'Jump Force' Review: An Ambitious Spectacle With Very Little Substance

With 50 years under its belt, Shueisha’s Weekly Shonen Jump has birthed some impressive heroes. Icons like Naruto and Goku got their start under the manga anthology, giving the title clout. To celebrate its big anniversary, Weekly Shonen Jump announced ambitious plans to bring those all-stars together in a fighting game called Jump Force, but unfortunately the venture falls short in just about every respect.

Jump Force doesn’t have a particularly difficult story to follow. The universes of Shonen Jump are brought to the real world by a few baddies, prompting both anime heroes and villains to mingle with us mere mortals. To keep the multiverses come colliding, the stars of Naruto, Dragon Ball, and One Piece team up to form a team called Jump Force to fight back against the villains. However, the convoluted story is choppy at best and plagued with cringe-inducing interactions between all your favorite anime legends.

While Jump Force’s story is lacking, it does lean into serious spectacle. Even the most casual anime fans or gamers will geek out when they see Monkey D. Luffy fight alongside Gon Freecs. With a packed character roster, Jump Force manages to pay respect to classic Shonen Jump titles while ushering in the icons of tomorrow. The crossover opportunity begs to be hyped up, but the game’s clunky user interface and animation will leave players balking.

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All it takes is a simple search on social media to find Jump Force animation gaffs. The game’s aesthetic attempts to make your anime heroes look hyperrealistic, but the characters look like oily wax models at best. Overly shiny and entirely inexpressive, the fighters of Jump Force show zero emotions, and their cut scene close-ups are laughably awful.

As for the game’s animation, Jump Force is split between opposite ends. When players are in the arena fighting, the game shines with crisp action sequences and tons of acrobatics. Battles are loaded with rich textures and impressive rendering thanks to Jump Force’s use of Unreal Engine, but that all fades the moment you wrap a battle. To say Jump Force’s cutscenes are stilted would be putting it lightly; in fact, most of the game’s animation is so stiff and unnatural that I couldn’t help but wonder if the game was actually finished. A quick run around the game’s lobby felt like touring an abandoned mall, and the static environments only make that eerie feeling even more intense.

The spectacle of Jump Force is flattened by its strained design, but its gameplay will entice fans of 3D fighting games. The game has simple enough controls to memorize, and each character has unique powers that set them up well in a three-member team fight. Camera angles adjust to the fight accordingly which helps fans keep up with a battle’s breakneck speed, and avid gamers will be able to master the game’s entire roster sooner rather than later. Perhaps the game's greatest treat come with its cinematic finishing moves. These moves (along with Awakened techniques) are pulled straight from your favorite anime, and it is always a treat to see Goku land a Spirit Bomb on Jotaro -- it never gets old.

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(Photo: Bandai Namco)

However, that doesn’t mean the game is for everyone. Jump Force may draw in anime fans of all backgrounds, but it won’t suit casual gamers or those who dislike 3D fighters. The game doesn't lend itself to button-mashing, and its fights require a bit of patience and even better timing.

No matter which way you slice it, Jump Force isn’t the game fans dreamed it would be upon its announcement, but it will excite anime fans who’ve got a thing for 3D fighters. If you can see past its abysmal story mode and questionable animation, Jump Force clearly put its focus on fighting. The battles can be crisp, dynamic, and challenging enough to keep those invested coming back. However, as soon as a victor is crowned, Jump Force goes back to being a shonen spectacle with a shocking lack of substance.

Rating: 2 out of 5

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Jump Force is scheduled to release for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on February 15th. A PS4 code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.