The idea behind Xbox Live Arcade has always been a noble one. Allow small developers a chance to display their work in a controlled environment without the hassles and cost of fighting for retail space. This has spawned several original and incredibly fun titles such as Small Arms and RoboBlitz. THQ’s latest arcade entry is another game that on any other platform would be doomed to fail, but not necessarily because it is a bad game. In fact the premise behind Screwjumper is unique enough to separate from the rest of the herd while still managing to be enjoyable enough for even the most casual of players. A few small control issues and minor amounts of tedium may present some speed bumps along the way, but when all is said and done Screwjumper manage to be a fun little game at a fun little price.
The idea is simple; you launch yourself down a mine shaft filled with booby traps. Slowly weaken the integrity of the shaft’s defenses, and finally launch a stick of dynamite into the reactor core Death Star style. It is almost like a platform game in reverse. As you descend through each of the game’s 20 stages you are presented with various types of obstacles such as lava fields, laser grids, and of course the evil red platform of doom. The object is to take down all of the green platforms and weaken the core’s defense system before launching in your boom stick. Sounds simple enough right? But the branching paths later in the game and the addition of new obstacles will keep gamers on their toes through each and every stage.
What tends to hold back Screwjumper from legendary status though are the controls. While you would think that a game consisting entirely of free-falling would be easy to manage, there is just something amiss about how your character handles. For instance when trying to line up with vertical stacks of platforms you will often times find yourself just shy of the mark thanks to poor perspective. It is nigh impossible to be accurate in the game without putting on the air brakes. This would be fine and dandy if the game didn’t encourage you to go no-holds-barred down the core in order to earn bonus multi-pliers. Sometimes it feels like the developers wanted to create a challenge by trying to balance the braking and speed but inherently found a way to make neither one of them work in unison.
It will also take players quite a while to adjust to the unstable control scheme. If you have imagined a Pilotwings style of floating then you need to leave your expectations at the door. Screwjumper feels so loose when moving horizontally that more times than not you will slam into obstacles or worse yet the wall in an attempt to take out the green platforms. The aiming mechanic also suffers from poor design. Instead of being able to free look the game resets the reticule when left idle for a moment. Now while this does sound helpful in theory, it can become a pain when trying to keep aim at a particular spot for more than a few seconds.
Even with these shortcomings Screwjumper is a fun, if not flawed experience that can be enjoyed given you are willing to stick around for the learning curve. Outside of the 20 single-player stages there are also a host of multi-player options and leaderboards to keep you occupied. Local play unfortunately limits you to one on one confrontations in only seven of the maps, but hop on Xbox Live and you can engage in four player matches on any of the 20 single-player environments.
Visually the game reminds me of a mix between some classic PSOne titles such as Blast Chamber and Grid Runner while meshing with the more recent Microsoft party series Fuzion Frenzy. The textures are not of the highest quality but the frame rate is rock solid and for a digital download the game is more than proficient. Audio on the other hand is atrocious sporting some stock techno music that sounds like it came bundled with a programming-at-home kit and sound effects that easily forgettable. Overall for ten dollars the game will not impress or disappoint, it mainly just feels average.
While most will likely balk at the idea of spending 800 Microsoft Space Bucks for this title I find it quite refreshing and reminiscent of the PSOne days where devs took chances on titles that didn’t really fit a genre. If you enjoy games like the ones I mentioned earlier that were forgotten treasures then Screwjumper may interest you. I feel that it would have been better priced at 400 points, but as it stands there is fun to be had here as long as you aren’t expecting the next revolution of gaming.