Arcade Jumper [$1.99] by Black Hive Media is a retro side-scrolling platform game which feels like the old classic Mario. There's enemies to either shoot or jump on their heads, and the main character wears a red cap with red and blue clothes. Yup, that certainly sounds very Mario-esque, but fortunately there's plenty of innovation in this game too.
It's the 1980's and Eddy's brother Jimmy has been sucked into an arcade machine by 'Ghosty', the naughty child-abducting spirit with a friendly-sounding name. To save Jimmy, you need to complete 10 zones, each with three stages (30 stages in total).
Stages are completed by finding warp-tokens, then returning to the start of the stage to insert the token into the glowing arcade cabinet and warping to the next stage. There's a timer which counts down, so you need to keep moving. At the end of each zone (3 stages) you're confronted by the floating kidnapper, Ghostly, who must be chased down and then shot or jumped on before time runs out to complete the zone.
Along the way you collect fruit, like apples, bananas, oranges and cherries, coins (just like Mario) and invincibility stars. You'll also find tickets, which are used to buy game items or unlock playable characters. Sometimes these items are hidden inside crates which are revealed by head-butting into them, which is another mechanism borrowed from Mario.
If your health bar hits zero due to colliding with enemies, or you fall from the platforms, you immediately die and it's game over. Unfortunately, you're only given one life. And if you've finally managed to progress through a few zones, it doesn't matter - when you die, you'll still re-start from the very beginning, which despite the fun, can be frustrating after numerous restarts.
Each time you obtain 25,000 points you receive a "Continue" (maximum of 3), which is like a "life". This will help you progress further, but once they're used up, you still return to the very beginning in your next game. The worst part about dying is that there's six screens to pass through before restarting, followed by a slow "materializing" animation, which gets annoying, especially if you died within the first few seconds. An immediate restart should be available to avoid the frequent delays.
There's four characters to play, each with different weapon and jumping strengths. Initially only Eddie is unlocked, but once you unlock Destructoid (the robot) things become far more entertaining, as he can double jump which speeds up the whole experience. The best character, Mitch can double-jump and double-shoot.
Each time a stage starts, it's a surprise what the level will look like as Arcade Jumper cleverly displays different graphical themes (skins) for the backgrounds, levels and enemies. You might find yourself in a Mario-type level jumping on shelled creatures, in a space setting shooting at space invaders, in an urban environment capping thugs and dodging helicopters, or even facing shaggy pink 4-legged creatures wearing sunglasses and over-sized jewelry. Regardless of the level's appearance, the gameplay is the same in each theme, but it's quite nice to have this variety.
There's buttons for left, right, jump and shoot, which are responsive, although the player occasionally slides a little for no apparent reason. You can optionally unlock an alternate slider control using your tickets, which is an interesting idea, although after unlocking this I preferred the original controls. I also downloaded JoyPad [Free] to turn my iPod into a controller while playing on the iPad, which worked really well.
In addition to the main game mode, there's three mini-games you can play from the main menu to earn tickets. In 'Skeet Ball' you swipe a ball at targets. 'Pongchinko' involves dropping three balls down rows of pegs, hoping it lands in high scoring container at the bottom. While 'Space Frantic' appears to be a whack-a-mole variant, although there's no instructions. After each mini-game, tickets are dispensed based on your performance.
The tickets can be used to unlock "player assists" such as a flipper to rebound you back onto the platform if you fall or a helpful "cool space guy" who flys around you shooting enemies and is prepared to take a bullet for you, plus unlocking the three other characters. If you can't be bothered collecting tickets from the platform levels and mini-games, you can optionally purchase tickets as an in-app purchase, although this really isn't necessary.
This game is universal, as it can be installed on any iOS devices. However, be warned: when it runs on the iPad, the game dimensions are about same size as the ipod, with the extra space being used to draw an arcade cabinet around the outside, like a large border. The iPad version uses a fraction of the screen for actual gameplay.
Also, this game works on the iCade cabinet, which is becoming a selling point, however because the iPad version displays a cabinet on the screen you end up with: The game surrounded by a picture of a cabinet, which is inside the actual iCade cabinet. Something about a cabinet within a cabinet just isn't ideal. This has been brought to the developer's attention.
Arcade Jumper is a fun game, especially once you've unlocked the double-jump. However, the restart delays are excessive and the constant returning to the beginning is wearing thin and may stop some players from seeing the zones full of sloping and tilting platforms, asteroids and fireballs ....and probably other stuff I haven't seen yet, because of constantly returning to the beginning. Arcade Jumper has plenty of potential as some small tweaks could improve the player's experience dramatically, but as is it's still an interesting take on a Mario-like platformer that's worth having a look at.
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