If there are two things that are pretty huge in pop culture right now, it’s the biggest companies putting together the most ambitious crossover events in history, and Hollywood’s desire to bring every one of your beloved cartoon memories into the real world (and we dread the eventual reveal of live-action Sonic the Hedgehog).
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Japanese publisher Shueisha’s world-famous Weekly Shōnen Jump manga, Jump Force is a three-versus-three 3D arena fighting game that essentially encompasses these two trends. You’ve got Goku, Naruto, Luffy, Ichigo, Dio, and many more characters from across the the publication’s history duking it out, and they have the ultra HD hyper-realistic detail to make your eyes pop.
Luckily, each character’s distinct and mostly big expressive eyes are still the way you remember them, but when last year’s excellent Dragon Ball FighterZ so faithfully reproduced the look and animation frames of the anime, there’s an uncanniness to seeing Goku’s arms look so realistically ripped and bulging that it’s almost a little obscene.
But with all the other anime fighters that have been released over the years, many of them also from Bandai Namco, this aesthetic does at least make Jump Force stand out. The detail also isn’t all just for show. As your characters take damage, they look well and truly battered as their clothing rips and their immaculate skin is covered in bruises. If you win the match, you’ll likely see your three fighters in their victory poses looking like they’ve appropriately emerged from a war-torn battlefield.
There’s also a narrative justification for the visual style, since many of these fights actually take place in familiar locations from our own world, from the serene alpine mountaintops of the Matterhorn and New York’s Time Square to the castles of Japan. There are still a few locales lifted from the manga, but when Dragon Ball’s Planet Namek has a part of the Statue of Liberty in the background, you know there’s definitely some ‘worlds colliding’ scenario going on.
That said, we’re still mostly in the dark about the game’s plot, and our hands-on with Jump Force was also strictly with its versus mode, where we got to experiment with the full roster.
There are 40 characters from across the Shōnen’s history to choose from, as well as four original characters created for the game (these were however not available to try), and unsurprisingly, the most popular franchises get the lion’s share of the roster, with Dragon Ball, Naruto, and One Piece getting six fighters each. Nonetheless, there’s broad representation here, from the kid-friendly heroes of Hunter x Hunter up against more adult fare like Fist of the North Star’s Kenshiro (though his Hokuto Shinken has been reined in so that no one explodes into a bloody mess). However, it’s hard not to notice the paltry selection of female characters - at least Arale should’ve surely been a no-brainer?
The odd one out however would probably be City Hunter’s womanising detective Ryo Saeba, whose modest contemporary arsenal should make him ridiculously underequipped against far more superhuman or supernatural offerings that have the impact equivalent to a mini-nuke. Yet his guns and rocket launchers come off just as over-the-top in execution. It all strangely fits right in with other grand spectacles like Goku’s signature Kamehameha, Jotaru landing a punch with his Stand, Star Platinum, or how Yugi Moto summons a spirit to do most of his fighting.
These abilities aren’t rare moments in combat either, nor do they require any complex inputs of a typical fighting game. While it’s easy to string combos just by hitting square and triangle for light and heavy attacks respectively, you just need to squeeze R2 with any one of the face buttons to pull off a dramatic powerful ability, with R2 and X being your Ultimate ability where there are no expenses spared for pure screen-filling anime spectacle.
Spacing's not something you’ll be that attentive to either, when hitting L1 has you instantly dashing up to your opponent, which you can follow up with an attack for a juggle combo. As for being on the receiving end, you can also press L1 to escape with a backdash, but just so that you’re not just abusing these non-stop, dashes are limited by a mobility gauge while you need energy to unleash your attack abilities. Although for the latter, it’s hardly a matter of cooldowns when you can just hold R2 to charge your gauges right up.
If that all sounds rather simplistic for a fighting game, that’s because it is. After all, developer Spike Chunsoft isn’t anime fighter extraordinaire Arc System Works. Jump Force is evidently not gunning for the fighting game community but rather a broad audience of anime fans who get a kick out of playing as their favourite characters and want to be able to unleash Naruto’s Ransengan or Kenshiro’s Hundred Crack Fist without complex inputs.
That’s not to say the accessibility robs the combat of depth. Expert players can still put classic fighting game techniques to use, such as chasing down an opponent to juggle them in an air, while throw tech and dodge-warping can also be pulled off with perfectly timed button presses.
The game does however lack one crucial thing from other tag-team fighters: you all share just one health meter, meaning you won’t be able to swap out a weak fighter at death’s door to recover. Indeed, if you forget to switch characters you could find yourself pummelled in one round without having played your other two choices. The focus is instead on switching characters when you need a good match-up or to try and pull off some cool tag team combos.
Ultimately, this feels more like Dragon Ball XenoVerse or Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm, favouring spectacle over skill, and also opting for a behind-the-player camera perspective. It’s a bit hard to say whether fighting game fans will be interested in Jump Force, or whether its visual style will appeal to non-anime fans without putting off anime fans not so sold on the hyper-realistic look. Still, it’s not every game where you can have Kenshiro punching Goku a hundred times into oblivion, or Luffy flattening Naruto with a pair of gum-gum cannon balls. For plenty more of these ridiculous match-ups, it may be worth jumping in and filling your boots.
Are you looking forward to Jump Force? Who's going to make the cut for your team? Please don't reenact superhuman battles in the comments section below.