Review: Color Jumper

Review: Color Jumper

Game development is a very challenging job, particularly for indie developers. Perhaps that’s why the most painful platforming games come from indies: their struggles and pain pour into their games, causing players to suffer alongside them.

Color Jumper is one such platforming game, but with a twist: how you interact with other objects depends entirely on what color is facing it. Platforms are only solid to the matching color, enemies can only be killed by touching them with the corresponding color, and so on. Despite this added mechanic, the game is incredibly fast-paced, and speedrunning is encouraged… if you can survive in the first place.

Title: Color Jumper
Developer: Tallbeard Studios/Ben Burnes
Platform: Steam (Windows laptop)
Game Version: Final
Review Copy: Proved by developer
Interface: Keyboard/DualShock 4 Controller
Available on Steam and itch.io

Color Jumper is an abstract, color-based puzzle platformer which focuses on fast, precise movement to navigate your surroundings. Inspired by hardcore platformers like Super Meat Boy, Downwell, VVVVVV, and many others, your goal in Color Jumper is to reach the exit.

You control a block with a different color on each side. Colored platforms are only solid when in contact with the connecting color of your block. Each jump rotates your block, creating a world where each jump must be planned carefully, turning levels into a twisting high-speed parkour race to the finish.

The only three certainties in life are death, taxes, and my love/hate relationship with challenging platforming games. I typically do my best to avoid them, but it’s mostly because, despite being so terrible at them, I get relentlessly addicted. I’m not a masochist by any means, I often say “ouch” when something might potentially hurt me soon. In fact, if I had a dollar for every time I had to tell someone I wasn’t actually hurt, I just expected something to hurt and said “ouch” prematurely, I’d have many, many dollars.

Color Jumper was a game I was nervous about before I started playing it. Unforgiving platformers are tough enough, let alone adding the concern about which color is facing which direction. Thankfully, swapping colors doesn’t require some convoluted system like I was expecting, it’s merely a natural part of jumping. Every time you jump, your colors will rotate clockwise, and you can continue hitting the jump button while in midair to continue rotating.

Like any good hardcore platformer, the game eases you into it with some easy levels that teach you the ropes. Players quickly learn that they can wall jump, and that colored platforms and walls are only solid if the proper color is facing them. Players also learn rather quickly that precision is a necessity, and that any little slip-up can easily mean death. In a world where load times are often measured by double-digit numbers of seconds, it’s refreshing that the death/restart cycle takes less than a second. Normally I wouldn’t care about mentioning that, but considering that I died hundreds of times and there’s an achievement for 500 deaths, it’s a big part of the game.

I haven’t played a whole bunch of difficult platformers, but Color Jumper is easily the hardest. The game requires absolute perfection, particularly after the first 15-20 levels, and even with five skips, I couldn’t get past level 40. Using a PS4 controller definitely helped, but there were some things that I just never managed to do well. For example, there are numerous spots that require players to wall jump their way straight up a wall, but then there are turrets firing or other obstacles to avoid at the same time. This requires a jump, dodge away, and then a quick move back to not only avoid death but resume the climb, and it’s something I never managed to pull off. Oddly, the added challenge of utilizing the proper colors at the proper times was rarely what kept me from finishing a level, and it added a terrific (but manageable) challenge to each level.

Speaking of skips, Color Jumper has a nifty system for skipping levels. You’re given five skips that you can use at any time. These, as you might guess, allow you to skip a level! As you can see below, this places a little skip token on the level(s) you’ve skipped, and if you ever complete a level with a skip token on it, you’ll get your skip back. I’m always paranoid about using things like these early in the game, but once I learned you could get them back I was no longer hesitant to throw them around. Better yet, using them allowed me to progress further, get better at the game, and then go back to retry the levels I skipped and reclaim a few tokens. Granted, this loop has only worked once so far, but it was still nice!

But what really sets Color Jumper apart from other platformers is just how terrific the level design is. I haven’t played a hardcore platformer without great level design, but the quality in Color Jumper was particularly stellar. Things were constantly changing, and the added challenge of properly aiming your colors allowed for loads of unique situations in the game. Sure there’s loads of platforming, but there are also turrets, makeshift elevators, enemies to kill, and unique boss encounters. Levels with enemies require you to defeat them all before you can move on, and you do this by hitting one of their colored sides with your own matching side. You bounce off of them, a la Super Mario Bros, and as you might expect, you’ll have to strategically utilize those bounces as well. Then there are the bosses – I faced off against one myself and saw gameplay of two more. The fight I played was a load of fun: you essentially face off against a bigger version of yourself that creates shockwaves when it slams the ground. Taking it out took some practice, like any good boss fight, and it felt super satisfying to finally defeat it.

For absolute perfectionists, there are two optional goals per level: completing the level within a certain amount of time and completing the level with a certain number of rotations (measured in 90° increments). With that said, good luck actually completing them on the harder levels! The time goals appear ludicrous and require absolute perfection, and the rotation goals all seem to require completing a level with the minimal number of rotations possible. Luckily the two are independent of one another – you can go through a level as fast as humanly possible, and then take your time strategizing the minimal number of rotations on another attempt. I wish these medals would grant additional skips or something so that there was more encouragement to collect them.

In fact, the only thing missing from Color Jumper is some method to make the game easier. I would’ve loved some method, like the one previously mentioned, to unlock more skips or levels in general. The levels are brilliantly designed, and even if I genuinely couldn’t complete most of the levels I haven’t played, I would’ve enjoyed the experience anyway. Some levels also have numerous, separate difficult portions to them, so a system like the one used in kuso would’ve been amazing. For those not familiar, kuso allows players to throw down a respawn point anywhere and anytime as long as they’re on solid ground. Being able to utilize these, or fixed save points in levels that are only available on an “easier” difficulty, would’ve gone a long way for allowing less skilled players to experience more of the game.

With all of that said, I had a lot of fun with Color Jumper. I was amazed at how much polish and style the game had, and the level design was top-notch. I’m really surprised the game isn’t more popular or well-known, it’s definitely a hidden gem for people who love incredibly challenging games. For those who love speedrunning, you can enable ghosts so you can see your best speed while playing, and players have the option to start a speedrun at any time from the level select menu. Speedruns don’t allow you to pause them, and the clock is always ticking. You also get to see your total count of rotations and deaths, and if you have ghosts turned on you’ll see the ghosts for each level as you play as well. Best of all, if you start a speedrun before you complete the game and you beat a level you hadn’t previously unlocked, the game remembers it when you swap back to playing individual levels. For the best of the best, there’s a “True Speedrun” achievement for completing the entire speedrun in 35 minutes or less. To make that sound more absurd than just the general idea of beating over 100 levels in 35 minutes, I was only able to find one video of someone attempting a speedrun, and they finished at just under four hours!

While I doubt I’ll be returning to the world of Color Jumper anytime soon, I will definitely be keeping an eye out for people streaming the game or posting speedruns in the future. I’d love nothing more than to watch someone achieve a spectacular time on the game!

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