Funsolve Limited / Outright Games
Throughout the decade of around 2006 to 2016, I was on cloud nine when it came to playing and collecting video games. My enthusiasm for the medium had skyrocketed as I found myself more interested than ever in games and consoles that I’d always been curious about, but had never possessed. While fanatical about my powerful new Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Nintendo Wii systems, practically salivating over prodigious releases such as Halo 3, Super Mario Galaxy and Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction, I was also developing an undeniable obsession for all things niche and retro. Slowly but surely, my focus began to switch from the nucleus that was playing the latest and greatest games, to pulling the veil away from the shadowy corridors of the industry, in search of the most unique titles available – the ones that no one else seemed to be playing, along with potentially holding qualities of becoming some of the harder to find releases down the road. Back in 2010, the feeling of discovering a seemingly unknown game in your local store’s discount bin could best be described as jovial and idiosyncratic, to say the least. I was thrilled to come across multitudes of PS2 and GameCube games, usually going for the steep asking price of one dollar each, whereas attempting to place my pre-orders for titles such as Autobahn Polizei and Ninjabread Man almost always left store clerks dumbfounded, scratching their heads in regards to why anyone would be interested in games they hadn’t even heard of. It was a special time when the majority of shops were looking to the future, while simultaneously ridding themselves of anything that had come before the seventh generation of consoles. The retro scene had yet to even become a scene, making it common for stores like EB Games to list now coveted titles such as 2005’s Conker: Live & Reloaded for a price comparable to that of a chocolate bar, or less. Fantastic deals abound, it was almost difficult for me not to find something on sale for an incredible price when flipping through the discount bins, all while I was simply stopping in to pick up my copy of yet another game that nobody else was buying, probably Guilty Gear 2: Overture, or something. It was like taking candy from a baby. Alas, this was during a time before the current crop of game stores picked up on the fact that there was some serious green to be made off of the odd maverick that was never overly interested in the twelfth Assassin’s Creed or Call of Duty release, yet seemingly more smitten with the idea of finding ratty old games belonging to yesteryear systems – you know, the ones that are almost always missing a manual. So, what does all of this rambling have to do with Jumanji: The Video Game? Maybe nothing, maybe everything. See, as the years progress, I’m willing to bet that Jumanji will go on to become another mihrab release of its generation, seldom spoken of, seldom played. Forever locked in the pigeonhole that is to be largely unseen, but still holding of awesome potential in the realms of fast fun and amusement. Whether the game winds up being worth two dollars or two hundred… I’m not concerned. Playing Jumanji: The Video Game took me back to the time of my aforementioned evocations, summoning my memories of hunting down every last game possible, while trying to stay ahead of the curve, playing all of the titles that I didn’t think received the necessary coverage that they deserved. Jumanji is by no means the greatest or sharpest game I’ve ever played, but that’s not the point here. What it is, is a solid, yet very short, offering of entertainment for the Nintendo Switch, one that is all too sure to be overshadowed by its movie counterpart and the plethora of high profile games that already exist for the console. I was genuinely surprised by how much enjoyment I got from it and I’m excited to tell you why.
From the introduction of the game, it’s obvious that Jumanji: The Video Game was designed with the multiplayer experience in mind, as you select from one of four characters and head out as a team (you cannot play solo) into a quartet of levels in search of hidden Jumanji game pieces. Believe it or not, the gameplay is similar to that of something like Gears of War meets Left 4 Dead, as aiming and shooting your weapon is largely viewed from the rear of your character’s left or right shoulder (you can swap between the two) and an extent of teamwork is necessary to make it through the different parts of the stages. The bulk of the game revolves around eliminating enemies that attempt to keep you and your teammates from finding the Jumanji game pieces. Once acquired, the game pieces will unlock a door that will lead to the next section of the level.
