Jumping Flash! Review
Posted by Jamie O'Neill
Buy it, don't Robbit
Republished on Tuesday, 2nd December 2014: We're bringing this review back from the archives to celebrate the PSone's big 20th Anniversary this week. The original text follows.
Originally published on Saturday, 5th October 2013: The 16-bit console wars were merciless. During the early concept stage of the PlayStation console, Sony took part in an ill-fated collaboration with Nintendo to create a CD-ROM add-on for the SNES. In September 1995, Jumping Flash! was a PSone launch title, and it's the type of game that makes you wonder what would have happened if Nintendo hadn't engaged in their infamous double dealing. Published by Sony, but created by a little known developer called Exact Inc., Jumping Flash! feels visually like the natural continuation of games from the Super Famicom era, but presented through 32-bit polygon worlds.
Viewed from a first-person perspective, the gameplay in Jumping Flash! still feels fresh today. You pilot and control a gigantic robotic rabbit, unsurprisingly named Robbit, across 18 stages that are spread over six worlds. Each level is a floating island, and there is a light-headed sense of exhilaration and verticality as Robbit triple jumps upwards, ascending platforms and searching to collect four hidden carrot-shaped jetpods. Robbit reaches the dizzying heights of Super Mario Sunshine's rocket nozzle, but with a greater sense of control, because with each leap Robbit looks downward, allowing you to judge where to land based upon his shadow.
As a very early PSone game, Jumping Flash! isn't graphically flawless. The game has basic models, and a close-up inspection of environmental textures demonstrates rugged pixelation, plus the frame rate isn't always smooth. However, there is an abundance of character in its art style and in the theme it presents for each world, even if it re-establishes generic ideas for environments. You may expect a lava based stage, but its frying pan egg trampoline will surprise you. Elsewhere, the way the blustery wind redirects Robbit mid-air, while traversing transparent gem platforms, looks fanciful in the icy blue snowflake level. The developer displays copious amounts of imagination, so you won't be able to guess what's coming next, whether it's floating across hot air balloons beside a fairy tale castle, or riding a wavy rainbow conveyor belt past a Ferris wheel, across a purple pastel skyline.
Special credit must be given to the musical work of Takeo Miratsu, as the way he has matched fitting tunes to each graphical theme amplifies the personality of the game. The first stage's visuals and audio draws flattering parallels with Klonoa, and perfectly set the mood for blue skies, with picket fenced windmills and cottages. Miratsu journeys his compositions from ancient Egyptian sounding concepts to jaunty jingles. He sets an underwater maze section of world 4-2 to creepy music, echoing it with a Jaws inspired heart beat to orchestrate prowling sharks through a sunken pirate ship.
You'll quickly discover your favourite track, but world 5-1 is particularly memorable. It has a traditional theme for a city setting in East Asia, which recalls Konami's strong audio work on The Legend of the Mystical Ninja. Sometimes a core tune is repeated in its following stage, but it's reinvigorated with a faster and higher pitched melody. Even the stage select screen, with wah-wah pedal guitar licks, and the game over screen's taunting laughter at the player's ineptitude, have been included with flair and creativity.
The story in Jumping Flash! is as quirky as its presentation. It places the player in charge of pest control for the Galactic Municipal Council, so you must climb into the cockpit of Robbit to stop a mad scientist called Baron Aloha from attacking six floating worlds. Therefore, the third stage in each world is a battle against a bizarre boss, as the Baron follows in Dr. Robotnik's footsteps and is just as ingenious at creating dastardly enemy contraptions. These unique encounters include a fire breathing dragon, a claw firing scorpion, and a missile hurling shell tank. Later on you'll confront a transforming cube robot, and most unusual of all, a clown genie who pops his head and arms out of rotating tea cups. There are seven bosses in total, because you must also face a doppelgänger of Robbit, before confronting Baron Aloha face-to-face. Once you beat each world, you are treated to a short amusing cut-scene, where the Baron's defeated minions drown their sorrows and hang their heads in shame.
