As Scooby-Doo has rightfully pointed out on numerous occasions, kids cause problems. And in this instance curious children once again manage to provoke a world changing event that, luckily, can be undone by completing a platforming adventure. This is the basis for Juju, Flying Wild Hog’s latest release that sees Juju jumping, bouncing and play the bongos over a series of levels in order to defeat the ultimate evil and rescue not just the world, but also his father.
A platformer’s most important asset is the feeling of satisfaction created during forward momentum. As the player spends most of the time in traversal, the sensation caused by pressing the jump button and moving between platforms is incredibly important, and it is something that Juju does very well. It feels good, it is satisfying and more importantly remains consistent from start to finish. Juju always behaves as you expect him to under your control, moves and lands where you push the control stick and responds accurately to all the inputs I gave him. It also had that feeling of being just right, that indistinguishable sensation that the upmost care had been taken in making this feel satisfying to play. There are never any moments that I felt a death was caused by a failure in the control system, simply by a failure in my co-ordination.
The second most important factor is in level design. In this regard the influences are clear, with hints of Donkey Kong and Rayman appearing in various guises. Unfortunately the overall result is not as clever as either of those two titles. Getting from the start to the end is never difficult and, due to this, rarely that interesting. Even finding the secret areas is not problematic as the signposting is readily apparent and hard to miss. Levels do have a natural flow to them but they only start to get interesting and exciting by the last world, at which point they had already started to lose my attention. This simply led to an appreciation, rather than pure enjoyment, a pervasive feeling that everything was just OK, instead of inciting excitement within me. Finishing levels in any platforming game should feel like an accomplishment, a test of both reflexes and problem solving in order to reach the goal. In both these factors, to its detriment, Juju is too forgiving.
Now this may be very intentional. The aesthetic is very bold and bright, the characters skewed more towards the cute and it is hard to shake the feeling that this is meant for a younger audience. In that regard the above observations should be taken with a pinch of salt, as the developer may well be making these decisions intentionally to appeal more to that group. And certainly for a younger gamer this would be a great way to introduce the platforming genre to them, as it avoids many of the frustrations that can arise during play in its more established brethren.
There are attempts to try to mix it up now and then; various extra powers are granted during the game, including the ability to swim, ground pound and fire pellets. These are rarely expanded on during progression though, and no substantive attempts are made to build on these abilities outside the final boss sections. In the case of the pellet, it arrives so late on that it feels a little like an afterthought rather than a conscious decision.
In truth, just about everything that I saw playing this game, I had seen before, and done better in other titles. It should be remembered that this is the studios first attempt at a platformer, and they have taken from the best there is, but in emulating established franchises it only heightens the awareness of what those games did better than this one.
The hardest thing about this all is that none of it is bad. The game itself is a thoroughly decent excuse to spend a few hours jumping about a series of great looking environments and collecting flashy gems. It is entirely inoffensive, the animation is of a good quality and the actual act of playing the game never feels frustrating or badly implemented. The problem with this is that it never feels like it wanted to be anything more than good, nor tried to progress beyond the original basic design. It is not that exciting, neither is it that compulsive. The foundations are all in place and the team behind this managed to get arguably the hardest part right the first time round; in terms of the movement. If there was ever a sequel it could be great, allowing them to expand upon the foundation already present, but as it currently stands it is a fun diversion but one that is hard to wholeheartedly recommend.
Reviewed on PS3.
Xbox 360 and Steam versions available.