April 1, 2015 5:00 AM | Joel Couture
Hey kids! There's a hip new move in town for when you're raging at a game but have already broken a six hundred dollar flat screen television and don't want it to happen again when you huck your controller across the room. It's called The Twist, and it goes like this. You grab those nice, comfortable ends of your controller, the ones that were designed to make it sit in your hands, and you start turning them in opposite directions. The grip feels really nice, and that loud creak coming from your controller still means that you're doing meaningful damage to an expensive electronic over the fact that a digital man or woman won't do what you say. Also, did you know that this move isn't just for controllers? You can also do it with a phone, which I found out by playing FreakZone Games' Jump'N'Shoot Attack.
The Xatharr have stolen the president, and instead of just electing a new one, Louise Lightfoot is off to save the day but probably not because she's about as durable as wet truck stop toilet paper. She doesn't let that get in the way of her ambition, though, and she absolutely will not slow down on her path to get the president back. She storms forward regardless of whether the person at the controls is ready to jump or shoot, often resulting in some unfortunate ends to her career. So, you'd better be quick with those taps unless you want the words 'Game Over' burned into your phone's screen.
Part of the push of Jump'N'Shoot Attack was in revolutionizing touch screen controls for good action games. Touch screen buttons have pretty much been universally abysmal, and while this game does fix a lot of the issues with locating them while playing, it's not quite perfect. Instead of placing touch buttons at specific places on the screen, you just tap the left side to jump and the right side to shoot. Holding down the jump button increases jump height, and hammering the right side is the only way to keep those bullets flying. It works well and means I wasn't always screwing up by missing my button inputs, but having your fingers in the play space sometimes means you're covering up oncoming dangers. Given how much I'm slamming on the right side, it can hide a monster or jump until it's right on top of me.
Not that the advance notice often did me any good. The level design of Jump'N'Shoot Attack is masochistic, often requiring very specific timing for jumps. The game loves tossing multiple tiny platforms at you, so you have to change up light and hard presses to vary your jump height and speed. If that isn't enough, there's often spikes or other hazards in the way, so the jump has to be just perfect in some areas of the game. The levels are all quite short so you don't have to be perfect for very long, but you really need to be on the ball with your jumps. Considering Louise is auto-running, you also have to gauge your speed and jump distance without being able to stop. You do it when the game wants you to, which results in some very tense hops over bottomless pits.
That can be even harder to do when you're firing your gun constantly. I found I was hitting the right side of my phone so hard that it made the game seem like it was happening during an earthquake. It makes gauging jumps a little harder, so you either need to be wiser about when you shoot or get used to it. I kind of liked the effect, feeling it added this sense of danger to the game, but I could see it bugging people who are starting to lose their tempers over the jumping. The gunplay is actually quite fair, though, with multiple power ups increasing your shot spread as you go. These bonuses tended to be on easier routes, too, so you could often make your life a little simpler as you played. Even if you missed a power up while auto-running, the enemies can't withstand many shots.
Enemies become a bit more trouble when you get a jet pack. You have to tap jump to keep it going through tight spaces, and considering this was made by the developer for AVGN Adventures, there are about a million spikes everywhere. Tapping with just the right timing gets brutal fast as you lightly hover through tight corridors, and all while trying to get in a few shots on the enemy that's down the hall blocking your path. These sections, while difficult, still felt a little easier than pulling off the jumps, though. Platforming while auto-running is just plain hard.
As I said, the stages aren't that long, though, and the game is pretty fair about them. The game is split up into worlds with four levels each, and if you beat a world you get a permanent checkpoint you can always start off from. Otherwise, you have ten lives to get through the game, and once they're gone, you're done. It's back to the start of whichever world you're in. So, if you lose in world 3-4, you go back to 3-1, which can be pretty discouraging, but again, these levels aren't long. Also, I found putting in enough practice to beat a given stage often burned the level into my memory, so I easily got back to wherever I had been with minimal lives lost. It's hard, but once you know the levels, they're not that bad.
The complex stages and high stakes might make you think that this wouldn't loan itself well to the short burst play that mobile games tend to focus on, but it still works well. So long as you have some lives left, you can drop out at any point and come back to the last stage you were playing at some point later. That much makes it easy to pick up and play whenever you have time. The short stages can often be beaten in thirty seconds to a minute, too, so there's no problems there, either. Also, memory and reaction time are both tested equally, so someone with good reflexes will do well no matter how much time they have to devote to the game. Only playing in bursts does make it a little harder to memorize a stage, but I found that you're better off just relying on your reflexes anyway.
The downside to short stages is that the game isn't very long. It felt fair for my two dollars, but a committed player that loves brutal games could likely finish this in an hour or so. The sixteen stages don't last especially long, but the high difficulty gave them a lasting power for me. There are also gems you can collect in each stage that will push you to your limits, so I'd say you'll definitely get your money's worth from it no matter how tough you think you are. An excellent player might not feel that there is much content here, but there's enough danger and content here to last us regular folk a while.
I'm perfectly happy just to look at the game and listen to it, though. The pixel art style is charming, reminiscent of the games that likely inspired its difficulty. The weird alien world mixes technology and strange biology with a sense of humor, filling the deadly world with silly-looking monsters. Dying from impact with a giant snail seems like a dumb way to go, but fits just fine in this world. The look of the main character, which used to be a little too close to Mega Man for my liking, now has its own personality in the form of Louise's pink and blue uniform. Each world and character stands alone and unique, putting way more work into the visuals than I'm used to from the mobile market. FreakZone's music is top-notch as usual, too. The tunes bear all of the hallmarks of his soundtracks, creating that upbeat signature sound I enjoy so much. It's all very short stuff, just like the levels, but it powers the tense platforming with great chiptunes.
If you're the hardest of the hard, it might not last you long, but perfecting your run at Jump'N'Shoot Attack will keep that phone in your hand for a while. The gameplay is straightforward, but the game's expectations of you are high, so this won't be an easy walk through pixelated territory. Timing jumps while unable to stop is a tense exercise, and doing so while shooting down enemies or planning your jetpack route has a lot to offer players looking for harder, but easily-controlled, mobile games. Overall, this is a solid game for you to play until your legs are numb on the toilet. And your phone's snapped in two. Hope it wasn't your work cell.
Because mine was.