Gameplay predominantly consists of reaching the most advantageous high point in a stage, and scouring the environment to pinpoint the position of four jetpods, or a difficult to reach exit pad. In this respect, it's similar to a Tony Hawk skateboarding game, although simpler controls for Robbit's triple jumps make traversing each Jumping Flash! stage surprisingly accessible, even if the inclusion of a map would have been a welcome supplement to the in-game radar. As a launch PSone game, the controls are functional, although the lack of a DualShock controller in 1995 means that you move with the d-pad and use the R1 button as a camera to look up-and-down. Also, you can press down on the d-pad for a quick turnaround, but it would have been beneficial if Robbit could turn 180° more efficiently during boss fights.
Worlds 2-2 and 4-2 offer a change of style to the gameplay, as they are set in maze-like corridors, and feel slightly like a Japanese arcade take on a DOOM first-person shooter. It's notable that some of the developers of Jumping Flash! also worked on shoot-'em-ups, including an earlier Exact Inc. side-scrolling shooter on Sharp X68000 called Naious. Also, Shigeo Maruyama was Executive Producer for both Jumping Flash! and the 1995 PSone shmup Philosoma. Therefore, in Jumping Flash! you gather special items that increase your firepower with rockets, cherry bombs, twister attacks, and laser spewing Roman candles. You can hold three special items at one time, and although Robbit can bounce on enemy heads like a traditional platform game, there is an added focus on shooting in this title. There are extra power-ups dotted around the environment and dropped by thwarted enemies, which allow for invincibility, or freeze the stage's time limit and reward you with additional lives. Examine each stage thoroughly and you may uncover a hidden ring, which transports Robbit to a bonus stage where you must burst all of the balloons for an extra life.
Jumping Flash! is a short game, which encourages the player to keep moving to stay ahead of each stage's ten minute time limit. You will potentially complete it in approximately two hours on your first attempt, but the arcade pacing of this platform title ensures that it is fun to return to stages for attempting a speed run. Robbit begins each world with three lives, which he loses when his energy bar reaches zero, after he plummets off the edge of a stage, or when the time limit runs out. There are unlimited continues, and once you reach a stage you can load it from a save slot to replay it whenever you desire via the menu select screen, but you must still beat each world using your allocated number of lives. Therefore, if all of your lives are lost in the third stage of a world, you will need to return to that world's first stage all over again.
Exact Inc. has added some longevity to Jumping Flash! by including a number of enticing secrets to discover. When you first beat the main 18 stages in the game, you unlock an Extra mode, where you must play through all of the stages again with a significantly tighter time limit and rearranged jetpod placement. It's worth mastering the game and attempting to complete it without using any continues, especially with a hidden Super mode that empowers Robbit with humongous jumps, double the size of his triple jump, faster running movement, and a dive-bomb attack. There is also a Time Attack menu option on the PlayStation 3 version of the game, which unfortunately isn't available on the PlayStation Vita or the PlayStation Portable.
There are not many games that present the action from a first-person perspective, but focus upon the platforming genre for gameplay. Even alongside the action adventure of Mirror's Edge, or a puzzle platformer like Quantum Conundrum, Jumping Flash! manages to feel unique, 18 years after its release. The final main platforming stage, world 6-1, is set high up on precarious scaffolding in outer space, and it's the ever present danger of huge leaps and aiming to land on narrow walkways that feels most satisfying in this game. It's stages like this where the level design keeps Jumping Flash!'s gameplay fresh, with a tighter level of challenge, which act as an example of how it would be welcome if there was ever a glimmer of hope for an HD update to Jumping Flash!'s platforming template.
As a first-person platforming game, with massive triple-jumps, and boss battle shoot-'em-up stages, playing Jumping Flash! feels like burrowing down the rabbit hole into a distinctive and unconventional gameplay experience. The masterful music compositions by Takeo Miratsu match the colourful and vivid visual themes of each of the six worlds perfectly, ensuring that the presentation in Exact Inc.'s 1995 game has aged gracefully. Arguably as a result of its position among the PSone's launch, the main flaw in Jumping Flash! is its short completion time. However, controlling Robbit feels accessible for such a skyrocketing protagonist, so you will hop right back into each of the 18 stages to dig up secret modes, or to vault your way towards achieving a flashier time attack speed run.