Tryzon's Nonsensical Gaming Trips #32
Jumanji (PS2, 2006)
[Disclaimer] Due to this game's relative obscurity, I could hardly find many in-game pictures. Hence this review's below-average quantity of relevant images. Sorry, folks. [/Disclaimer]
I am not making up a word of this, honestly; a PS2 game based on the fun family film (which is itself an adaptation of a book) from 1996, only the game came out a decade later. This probably sounds very odd, but it's actually a common practice for older licenses to get games made by budget companies, since a cheap license will still have a good-sized market. The Jumanji game, for instance, was brought to us by Blast! Entertainment, a budget game developer whose other works include Paddington Bear and Little Britain. And yes, knowing this kind of thing makes me a colossal nerd, but just remember that you're the one reading it.
Jumanji certainly ticks all the typical boxes for a budget PS2 game: wafer-thin manual with a few silly spelling and grammar errors (and there are some in the game, too); use of CDs for reasons of lower costs and not needing much space anyway; credits list that might not even have two dozen people in it, as well as a generic design format on the case's back cover, though the front cover is the epic Jumanji movie poster, so it's not all negative.
Good-natured teasing aside, finding budget titles worth playing is one of my goals when it comes to collecting. Many such games are undeniably bad, but gems such as the great vehicle-based shooter Motorsiege: Warriors of Primetime demonstrate that even something which originally retailed for a tenner next to the checkouts in Tesco can be boisterous. Besides, they wouldn't be as interesting to gather up without their odd quirks. Jumanji is nothing to rival the best cheapo games around, but it's not without merit by any means.
The worst thing that any licensed game can do if it wants to avoid annoying me right from the off is not at least attempt to capture the essence of its chosen franchise, but Jumanji dodges that bullet by taking the form of a board game that sees four players (complete with adorable animal avatars) move towards the exit. So far, so faithful. The presentation is above-average for a title of such low price, with some funky jungle music and pleasing cartoonish style that immediately got me in the appropriate mood. There are even genuinely clever rhymes that hide the quick loading times, just like in the film. And these are new ones, not just rehashes. I'm impressed.
The game is expectedly simple; you pick a character, roll the dice, move up the board and play one of the dozen 2D minigames on offer, some of which have a few variations to boot. It's extremely pick-up-'n'-play, which any party game ideally should be, and the sheer coolness that comes from something like Jumanji is half the pleasure. I've always seen the film as Jurassic Park's cheesier and less terrifying cousin, and I really, really like the whole evil board game concept. It even has the bonus of making for a kick-arse video game...at least, the potential for one.
Anyway: whoever wins the minigames will get moved forward the most and eventually somebody will win, accompanied by a lovely spouting of fireworks from the volcano that eerily foreshadowed the Iceland volcano crisis that's going on 'round these parts. Not that I ever leave the country regardless, but whatever; none of the games last more than a minute or so either, which keeps things fast-paced for the most part; as per every board game ever, landing on certain squares sends you forward or back; landing on the wrong place on the board will bring out Van Pelt the hunter (from the movie!), who will then take pot-shots at the players during minigames, which is an interesting touch; finally, as you might expect, the majority of the games have pick-ups that improve your chances of winning, such as temporary invincibility.
I concluded that the best way to analyse something so focused on minigames would be to just quickly summarise them all, so here we go.
Fishing! Possibly the most competently-made game here, you just have to chuck spears at fish, avoiding mines while nabbing the trident power-up. Should be wildly entertaining with four fishermen.
Vulture Attack! Protect your coconut stockpile from ravenous vultures by lobbing either spears, cannonballs or (my favourite) boomerangs at them. The constant squawking sound is genius, and I like how you can essentially machinegun the birds at close-range. Not necessarily the best minigame, but certainly the most awesome, and it also possesses one of the most eye-catching game names since Chanticleer Hegemony.
Apparently the only known screenshot of Vulture Attack in existence. And it's not even that good.
Titanic Turtles! Probably the worst of the bunch, simply because neither I nor my accomplice ever worked out how to manoeuvre the rafts properly. Bashing turtles into each other should be a timeless pastime, but is crippled by the awful input. Shame, particularly since the title is terrific.
Rapids! Haphazardly pilot a raft down the river, smacking crocodiles and adversaries. Mysteriously controls far better than Titanic Turtles, and is therefore okay, though it's mostly a complete mess of oar-slapping.
Maze Craze! Nothing to do with the Atari 2600 game, but in reality a kind of multiplayer Pac-Man wherein you earn points by dodging lions in a basic labyrinth. Better than the 2600's infamous port, but not the revolution it might have been.
As a side note, the 2600 Maze Craze can be found on Atari Anthology for PS2 & Xbox (with a PC version going by the name of Atari - 80 Classic Games in One!), and it's just one of countless reasons to buy that game, although having both the 2600 and arcade versions of Battlezone on one disc is worth the entry fee alone.
Swarm! Dodge the insects and collect the fruit in another quality time-hoover.
Crazy Climbing! Clamber up a rock face, getting hit by rocks and sent spiralling to your doom by vultures, complete with chuckle-worthy scream. Unforgiving and reliant on luck, but amusing. Reminds me of Spider-Man on the 2600 a tad.
