are. "He thinks he's awesome," Wilford replied. "He thinks he's invincible, but he's not."
Twisted Pixel is trying to mix a lot of gameplay styles together for Comic Jumper and hopes to tell a fun story rooted in the development team's love for comics. For the team the game is also a technology milestone, adding new styles of lighting as well as larger, streaming levels.
For Twisted Pixel fans the game seems likely to be another absurd adventure. The question is whether the studio can be as creatively successful with a more varied offering of gameplay styles in this new game than they wielded in the more pure prior games, The Maw and 'Splosion Man. This new game will be out, on XBox Live Arcade, with answers, later this year.