Fledging independent game developer Matt Thorson made his first significant mark on the medium in February of 2004 with Jumper. Though not quite his debut effort, it was the first one he felt worth mentioning in retrospect. This minimalization of the platforming games he grew up with was highly praised in the independent circuit. Shortly after the release of Jumper, he teamed up with another Game Maker-user who went by the name Dex. The game that resulted from their collaboration, Dim, drew a lot of inspiration from Jumper while also giving its protagonist the ability to hop between dimensions in a manner reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. This game also found an audience and would be referenced in later editions of the Jumper level editor. As Mr. Thorson gained more experience programming, he used what he learned to fine tune the physics in Jumper and create a sequel. This game, simply entitled Jumper Two, was released in June of 2004 – a mere four months after the release of the original. Being his third game in the span of a year, what does Jumper Two bring to the table?
Analyzing the Experience
In the year 1888, scientists banded together and began working on a project to create the ultimate soldier. Their experiments resulted in the creation of a creature they named Ogmo. This team was determined to see their project through to the end, but the First World War left them with no choice but to abandon their plans. In 2004, Ogmo awakened and successfully escaped the dilapidated laboratory. He was captured shortly thereafter and placed on an aircraft headed for the National Science Institution where he would be studied. Finding a way to the aircraft’s escape hatch, he jumped, eventually finding himself in an old temple.
Anyone fresh off of Jumper will instantly know what to expect in its sequel. Despite Ogmo having come into being as a result of experiments to create the ultimate soldier, he is quite limited in how he can respond to the hostile environments in which he regularly finds himself. His first and only solution to avoiding death is to jump, and he is quite proficient in that regard. He is controlled exclusively though precise use of the arrow keys. The left and right keys will move Ogmo in that direction. It is the up arrow key that causes him to jump.
At first glance, Ogmo’s jump seems unimpressive. Though it gains a remarkable amount of height as is typical for this genre, it doesn’t seem as though it would be worth calling the series Jumper because of it. Fortunately, his ability to jump extends far beyond most of his peers. Like many platforming protagonists, he has the curious ability to jump a second time while airborne. If he happens to touch a floating golden arrow while in the air, his ability to double jump is restored, allowing him to do so a third time. There is no limit to the number of times you can do this; as long as you collect a golden arrow, you can jump once more before touching the ground.
On the surface, it would appear as though Jumper Two is a basic sequel that rehashes what made the original work. Though Jumper Two definitely uses its predecessor as a template, it proceeds to use the formula to explore new ideas. This becomes obvious in the very first stage. As you can see in the above screenshot, there is not a single golden arrow to be found in the first stage. If you were playing the first game, you would have no way to proceed; even with Ogmo’s ability to jump a second time in midair, he couldn’t possibly reach the ledge in the center of the screen. Thankfully, he has a few new tricks up his sleeve this time around.
By running, pushing the arrow key corresponding to the opposite direction, and jumping, Ogmo can perform a skid jump. Skid jumps gain significantly more height than a standard jump. You need quite a bit of momentum to pull this off successfully. You’ll know you have built up enough speed if Ogmo kicks up dirt as he is turning. Once you have reached the ledge in the center of the screen, all you’ll need to do is exit the stage. This is accomplished by using the wall jump. To use the wall jump, you must press the arrow key in the direction of the wall and jump at the same time. As soon as Ogmo propels himself from the wall, you need to press the arrow key corresponding to his new direction to cover the most distance.
Another thing you might notice upon entering the first stage is a teal, diamond-shaped object in the top-left corner. This is a gem. Gems are not required in any way to complete a stage. Instead, they help unlock bonus features. Bonus features include alternate skins for Ogmo, a jukebox, game modifications, artwork, and extra stages. Merely completing a stage can unlock certain features, but the most significant ones are obtained through getting these gems. Unlike in Jumper in which you were stuck on your current stage until you completed the game, Jumper Two allows you to revisit cleared stages whenever you want.
If you choose to revisit a stage, you will potentially notice two significant changes. First of all, there is a timer in the bottom-left corner. The left number represents the amount of time that has passed since you entered the stage. Its opposite represents your best record, which is to say, the shortest amount of time it took for you to complete the stage. It can be thought of as a platforming equivalent of the “Time Trial” mode from the Mario Kart franchise. By reducing the accumulative time it takes for you to complete the game, you will unlock more bonus features.
Jumper Two shines in many of the same ways as its predecessor. It is as pure of a platforming experience as you can get. There are few enemies to fight, no power-ups to obtain, and only the bare minimum of a plot. All you need to do is to guide Ogmo to the end of a stage. Despite offering a similar experience, Jumper Two does mix up the basic premise of the game quite a bit. I say this because Jumper Two has a plethora of new gimmicks for the player to discover. Clearing the game will involve Ogmo pushing TNT crates onto lower platforms to blow up a floor tile, riding conveyor belts, and avoiding spiked blocks that follow him as doggedly as the white blocks introduced in the original game.
