Developer: Smoking Gun Interactive / Lima Sky
Publisher: D3Publisher of America
Review Platform: XBLA (Xbox 360 Kinect)
Review Copy Provided By: D3Publisher of America
Release Date: June 28, 2013
Originally a very popular game on mobile devices, Doodle Jump recently made the transition to Xbox 360 in the form of a Kinect Arcade title. But for a game about jumping, it doesn’t stick the landing.
On mobile, Doodle Jump is about getting as high as you can, bouncing platform to platform as you tilt your device. Along the way, you meet obstacles such as enemies and various platforms meant to prematurely end your run. The game is all about beating your previous score. Ingeniously it even shows the height your friends have reached scribbled in the margins of the screen; taunting you to hop just a little higher. Put in a neat package where the game is meant to look like a goofy drawing done in 6th grade math class, and you have yourself a best-selling mobile app.
Doodle Jump for Kinect is a heavy departure from the original concept. The game is divided into 30 levels across three worlds. Your aim is to climb until you reach the top of each level, killing baddies and navigating the platforms as you go. Along the way, there are checkpoints to mark your progress. You score points based on the collection of blue coins, the killing of monsters, and the speed at which you make it to the end. When all is said and done, you are graded from zero-to-three stars based on your final score. And at the end of each world, a boss fight.
The game controls by moving back and forth across your living room to move Doodler, your jumping green friend. Raising an arm fires a little spit ball in the direction your arm is pointing. The rest of the controls are all based on a variety of power-ups. you can flap your arms to fly when you have wings, clap your hands to detonate a bomb, or crouch to put on magic boots that allow jumping on breakable platforms.
The concept seems timid enough. A casual game translated into the living room with the Kinect controls that anyone can use. Do not be deceived. Underneath the cutesy veneer of the game and its advertising lies a veritable gauntlet of death and frustration. The difficulty curve of the game is steep and unrelenting. Where in early levels they give you a few power-ups to choose from and a few doofy enemies, by level four the mask of a casual game has fallen off to reveal a grinning little demon.
The enemies are sometimes merely roadblocks, goofy little doodles just hovering, waiting for you to shoot them down with a wave of your hand. Others shoot back. Some will even follow you until you kill them. Still more explode into smaller, more numerous baddies. There are cannons mounted to the sides of the levels that will shoot anything from cannonballs to mine traps to monsters themselves. Your only defense is raising your hand in the direction you want to shoot, which is sometimes ridiculous. The gameplay mechanic of shooting while pointing your arm is made all the more difficult by the idea that your character is constantly bouncing, and many of the enemies are also moving around.
The power-ups are few and far between, and while some can grant immunity to monster attacks, they cannot grant immunity to a poorly placed body. So while you are fending off enemy after enemy, many which descend from the top of the screen with little warning, you must also be ready to use whatever power-up you might have equipped while also making sure you don’t stand still because the platform you were just on disappeared and now you’re dead.
I want you to read that last (grammatically ridiculous) sentence again and understand what this completely entails. The level of spatial awareness required to play this game is high. The reaction time required to play this game at its most efficient does not exist in human abilities. There are situations you run into that if you don’t already know what is happening, you will die. This game forces you into a trial-and-error scenario so many times in the mid- and late-game levels, it’s unreasonable. The game requires you to repeat sections over again to pass levels, and memorize those levels to get three stars. Across my gameplay experience with DJfK, which consisted of the first 21 of 30 levels across a few hours, I never once felt like the developers wanted me to win. And if I, a seasoned gamer with ample physical ability to play Kinect, cannot effectively play this game, then how can my family?
It’s at this point that I really start to wonder who this game is for. This is not a get-together-with-your-family game. Your parents can’t handle this level of difficulty. And grandpa can’t do the bouncing back and forth necessary in even the early levels. This is not a casual gamer’s title, either. If your ability to effectively navigate platforms on mobile makes you think you have a shot here, then you are sorely mistaken. Absolutely no skills transfer from one platform to the next. This is not a game for the hardcore gamer, because its lack of depth and shallow gameplay doesn’t attract the hardcore crowd.
Beyond that, the music is repetitive and grating. It’s cheerful background can only lay down the foundations for even more frustration as you fall off the moving platform for the tenth time. Every death is cheerfully accented with the hum of the looping track exclusive to that world. So you get the same song for ten levels. The visuals are nothing to write home about, either. The charm of being drawn on paper is lost because the paper look is gone. Instead, the game now just looks like someone didn’t want to take the time to hire a decent artist to make the monsters. the charm of the mobile game is completely lost here, and further exacerbated by the difficulty of the game. There is also a lot of unused screen space in the left and right margins, keeping the general feel of the mobile game present. Each world is simply a color change and a few new background elements.
Ultimately, I find little redeeming about Doodle Jump for Kinect. I will praise it for this: never have I had a Kinect game control this well. The simple motions required to actually play this game are executed on command 99% of the time. I never felt cheated by awkward motion controls. But good control does little to patch the damage done by the rest of the game. The difficult gameplay, repetitive and uninventive visuals, and looping audio will kill any fun you could have with Doodle Jump for Kinect in a matter of hours, if not minutes. If the price of the game was any more than the bargain bin 400 Microsoft Points that it now stands at, I couldn’t find myself recommending this game to anyone. Then again, I don’t think I could recommend it now.