Stuff I bought instead of Perfect Dark, No.6

Saturday – Arkedo Series 01: Jump!

If I've learned anything over the last 30 years, viewers, it's this – videogames are like girls. It's always the cutest ones that make you cry. And rarely can a game have illustrated that maxim better than the final purchase in WoSblog's seven-day Perfect Dark Substitute Adventure than Arkedo Series 01: Jump! which prices the pitiless gutting of your very soul at 240 MS points.

There are two ways that Jump! (as it shall be henceforth referred to) can break your heart, and the lesser of the two is simply by being a bit tricky. This absurdly pretty neo-retro platformer (basically a cross between Manic Miner and Bill And Ted's Excellent Gameboy Adventure) from a developer best known for its two very inventive but slightly flawed DS titles (Nervous Brickdown and Big Bang Mini), challenges you to clear 30 increasingly-difficult stages,with no checkpoints, save or continues. Lose your last life on Level 30 and it's all the way back to Level 1 you go.

Now, in itself that isn't quite as big a deal as it sounds. You should be able to do all 30 levels in comfortably under 30 minutes, and if you're careful and diligent you'll have accumulated a fairly sizeable stockpile of lives by the time you reach the penultimate stage (Level 29, for those of you not paying attention), which is the only one that's individually particularly troublesome.

Nevertheless it still stings a bit when, as happened on my second try, you reach level 30 with just one life left and proceed to blow it after 40 minutes of effort. The much crueller twist of the dagger in your heart, though, comes when you DO clear all 30 stages.
 

The first thing that happens is that the game unlocks Challenge mode. This lets you tackle each of the 30 stages again, in any order you like, with the task of fully completing each one – that is, collecting EVERY last piece of money and treasure, rather than just defusing the bombs and getting to the exit. Go through the door with even one coin uncollected and you don't earn the "OK" stamp.

(I forgot to mention that the game was about defusing bombs, didn't I? It doesn't really matter.)

The challenges aren't much harder than getting through the levels normally, because any gamer worth their salt tends to try to collect everything as they go anyway. But beat all 30 and you unlock one final bonus level, made of pure hideous evil. You could quite plausibly achieve that feat within an hour of buying the game, and while the 31st stage will likely delay you considerably longer than all the others put together, the problem is that once you've beaten it, there's no reason to play Jump! ever again.
 

Why there's no reason to play it again is because there's no goal. The normal Adventure mode records neither a high-score nor a fastest completion time, and that's Jump!'s real kick in the unguarded plums. Here's a game that would be endlessly, wonderfully replayable if it simply kept track of your fastest finish (or best score, or fewest lives lost, in the style of R-Type Dimensions) and gave you a target to beat for future runs.

But for no good reason at all it doesn't, and thereby reduces its own lifespan from eternity to a couple of hours. It's got 40 years of happy life together right there in the palm of its hand, and throws it away for a one-off drunken knee-trembler up against a skip round the back of a tacky nightclub.

The structure of the game is such that a time trial would offer huge scope for variation and improvement. Many of the 30 stages have the capacity to rob you of lives, but a majority of those offer easily-collectable 1UPs at early points, meaning that effectively you have infinite attempts to defeat the level with. Getting killed therefore costs you nothing except time, but since the game isn't against the clock that's a loss without meaning. It's like a limitless, pointless practice mode.

(You could, of course, time yourself and write it down on a bit of paper, but what are we, fricking cavemen or something?)
 

I want to bang my head against the wall when developers do something this needlessly dumb and wreck what would otherwise be a fantastic game, which I suppose brings us back full circle to 4J Studios' inexplicable, hateful, spiteful and idiotic decision to remove half of Perfect Dark's control options. But at least Jump! is still playable, if tragically and stupidly cut short in its prime.

While it lasts, this is a hugely lovely game. It's ridiculously beautiful to look at, (seriously, if it was up to me all games would look like this) plays like a dream, and is packed full of both clever invention and knowing nods and winks to other classic titles, along with a likeable and charming wit.

And £2 for three or four hours (by the time you've beaten Challenge Level 31) of pure old-skool fun isn't, when all's said and done, a bad deal in anyone's book. It just hurts such a lot to know how much more it could have been for the sake of two extra lines of code. I didn't want to stop playing it, but it made me, and that makes me sad.

 

 

 

THOSE 800 POINTS IN FULL

Pixelkiller (80 points) – gorgeous platforming

Decimation X (80 points) – hyperintense shooting

Game Room (240 points for Asteroids Deluxe) – abysmal ineptitude

Monaco 360 (80 points) – minimalist addiction

Missile Escape (80 points) – unfinished microbrilliance

Jump (240 points) – lost love

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