Cheeky Monkeys! Daftly-named, but the most strategic mode. Fend off apes from your tent while stealing fruit from others to increase your multiplier. One player tends to end up with most of the fruit, but otherwise this is as good as anything else on the disc. Trivia for you; notice the panting monkey noise that also features in Black & White. Hooray!
Hungry Bugs! Absolute chaos as you bounce bugs away from your tent, pong-style. Actually good fun with people, though confusing at its height.
I can only assume that this is not a realistic representation of camping in the wilderness. At least, I hope not.
Mud Hut Madness! Competent but clusterhumpish; everybody shoots at one another's huts until the time runs out or one person remains. Forgettable, though regular changes of position mix things up.
Stampede! Fairly original and entertaining, revolving around avoiding incoming beasts while shoving opponents over to get them trampled. Some suspicious collision detection, but surprisingly intense.
Charge! Very similar to stampede, only the animals come from all angles, making for a less predictable but generally easier experience. Stampede is probably better.
Two simple weaknesses prevent Jumanji from being a legitimately great game, leaving it as merely fair: first and foremost, nearly all of the minigames are plagued by stiff controls, with the worst contender (Titanic Turtles) being pretty much inoperable. I realise that with limited cash to throw around proper playtesting isn't the highest priority, but couldn't the designers have tried the game out during their lunches or something? The manual mentions two "Quality Assurance" blokes, but you could have fooled me; secondly and a bit less critically but still significantly, the only way to play the minigames is by having one randomly picked. A much better party title like Bishi Bashi Special allows for random, first-come-first-served and winner or loser options when choosing minigames, but not Jumanji. What this means is that for some reason Stampede pops up every other turn, while Fishing hardly ever does. Repetition sets in before too long and even if you somehow convince three comrades to play Jumanji with you (I haven't managed it), everyone will be voting to slip in TimeSplitters 2 after an hour or two, though until that point there will likely be a lot of well-mannered swearing as someone gets flung into the path of a rhino.
Jumanji is a completely passable multiplayer romp that could have been aces were it not for frequently imprecise controls and a tragic lack of customisation options. Make no mistake; I've played it with a mate and we both had a good time, but there was so much potential for brilliant party-fuel that wasn't properly explored. Such a famous film as Jumanji will likely get another tie-in one day, and if it does, then I hope whoever's responsible will take the same ideas that Blast! experimented with and improve upon them. They should certainly keep Vulture Attack, but making Titanic Turtles playable would be nice. It isn't helped by A.I. that's either hopeless or unstoppable, depending on the minigame.
The mate I mentioned just above is a fine laddie known to us mortals as Richard, and he was kind enough to sum up his opinion on Jumanji after some pestering. This is a first time feature here on Tryzon's Nonsensical Gaming Trips, so consider yourself privileged;
"The controls in the minigames were a bit iffy and watching your piece move slowly across the board was tedious, but the music was good and the riddles were imaginative. It's a great party game."
Valid points, sir, and I forgot about the agonisingly slow movement on the board screen, so thanks for filling that hole in the paintwork, though I personally think that "great" is too strong a word.
Without a doubt the best kind of people to give Jumanji to would be kids who're familiar with the film, but not yet old enough to get their thick heads around summat more complex and haven't played much better. Hell, Blast! Claim to be "the leading video game company aimed exclusively at the younger children's market", as their website says. If you or someone you know fit this description, then bravo, you'll forge many happy memories with Jumanji. But even if you just have an open mind and some patience, then I'd still recommend picking it up. This has been one of my more negative reviews to date, but that's just because the topic of discussion was such a perfect license for a radical multiplayer experience let down by missed opportunity. I don't blame Blast! really, since I'm well aware of how restricting making a cheapo game can be, but when one plays their game, there's a rather large elephant in the room the whole time. And no, he will not be sated with a liberal shouting of "Jumanji!"
I suggest selecting the options which result in the shortest game, possibly unless you have a complete squad of four involved; the A.I. just isn't very sporting to compete against.
A rage-inducingly large number of people are put off by 2D games, much like how folk dismiss black and white films. Fools such as these will hate Jumanji unconditionally, but anyone not held back by such prejudices should find something to like. Monopoly Party is the better board game video game, but loses points for having a clearly-established game to copy. Jumanji just works with the vague details gleaned from the film, and so deserves some credit for effort.
One of the best things that Jumanji the game has done since my acquisition of it is get me to watch Jumanji the movie again after many years. On Video, no less; I wouldn't have it any other way. Ever since that all I want to do is see Zathura, since that's supposed to be the same thing, only with B-movie robots! That loose connection by itself is reason enough to buy the Jumanji game. Then again, the worst thing that the game does is not have a single trace of Robin Williams. Like him or loathe him, you have to admit that the movie was basically built around him, and so he's a pivotal part of the Jumanji canon. Not having him in here is like not having nuts in a Snickers!
*Insert joke about Robin Williams' career here*
Long story short, buy Jumanji. And some delicious Snickers.
P.S. Blast! should be congratulated for having such a sweet logo; it's a smiling bomb winking at you! That's glorious!