We've played some ugly anime games in our time, but there's a special place in art style hell for Jump Force. What should be a grand celebration of all things Jump, this crossover fighter is loathsome in its portrayal of the awesome manga and anime heroes that make up its character roster.
Jump Force opts for a "realistic" visual style, and it immediately stains the entire experience. Colourful characters from global hits like Dragon Ball, One Piece, and Naruto, as well as classics like Saint Seiya and City Hunter, are thrown into our world. Their cartoonish body proportions remain, but their skin and clothes are given realistic textures, and their faces refuse to show even the slightest hint of emotion. The result is nothing short of horrific, with the majority of the cast looking like people wearing terrifying mascot suits in some sort of Jump theme park.
To make matters worse, the out-of-battle animation is truly awful. Cutscenes throughout the already clumsy campaign are impossible to take seriously thanks to some of the worst character animations that we've seen in a full price PS4 retail release. It's the kind of awkward motion-capture nightmare that was barely acceptable back on the PS2.
In a world where downright stunning anime-based brawlers like Dragon Ball FighterZ and Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 exist, it's baffling that anyone at Bandai Namco thought Jump Force looked okay. We're starting to rant now, but we just can't get over how bad Goku and the gang look. The scene where Frieza escapes the good guys by literally floating upwards off-screen -- without any additional animation -- has to be seen to be believed.
But there's more to games than just visuals, so let's move on. Jump Force is an arena brawler in the same vein as One Piece: Burning Blood. It's fast, flashy, and easy to play, with automatic, one-button combos and special attacks that swamp your screen in particle effects. Fortunately, the fighting is pretty fluid and fun, if basic. Despite looking dreadful in cutscenes, characters are animated quite well in combat, and the controls are smooth.
Aside from some annoyingly repetitive screaming, graphical flourishes and crunchy sound effects go a long way in adding impact to each hit, and as you can imagine, seeing all of these beloved Jump personalities go toe-to-toe in totally over-the-top brawls makes for an inherently cool spectacle.
Again, though, there's no obvious depth to the combat in Jump Force. That's not necessarily a bad thing for an accessible fighter like this, but it does mean that the gameplay loses a lot of its lustre after a while. It's not difficult to figure out how the most damaging combos work and put them into practice, and even though each character comes with their own unique special moves, they generally play with the same rhythm and flow. Once you're past the surface-level flashiness, it all gets just a bit repetitive.
The same could be said of the story, although as we've established, 'flashiness' isn't the right word to use when the game looks this confused. You play as your own custom character, and in very Dragon Ball XenoVerse fashion, you team up with an organisation (named Jump Force, of course) that comprises of heroes from throughout Jump history in order to save the world. From the Jump Force HQ, which acts as your freely-explorable hub, you go out on missions, pick up quests, and upgrade your abilities.
The fact that everything stems from this one hub area gives the game that MMO feel -- especially when you're playing online -- but getting around is cumbersome. The Jump Force HQ is pretty big, and running between the mission desk, the shop, and anywhere else quickly starts to grate. Even if you just want to play against a friend using your favourite Jump stars, you've got to load the game up and run over to the specified booth. Can we not just have a menu on the start screen for this?
And speaking of loading, the load times are a real pain. Bandai Namco has said that they'll soon be improved, but it's going to take a lot of tweaking to make them acceptable. Load screens separate almost everything. They bookmark even the shortest of cutscenes, they last what feels like an age before each fight, and they even appear when you just want to customise your avatar.
Playing through the story of Jump Force is an absolute slog, so you'll often find yourself wanting to just skip straight to the action. Fortunately, fighting other players online is always an option, and if you've got any anime-loving friends nearby, kicking the snot out of one another in local versus can be good fun. When you're just fighting and enjoying the base satisfaction in seeing all of these Jump characters come together, Jump Force is fine. It's just a shame that so, so much more could have been done beyond that initial concept.
Jump Force can be fun with friends when you're just looking for a quick and easy scrap, but as a celebration of all things Jump, it's a borderline embarrassment. Thanks to a truly egregious art style and comically bad story presentation, this is an accessible and often fun crossover brawler let down by its disappointingly shoddy packaging. Ultimately, it's difficult not to feel as though all of these classic manga and anime properties deserve much better than Jump Force.