A good licensed game has to fulfill two separate objectives: it needs to be a good game and it needs to be a good use of the license. This gives them double the opportunity for failure. However, it also gives them double the opportunity for success.
Jump Super Stars and Jump Ultimate Stars are a pair of multiplayer fighting games based on series from Weekly Shōnen Jump, a long-running manga anthology. "Shōnen" refers to the magazine's target audience: teenage males. However, many of the franchises that originate on its pages appeal to a wider and more varied audience. The games were successful among importers as well as locally, largely because of the international popularity of the featured series. More importantly, they offer a great multiplayer experience and plentiful content. While longtime fans get the most out of the game, even gamers with no interest in manga have something solid to find.
The two games are commonly compared to theSuper Smash Bros. series. In fact, the influence of Nintendo's series can be found in many ways. Both are four-player crossover fighters with multi-platform stages and simple controls. Both use combinations of direction input and an attack button to select between different attacks rather than the command inputs pioneered by Street Fighter. Games generally operate on rules similar to Super Smash Bros.'s Time mode, though there is also an elimination mode and something resembling Mario Kart: Double Dash!!'s Shine Thief.
Despite this similarity, the Jump games have several attributes that make them distinct from the Super Smash Bros. series. Their combat is closer to that of a traditional fighting game without strongly resembling one. The player has a health bar and is temporarily knocked out when it is depleted. They also have a super meter which is filled by hitting by enemies, being hit by enemies, and collecting the coins ejected from fallen enemies. The super bar can store multiple stocks. Players are not knocked back further when their health is low, but their colour drains, encouraging other players to move in for the kill. Ring outs are a possible method for a quick kill, but for many stages this requires breaking the walls first. While items are present, they provide health refills and temporary buffs; the bomb is the only one that can be used as a weapon.
The largest distinguishing feature of the two games is found on the bottom screen. In the games' single player mode, the player collects manga panels, or Koma, much resembling Tetris blocks. These Koma are then placed on the 5×4 grid on the bottom screen to provide different options during battle. The result is that the Jump games have a similar appeal to collectible card games. Players can easily sink large amounts of time into building multiple decks, whether for serious play or just to try out all the things that game has to offer.
Despite an extremely easy AI, the allure of unlocking new Koma makes single player more compelling than that of most fighting games. The limited size of the decks creates more gameplay depth than could otherwise be found in the simplistic fighting mechanics. Choosing larger, more powerful Battle characters restricts the selection of Support characters available, for a simple example.
There is also an element of stealth - something very unusual for a fighting game and largely a result of the game's platform. Since the screen is small and multiplayer on the DS is always wireless, the screen follows the player's character instead of scaling to match the distance between players. There is only a pointer to indicate the other players' locations off-screen. Some characters have attacks with enough range to launch a surprise attack from this large semi-blind spot, while others have moves that leave them wide open and are best done while hiding. The other players' bottom screens are also secret, so no one has an idea about the contents of their opponents' decks or their special moves until they actually start using them. It's a unique experience when a friend first uses a powerful new Koma that you have never seen and don't know how to deal with.
While canned combos are possible, combos in general tend to be simple and without fanfare. The recipient of a combo can even break out with use of the right Koma. The games are more geared towards the careful use of attacks and the super meter. Players naturally seek each other out, so learning how to strike into a crowd is important. While the games are not grossly unbalanced, there are certain overpowered Koma. The lack of chipping damage can lead to turtling tactics.
The Jump games are at their weakest in one-on-one matches and are not as well suited to competitive play as traditional fighting games. However, they provide a hectic, fun multiplayer fighting game with depth and longevity. Few games have been so successful in that niche.
In order to understand the deck-building aspect of Ganbarion's Jump games, one must understand the Koma that make up the decks. There are three usable types in both of games. A Koma's categorization is based on size; most characters have Koma of different sizes, and thus can be used in different ways, but a single character can only appear in a deck once.
Help Koma are only one block in size. When clicked, they provide the player's character with a buff in exchange for one stock of the super meter. For example, they may heal your character or provide temporary invincibility or invisibility. A select few have a passive effect instead, and so are not subject to this problem. Since only one status effect can be applied at a time, a wide variety of Help Koma is not immensely useful in and of itself.
Support Koma range from two to three blocks in size. Since only one Koma of any given size is available for each character, each character can only have two possible Support Koma. At the cost of one stock, a Support Koma will summon the character to perform some sort of attack or ability. Many Support Koma place temporary debuffs on opponents if the attack lands. Some of these are quite brutal, such as disabling normal attacks or blanking the opponent's main screen. However, only one debuff is allowed at a time and some Help Koma cure all status effects, so Help Koma and item boxes are easy counters.
