Jump Force full review

Microsoft’s E3 2018 conference boasted a few great surprises, but one of the biggest reactions of the night went to the reveal of Jump Force, a new fighting game from Bandai Namco that pits characters from some of the most popular manga and anime series of all time up against each other.

We got the chance to test Jump Force out at E3 2018, and since then we've played an updated build at Gamescom 2018 and have now spent a couple of hours with the full roster at Namco Bandai HQ, in the hopes of definitively answering who would win in fight between Goku, Naruto, and Monkey D. Luffy.

If you want to play for yourself, Jump Force hits Xbox One, PS4, and PC from 15 February, which is getting real close now. If you know you're definitely going to buy the game, you can already pre-order if from Amazon in the UK or the US.

Jump Force is a 3v3 arena fighting game that’s essentially designed to settle every single anime-inspired playground ‘what if…’ argument you’ve ever had. Could Goku beat Luffy? Would Naruto thrash Frieza?

You build a team out of characters from assorted manga series including big names like Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, One Piece, and Bleach, along with arguably less well-known fare like City Hunter, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Hunter x Hunter, and more. In total there are more than 40 characters in the roster, including two original creations (designed by Dragon Ball manga artist Akira Toriyama, no less) and a custom character creator - which I sadly didn't get the chance to try for myself.

The game's reveal trailer also teased Death Note's Light and Ryuk, but they've since been confirmed to be story characters only, and not playable, which raises the possibility of an even wider range of character cameos.The uniting factor is that they’re all from manga that were published in Shonen Jump, an ongoing Japanese magazine, so look to there to think what other franchises might be added in the story mode, or down the line as DLC.

Combat adopts simple, newbie-friendly style, with simple combos and quick access to some powerful moves: just hold the right trigger and hit a face button to pull off a move like Goku’s Kamehameha, blasting your opponent from across the stage.

Fill up your power bar and you can activate a super form - again, for Goku, think Super Saiyan - which gives you quick access to your ultimate super move. It’s all very easy to get to grips with, though between the throws, parries, and rapid movement options, there are hints at the sort of depth required to make this a competitive staple like FighterZ. The skill is less in pulling off tricky combos than in the subtleties of timing, and no doubt a whole meta-game will pop up around the different combinations of characters.

As you'd expect, you can switch between characters in your team on the fly, or have them pop in briefly for quick team attacks. Perhaps more surprisingly, characters share health and energy meters, which shifts the strategic dynamic. You're not juggling characters to manage their health, but simply picking the best one to pummel your opponent's current fighter of choice - or, more likely, the one whose absurd, over-the-top special attack you most want to see right now.

And those attacks are magnificent. Every character's trademark moves are represented one way or another, and this game gets their absurd power levels just right. Transforming Naruto into Nine Tails or activating Luffy's Gear Four is exactly as satisfying as you want it to be. There's a real sense of humour to some of them too - a personal favourite was City Hunter's Ryo crashing across the stage in a car to send enemies flying into the sky with some conveniently placed explosive barrels, only to whip out a six-gun and trigger the explosion in slow-mo.

Movement is totally free in the 3D arena, which keeps fights feeling dynamic, but the game seems to lock you on slightly when you fire off a special attack - or maybe just corrects your aim as long as you’re in roughly the right direction - which means big attacks are forgiving rather than fiddly, with no need to worry about precise aiming in the 3D space.

As for those stages, they’re oddly based on a mix of real world locations and settings from the series themselves. Real life locales include the likes of Times Square, the Matterhorn, and Hong Kong harbour, while fictional stages are drawn mostly from the biggest franchises featured here, like Dragon Ball Z and Naruto.

This is perhaps the one area where the game lets itself down slightly. Each of the stages features vivid backdrops, but the arenas themselves are sparse and empty, meaning it's easy to forget which one you're fighting on - a shame in such a larger-than-life setting. There's also less choice here than in the character roster, when really it would be a treat to get to battle across more settings drawn from the various series.

Verdict

With more than 40 characters and an infectious sense of fun, Jump Force looks like it might just live up to the lunatic potential of its giddy reveal trailer. It’s absolutely joyous thrashing Frieza with Naruto’s Nine-Tails, and Jump Force nails the silly spectacle that's made so many Shonen Jump series such perennial favourites.

The reduced emphasis on combos keeps things fast-paced and fun, positioning Jump Force as one of the more accessible fighting games - think Super Smash Bros. - but there's enough tricky timing and depth to the roster that there's still hope for some sort of competitive scene to sprout up around it.