Ice plays an interesting role in the game. In most platforming games, ice merely reduces the character’s friction, making platforming a little more difficult. While this is true in Jumper Two, it is significantly more of a hindrance to Ogmo than, for example, Mario or Donkey Kong. If the floor is covered in ice, not only does Ogmo slip around, he cannot perform a skid jump. Furthermore, if there is ice covering the walls, he cannot jump off of them. Though it can be annoying to deal with, you can also use it to your advantage. You may, on occasion, come across a series of short ceiling spikes above an icy path. Though they will still kill Ogmo if he comes into contact with them, you can take advantage of his newfound ability to duck, which is accomplished by pressing the down arrow key, to slide underneath them after gaining enough momentum. If you happen upon any switch in the game, ducking is also how you activate them.
My personal favorite gimmick involves such a switch. The switch initially appears red allowing matching floor tiles to be walked on. However, red spiked mines also appear as long as they match the switch’s color. To get them out of your way, you must press the switch, which turns it blue. Now, both blue floor tiles and spiked mines are tangible. This development is about as close as one could get to emulating the dimensional jumping abilities of the title character of Dim without outright giving Ogmo the same power. In certain circumstances, it allows Mr. Thorson to effectively create a stage within a stage.
What I particularly enjoy about Jumper Two is that the gimmicks extend beyond the props with which Ogmo can interact. Unlike in Jumper wherein every sector with the exception of the seventh had only the background colors to differentiate them, Jumper Two has definable worlds akin to Super Mario Bros. 3. A shadowy organization seeks to capture Ogmo for some nefarious purpose and the third sector takes place on a train owned by the aptly-named Conductor, who works for them. These stages are quite a bit different in that the standard bottomless pits are replaced with the ground. However, because Ogmo would merely get run over by the train’s wheels, touching the ground is a death sentence.
Occasionally, you’ll have to deal with the environment itself as you progress through the game. The seventh sector takes place in Mt. Haphazard. The winds of this mountain are very powerful, and affect Ogmo’s jump physics whenever a gust picks up. These are reminiscent of corresponding stages in Ninja Gaiden II in that you must use the snowfall to gauge whether or not a jump is safe to make. A later stage even turns the game into a stealth-based affair by featuring a metallic floor that grabs the attention of the main antagonist’s second-in-command if Ogmo steps on it. While it is possible to complete the stage after making a noise, said character can phase through walls to kill Ogmo, making it significantly more difficult.
All in all, Jumper Two is, on the surface, what a creator should strive for when it comes to making a sequel. It takes the gameplay of the original and introduces new ideas to build upon what you learned during your trials and tribulations. Unfortunately, I have to remark that some of these new ideas don’t work so well. As was the case with Jumper, Jumper Two requires the player to acclimate themselves to the bizarre physics engine. In Jumper, Ogmo more or less stopped on a dime, not gaining any significant momentum. It stands to reason because without the ability to run, there really wasn’t a need for the character to have momentum. However, in Jumper Two, momentum plays a key role in performing a skid jump. While it would seem to go without saying that Ogmo gains speed while moving, you also have to keep this in mind as you’re navigating him while he is airborne. Though the Jumper engine was strange, it easily allowed players to do so. In Jumper Two, you have to maneuver Ogmo as though he is on the ground even if he’s in the air. This gets confusing because what you see onscreen doesn’t match up with the course of action you must take. To make things even stranger, if Ogmo happened to be touching ice before making his first jump, he will somehow continue to skid in midair, which is very odd if you’re not expecting it.
Jumper Two also sticks out from its predecessor in that it has an actual plot. It is, by Mr. Thorson’s own admission, a nonsensical plot – one that goes out of its way to poke fun at as many standard video-game tropes as possible. This is a mixed blessing. On one hand, the plot does make the game marginally more interesting – even if it’s a bit predictable.
On the other hand, with Jumper Two possessing definable antagonists, this necessitates confronting them. Though the boss fights are, in essence, glorified puzzles, it becomes clear that Jumper Two is not optimized to feature them. In a game that normally features no combat, it’s jarring when the protagonist is made to fight anything. The fight against the Conductor merely involves causing blocks to fall on his head until he falls off his train. Later bosses are fought in similar fashions, either taking advantage of the environment in some way to fell them or just avoiding them outright. I appreciate wanting to throw variety into the mix, but Mr. Thorson had already done such a great job doing so in the rest of the game that the boss fights come across as redundant at the best of times.
Drawing a Conclusion
Even with as few moving parts as it has, it’s commendable that Mr. Thorson, at the age of sixteen, was able to complete a sequel four months after the original’s release. For all of the problems I have with Jumper Two, it doesn’t show any signs of having been rushed. Had I not directly observed the two games’ release dates, I would have assumed Jumper Two was released a year after its predecessor. Whatever flaws are present in Jumper Two come across as issues that would have remained even if he did indeed take a year to make it. AAA producers weren’t always this consistent with sequels despite having much longer development cycles and a greater amount of resources at their disposal. Once again, I give Mr. Thorson a lot of credit, for there was clearly a lot of love that went into Jumper Two.
When all is said and done, however, I find myself exactly where I was when I discussed Jumper once again. That is to say, Jumper Two is a game made for platforming fans. It is absolutely not the kind of game you would use to introduce a newcomer to the genre, nor is it capable of persuading a skeptic. It is a game that doesn’t have any artificial difficulty or cryptic puzzles, but people who aren’t platformer fans likely won’t get anything out of it. Having said that, if you do love platformers, it is absolutely worth looking into, and you will enjoy what it has to offer.
Final Score: 5/10