Monday, March 5, 2012

Review: Jump Ultimate Stars

With the Upcoming release of Xenoblade Chronicles and the recent release of The Last Story in Europe, the game that most people are now looking forward to is Pandora's Tower, an action RPG developed by Ganbarion. It's easy to dismiss Ganbarion as a mediocre company, as at a glance their only prior productions are One Piece games of varying quality and an Azumanga Daioh puzzle game. That being said, their only 'original' series is the Stars! series that consists of Jump Super Stars and Jump Ultimate Stars, two of the most inventive fighting games ever made (I'll be reviewing the sequel since it makes the original game almost obsolete).

When I say 'inventive', it is easy to dismiss the games as "Super Smash Bros. but with animé characters" (although if you really DO want to play Super Smash Bros. with animé characters then import Battle Stadium D.O.N) but this barely scratches the surface of what the games have to offer. For one thing, the games contains 160 characters (34 playable) from 27 different manga series that have all been published in Shonen Jump! at one point in time but more importantly, the battle system is an innovative and unique system that makes me wonder why it hasn't been used in other fighting games since.

The game gives you a 5 by 4 grid of 20 squares. During the course of the game you can gain manga panels (referred to as koma) that represent a given character. These panels are shapes of various sizes that can be arranged in the grid to create your setup. There are three varieties of panels that the characters come in: Battle koma that are the playable characters who you can control and fight with, Support koma that provide additional special attacks and help koma that provide stat boosts to your battle characters (Help koma are one square, support's two & three squares and battle komas can range from four panels to eight, the idea being that you encounter new help panels and evolve them to other forms). In regards to winning, while it is possible to defeat the opposition the normal way by reducing their health bar to zero, the walls of the stages are themselves comic panels which can be destroyed when enough damage is done, making the game into a true Smash Bros. clone if you really want it to be!

The amount of combinations for teams in this way can be measured reaches into the tens of thousands. It allows for a large amount of flexibility in team creation and experimentation that is rarely given in video games, let alone fighters. Along with a Rock, Paper, Scissors relation regarding the battle character's attributes of knowledge, strength and laughter and the variety of stages and power ups makes sure that no two battles can be the same.

Ganbarion did an excellent job in terms of spritework. Each character is well animated and unique enough to stick out from the rest (No Mario/Luigi, Ryu/Ken types here!) and the backgrounds are nice looking portraits that do well to complement the stages even if they are quite static compared to the rest of the game. The music is mostly forgettable, but there are some cool sound effects, like an especially satisfying crunch from punching a guy so hard they fly off the screen.

It's doubtful that there will ever be a sequel to Ultimate Stars. It's likely that Ganbarion was mostly making One Piece games to finance a project as ambitious as Pandora's Tower and the quality of Ultimate Stars was likely their attempt of seeing what happened when they put some actual effort into their games rather than sticking to a chosen formula. That being said, their most recent DS game, One Piece: Gigant Battle has the same style of sprite work as the Jump! series and the same chaotic gameplay with the added bonus of having an English release, even though the game commands ridiculous prices on Amazon, I recommend checking it out to see why Treasure aren't the only people who can make a good fighting game on the DS.

Find Jump Ultimate Stars on ebay | Amazon

Released: 2006-11-23
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Ganbarion


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