Each of the four levels contains an assortment of different offerings when it comes to the gameplay experience. At one end, you’ve got your high-end action, dispatching enemies and avoiding dangerous animals similar to something experienced in an Uncharted game, whereas another section will have you maneuvering around deadly traps in a feel and aesthetic not unlike something comparable to Tomb Raider. Lastly, there exist sections in the game’s levels that will have you engaged in King of the Hill style gameplay while holding out against waves of bad guys. In order to survive, your character (or another, by way of AI or co-op) must stand within close perimeter of something called the Obelisk while holding onto an artifact. Sound confusing? It’s actually pretty straightforward. While roaming throughout the game’s levels, your character can hold onto an artifact or pass it to their teammates. From time to time, the artifact can power up your character’s weapon, making it stronger for a short period. The artifact must also be on hand for the player that’s attempting to power up an Obelisk, as the artifact slowly charges it while the two objects are within close proximity. Once an Obelisk is completely charged, the hoards of enemies will disappear, a door will open, and the player can progress to either the next section or the end of the level.
Graphically, Jumanji looked pretty good running on my Nintendo Switch. It was by no means the showcase that games like Super Mario Odyssey or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild have put on, but it did well at presenting a nice variety of locales ranging from glacial to tropical. The game’s characters all look really accurate in relation to the actors that they’re emulating, further implementing a feeling of authenticity while exploring the stages. Unfortunately, there isn’t much diversity by way of enemies, as they look identical from level to level. They’re fine for what they are, they just never change. I don’t think anyone went into this game expecting to be blown away in the visual department (or any department, for that matter). That said, I was impressed with the effort put forth as the graphics look pretty good for what they offer.
The game’s sound and music departments aren’t the greatest as the tracks spinning out of the various menus and stages are okay at best – about what you’d expect from a movie tie-in release like this. Overly epic but nothing truly memorable. The sound effects are pretty rough, and that’s if and when they decide to even function properly. One of my biggest gripes with Jumanji is that it barely lets you know when your character is taking damage. No rumble of the controller or stark red flashes on the screen, and at times, nothing even audible protests from your character. Whilst taking a hit, my character of choice, Ruby Roundhouse, would manage an “ouch” or grunt, but that would only happen less than half the time. I guess it’s not that big of a deal if you keep your wits about you, but I’m just used to the occasional yelp or dramatic loss of rings when an enemy lands a blow, signaling me to shape up or come to expect impending doom.
As I mentioned earlier, Jumanji: The Video Game really is meant to be played with friends via co-op or online. I don’t play games for any of the current crop of consoles online, so I wasn’t able to experience that side of the teamwork for Jumanji, nor could I even find an option to make online play possible, but I’ve read that the function is supported for the Switch (though it’s exclusive to playing with friends that are already on your list). Oh, how I pine for those nostalgic days of signing into Xbox Live, only to hear a precious youngling scream expletives at me for next to no reason whatsoever. None of that in Jumanji. 100% of my experience playing the game stems from venturing out with computer players, so I can only imagine that it’s probably a heck of a lot more fun with three other pals. I did have fun with Jumanji, but even while running the game on its most difficult setting, it’s pretty easy. Your AI teammates really take care of the enemies in this one. But if you’re anything like me and you actually enjoy a facile play through every now and then, you’ll dig it too.
The game boasts some cool unlockables to discover as you rank up your character’s experience points, but the most interesting skins and costumes will take a while to unseal if you’re playing on your own. As I touched on earlier, the game only boasts four levels, so you’ll be grinding your way through the same stages for a long time to get to the stuff you’re interested in. If you’re into Jumanji for the one and done exposure, be aware that the entire game can be completed in less than two hours.
A fun little curiosity that I can genuinely say would be a lot of fun with friends, Jumanji: The Video Game isn’t going to be taking home any year end awards, but it does well at providing a short, yet entertaining sideshow from the usual fair available on Nintendo’s juggernaut console. It absolutely has its weaknesses, but it’s got a handful of strengths too. As I did well over a decade ago, initially (and wrongfully) brushing off movie based tie-ins, only to snatch them up out of a discount bin a year or two later, pleasantly surprised with how decent they actually were, give Jumanji: The Video Game a shot, you might end up having more fun than you think.