Jump Superstars had anime otaku on the edge of their seats since Nintendo announced the title. There’s good reason for it, since the game features characters from a myriad number of Shounen Jump manga series. Chances are your favorite character is probably in the game. From the shores of One Piece with Luffy and crew to the tennis courts where Ryoma from Prince of Tennis trains Jump Superstars has the widest selection of anime characters ever. Out of the Dragon Ball universe there is Goku, Vegtia, Gotenks, Bulma and Trunks. Straight from Konhoa are Nartuo, Sasuke, Shikamaru, Kakashi and Rock Lee. Yugi takes a break from the cards to jump in along with Bobobo. Sword wielders Ichigo (Bleach), Kenshin (Rurouni Kenshin) and Zoro (One Piece) are ready for battle. Even sports stars like Amakuni Saruno (Mr. Full Swing) and Hanamichi (Slam Dunk) step in the ring. We could go and spoil every single star in the game, but we think you get the idea of how encompassing Jump Superstars is.
Even with an all star cast, battles between spirit detective Yusuke and Shaman King’s star Yoh would get boring if the gameplay didn’t hold it’s ground. Instead of calling in Eighting, who’s known for developing anime fighter games, Nintendo partnered up with Ganbarion who developed some of the One Piece Fighting games. Together, Nintendo and Ganbarion took the Super Smash Brothers formula and scaled it down for the DS. You’ll fight on a 2D battlefield with up to four other characters on screen at any time. The stages layouts aren’t as large or unique as they are in Smash Brothers. All of them have a few platforms to jump on with paper walls that can be broken for ring outs. Unlike Smash Brothers you don’t have to throw characters out of the arena to win, dwindling down their health also scores players points.
Battles in Jump Superstars are intense. A few hits by a well timed combo will drain your health and your character’s color. Players are encouraged to block, do quick one button counters and even switch characters out of battle. On the touch screen is a manga styled menu, that lets you replace the character you’re controlling by pressing on another character’s portrait. Since each character has their own life bar, switching your team in and out is an essential strategy. The same menu also lets you call in an ally to attack and even recover your life. Whether a character can become a playable character or a support ally depends on how many blocks of koma they use.
Unlike any other fighting game before it Jump Superstars has players build a deck of animation frames called koma. The entire rectangular grid can have up to twenty spaces of koma, but not all koma are the same size. Some are one square and others take up seven. The size of the koma ultimately determines what a character will do in battle. If you have just a character’s portrait, they will play the role of boosting you in battle. These are things like healing, turning you invisible for a second or increasing your speed. If you have a two or three frame koma you’ll be able to call in that character to do a super attack. For instance if you use a partner koma with Sakura, she will jump in and throw shiruken in all directions when you tap her on screen koma. Koma that are between four to seven in size let you call that character directly into battle. The size of the koma does vary the "strength" a character has in battle, each different koma size lets you use different special attacks. Also, the more koma a character takes up the more life they have.
The koma system gives players lots of options, but it’s not the easiest thing in the world to use. It wouldn’t be a problem if you just had to set up your deck, but you actually have to put each koma together before you can use them. You start out with two pieces, a character koma and a serif koma, essentially a blank manga panel. To put together a useable koma you need to drag the character koma into the blank manga panel. If you select combination, the koma will get colored in and you can use it in your deck. Sounds simple enough, but with so many different characters and hundreds of blank manga panels there’s a lot of combinations to go through. Often the blank koma have hints, in Japanese of course, like character quotes. However, unless you’re familiar with that series you just wont know where a character will go. This forces players to resort to a FAQ for the easy way out or the arduous task of trial and error. Nintendo does give players another option, pre-set koma decks. If you just find the whole system to irritating or just want a quick fight you can select some of the designed decks for the game. Be aware though that you will be missing a lot of the game, dream combos and even the chance to play as some characters if you don’t build a deck.
Now that you have your deck ready, you can jump in and battle. Pressing "A" lets you jump, "B" does a light attack and "Y" does a heavy attack. If you want to defend you can press "L" or "R" to block, but beware of guard breaking attacks. The system is pretty balanced with a lot to learn about stringing together your combos. You can do a basic combo by starting out with a couple of light attacks and finish with a heavy blow. If you want to get a little more technical you can end with a super attack, like Goku’s kamehameha blast or Kakashi’s chidori. You can also set up a dream combo, which brings together all your battle characters for one ultimate attack. This can lead to some crazy combinations like Yugi summoning the black magician while Naruto is doing his sexy no jutsu. Or even more insane four characters unleashing super attacks in a row. One final special move you can do is a combination attack by having a set koma with two characters. This lets you make all new attacks like Double Final Flash when you put Vegita and Don Patchi together.
Fighting isn’t the only way to win a round. Other than beating down every other anime character in a blaze of glory there are other rule sets to follow. Some matches have you compete to pick up power coins, that are dropped when you smash barrels. Then there are some matches where you compete to see who can break ten barrels the fastest. The strangest challenge has you against the computer fighting to see who can kick a treasure chest the most. You’ll visit all of these challenges in the single player J-adventure mode.
One of the biggest challenges fighting games face is making the game entertaining as a single player experience. Handheld games suffer more since there is no single set up to play with a friend, you’re going to need two systems and maybe two games just for a single fight. To make Jump Superstars last longer there is an entire world to explore in the J-adventure. This takes you across four different worlds in search of battles and more importantly koma. Beating each mission earns you new koma plus the ability to travel further in the Jump Superstars universe to get more missions. Since each mission has multiple objectives and multiple koma pieces, there is incentive to replay stages.
Even with good computer AI and the chance to set up all of those crossover battles, you’ll want to play with a friend. Jump Superstars gives you two ways of doing this. If your buddy hasn’t bought a copy of Jump Superstars yet you can let them download the versus mode for instant playability. Although, they can only use the koma you’ve unlocked. If you and a friend each have your own copy of the game you wont have to count on a single player to unlock all of the koma. Versus mode is really where the game is at. When you have four players in a match Jump Superstars rules, but you really have to ask yourself how often is that going to happen. The single game download gives people a chance to find people to play with, but it’s no replacement for online play.
You probably wont get as many two player bouts between Jaguar Junichi and Jotaro as you would like, but Jump Superstars is still a must pick up. The J-adventure mode will entertain for hours and beyond that you can tweak your koma deck to perfection.
Import Friendly? Literacy Level: 3
There’s going to be a couple problems non literate importers are going to have to face. First is figuring out mission objectives, that are in Japanese. Second is understanding the koma system. Most of the koma have Japanese captions, which are big hints at figuring out which character belongs in the blank spot. If you ignore the koma system and just want to fight you can play Jump Superstars. Although you can’t really get all of the experience the best parts of the game if you ignore making a customized koma deck.
There is no uncertainty that this game would be a hot seller in the US, so it would seem likely that Nintendo of America would bring this over. However, due to licensing issues a lot of different publishers (i.e. Atari, Bandai, Konami) will have to come to some kind of agreement with Nintendo. Just because of legal issues between different companies and a slew of unlicensed characters an American release seems doubtful.
+ Pros: Tons of characters spanning dozens of anime series in one game with a splendid manga styled battle system.
- Cons: Actually using the koma system is quite testing and online play is surely missed in Jump Superstars.
Overall: Jump Superstars has so much more to it than just fighting. It’s got a unique set-up system with koma deck building and an entire world to adventure through. If there was a must pick up game for the Nintendo DS this is it.
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