The bonkers early 3D platformer with a twist is alive and well thanks to PSN – although it has aged a little worse than some titles from the same era, it still provides a very fun (if brief) blast of nostalgic gameplay.
World-building & Story
Perhaps due to the time it released, Jumping Flash! is very light on story – telling the bare minimum to paint a scenario but little more. Upon booting up you’re treated to a cutscene of the villain – Baron Aloha – a Hawaiian-themed maniac, who is ripping areas out of the ground with giant robots to form part of his own galactic private retreat. It’s certainly a unique premise even in this day and age.
It’s here we’re also introduced to Robbit – a robot rabbit crime fighter from ‘intergalactic city hall’ dispatched to put an end to Baron Aloha’s scheme, who is the game’s playable character. And… that’s it – there’s really no more plot development in the game aside from brief interludes play between each set of levels showing the bad guys lamenting their losses, but otherwise you’re simply tasked with taking down the Baron.
It’s clear the game prioritized a quick ‘drop-in-and-play-a-few’ arcade experience rather than an elaborately constructive narrative, a choice which fits with the brief experience of each level and the genre as a platformer. It’s still slightly disappointing that there isn’t more than a framing device in place, however.
World-building is done through explorations of the levels and while there are some nice touches, it’s a fairly barren experience. They’re divided into sets of three based on a theme – snowy levels; city levels etc, meaning there’s not really any sense of progression. Within these you will occasionally spot a reminder that you’re fighting a megalomaniac, such as a logo on a wall or similar, but little more.
Presentation & Sound
As a very early PS1 title, Jumping Flash! suffers from a certain jank that plagues games from this period on the console as developers were just figuring out how to make 3D worlds. It’s not sophisticated in any way – big square pixels are on display everywhere; everything in the game is made from blocky shapes with sharp edges and there’s a general lack of polish even when compared to its contemporaries.
With that said, there are some enjoyable things in the graphical department here. Robbit and nearly all enemies have shadows – very important for placing a landing from a jump and somewhat of a rarity at the time. Certain explosions are graphical effects are visually striking and enemy design remains inventive.
What remained a consistently impressive part of the visual package, however, was the environmental design and use of colour. There are some gorgeous areas in the game that run the gambit from candy coloured theme parks to futuristic space labyrinths and all sorts in between. The title is part of an era when variety was key and fantasy was often chosen over realism, something which is easy to appreciate these days. The game’s levels all feature appropriate palettes, each varying in design choices depending on what’s being portrayed and some in particular are still beautiful to look at.
But otherwise, this is very much an early 3D title and its age shows when playing it now, even with Vita’s ability to make classics shine.
Sound is another ball game – sound effects are a fairly standard set of noises, ranging from enemy grunts to magical explosions. There’s a nice quality to some of the effects however, such as Robbit’s metallic plodding while walking or the “whoosh” noise when he jumps. Voice acting is present, although scarce and rarely anything interesting.
Music is a particular high point. This may just be my own particular brand of nostalgia talking, but there’s some special quality certain PS1 games possess – where the soundtrack always fits the theme of the level yet each track aims to be catchy as well – and Jumping Flash! is definitely among these. Much of it is synth-led, but all of it is addictive and the kind of music that will stick with you long after playing.
Gameplay & Content
Back before Mario 64 laid the groundwork for 3D platformer between its mix of collectathon gameplay and fully explorable worlds, Jumping Flash! offered a different take. For starters, its worth noting this is a first-person platformer – you’ll only see the world through Robbit’s eyes and his little robotic feet and arms are the most you’ll see of him while playing. This really does shift the style of play and is largely not copied even to this day – you’ll rely on momentum to make jumps and often won’t be certain you’ll be able to land everything, although a helpful shadow really assists with judging things.
Rather than just jumping once, Robbit can actually triple jump and get some serious height – it feels more like ‘taking off’ rather than jumping. And levels are often designed around this – big sandboxes where you can go anywhere and approach them from a number of different angles which makes it a very different experience. You’re constantly planning a route of where you want to go next from a number of options, something more akin to modern games.
To assist Robbit with dispatching the foes littering each level he’s equipped with arrows which are fired from the first person perspective. While the game never devolves into feeling like an FPS, there will be times you’ll stand turret-ing arrows at a far-away enemy. He can also collect various firework-themed weapons for additional carnage during each level (from roman candles to twisters – a nice touch to keep the game kid-friendly), which provide a bit of variety. Of course, landing on enemies is often the most effective way to dispatch them and the greater the height you land from, the more damage caused.
Your goal is nearly always to collect four ‘jetpods’ (giant carrots) in each area before landing on the ‘exit’ pad to leave the level. Occasionally this objective is mixed up by boss battles which are generally impressive affairs – particularly the final boss – that often require you to mix up strategies to dispatch. I found myself struggling with my preferred method of “keep jumping on them until they die” and regularly had to learn to dodge projectiles or keep my distance.
Outside of boss battles, the game does like to mix up its level design too. While the majority go for open sandbox, you’ll occasionally be forced into a series of winding corridors which severely drops your maneuverability. While I understand this choice from the point of view of providing variety, these levels are easily the game’s worst and really don’t fit into to the mechanics available. Conversely, one of the final levels is a joy – an open design but one you can’t just leap around due to very narrow platforms, which caused me to consider every jump in detail.
In terms of content, Jumping Flash! is a very light package. Compared even to other games from the PS1 era there’s just not a whole lot here and it definitely feels like a launch title. There are six sets of three levels and then you can play them again with some slight tweaks in ‘extra’ mode – its definitely beatable in one sitting. With that said, the game can be bought for peanuts from PSN and I can’t really complain in that regard.
It’s strange to think that if Jumping Flash! had taken off better, the landscape of platformers across the PS1; N64 and even further could have been different. It’s still a very unique experience and thanks to some cute design; fun gameplay and beautiful music it remains a game worth experiencing, but time has taken its toll and it’s definitely not as striking as it once was.