Battle Koma range from four to eight in size. Since they're so large and Koma cannot be rotated, players will often find themselves building a deck around a desired character. There is no character select in Ganbarion's Jump games; clicking Battle characters in the deck takes that role. Koma of increasing size provide the character with a larger health bar and different - although not necessarily better - super attacks. Each has their own health bar and recovers slowly when not currently in play. If all the Battle characters in a deck are KOed in a Time game, the player loses an additional point, so the player is encouraged to choose multiple characters that complement each other.
Even if you don't feel like experimenting with Help and Support Koma, there is a simpler way to use them. Each Battle character receives a boost to their maximum health if certain other characters are placed adjacent to them. If the boosting character is a Support or Battle character, there is also a boost to the maximum special meter, which is shared for all characters in the deck. This maximum can be increased by well over a dozen. This is also a good way to get value out of space that you would otherwise not use.
There are additional concerns when selecting playable characters for a deck beyond just which you like best. Battle characters come in three types themselves: Power, Knowledge, and Laughter. Each type deals extra damage to the next in standard rock-paper-scissors mechanic fashion. While it might seem obvious to have one battle character of each type, that would also limit the size of the characters you could use. These mechanics increase the depth of deck building and gently discourage players from sticking to just one favourite character.
The story mode consists of several sets of missions, something like the single-player modes found in the Soul Calibur franchise. The goal is not necessarily just to defeat the enemies. It's a bit tricky to complete the game without knowledge of Japanese or a guide because of this. The tutorial is simple and is not extremely long, but the amount of text may be intimidating and the player should still be looking for button prompts. The player will also likely struggle to figure out the effects of many Koma if they don't use the guide. But the game can still be completed in full if the player makes an effort to figure the different mission conditions out.
While many of the conditions for a stage are optional, clearing them unlocks additional Koma. One-block Koma can be used as-is, but players have to first insert the appropriate one-block character into larger, incomplete Koma - called a Serif Koma - in order to permanently transform them into their usable form. It's not so bad if you are familiar with the appropriate manga series, but it's pointless tedium if you are not. This is easily the game's worst feature, though it obviously ceases to be a problem when all the Koma have been prepared.
Another flaw with the game is the stage design. All of the stages in the game are rather plain. Perhaps their unanimated background is inspired by a certain manga, but their unique gameplay features are pretty boring - there are slippery stages, moving platforms, conveyor belts, nothing you haven't seen before. It doesn't compare to Super Smash Bros. at all in that regard. There are certainly many players who prefer their fighting game stages without "gimmicks", but variety can be good thing as well.
While the super moves are distinctive, the playable characters don't seem to be designed for a particular style of play as often as in traditional fighting games, perhaps due to the games' pick-up-and-play nature. Still, many of the characters' normal attacks have properties that differentiate them and make it worthwhile to learn them individually.
For example, some characters have pummelling attacks that are great when enemies bunch up. Others have projectiles or rushing moves. Some attacks can be powered up or holding down or mashing the attack button. Some characters have more unique attributes to their attacks, like Dio's HP stealing grab or Gotenks' binding rings.
While the game implements many different series, it handles them all with care. The smallest Koma feature only a character's mugshot, but all of the rest are taken straight from the pages of the manga. Almost all of the characters' attacks are also directly inspired by events and images from the manga. It's a delight for fans to see an iconic or memetic scene recreated with a special move or summoned character. While the different series feature different art styles, they are all appear here with small, almost cute sprites, so the game does not feel visually jarring as a result.
Another interesting element of fanservice, if often an impractical one, is the Tag Attack. By connecting two characters with a set of three one-block Koma, the player can unleash a simultaneous attack with the two characters. What's more, a unique special move is executed if certain pre-defined pairs are used. These moves are usually pretty clever. Some characters will combine similar attacks, such as Goku and Naruto's signature energy blasts. Others play with the characters for humour, such as Kakashi introducing Gintoki to his erotica. One stand-out is Yugi and Bobobo: their combination attack was originally a cameo in the Bobobo manga. Unfortunately, this feature is absent in the sequel.
There are over 400 Koma usable in the game, and 34 distinct playable characters. Featured series without playable characters are Eyeshield 21, Strawberry 100%, Slam Dunk, Death Note, The Prince of Tennis, Hikaru no Go, and Mr. Fullswing.
Sawada "Tsuna" Tsunayoshi (Reborn!)
Laughter-type. This cowardly loser is next in line to become the head of the world's most powerful mafia family. Luckily, his infant mentor Reborn can bring out his inner superman by shooting him with special bullets. Tsuna compensates for his weak normal attacks with the strength of his super attacks.
Gintoki Sakata (Gin Tama)
Laughter-type. Once a samurai fighting against the alien invasion of Edo, Gintoki is now a freelancer. Despite being lazy and ill-mannered, he still uses his peerless swordsmanship to protect others. Gintoki's attacks are actually a little visually deceptive. It's easy to mistake the direction that he will hit.
Kankichi Ryotsu (Kochira Katsushika-ku Kameari Kōen Mae Hashutsujo)
Laughter-type. Ryotsu is a middle-aged man looking to get rich through the day's latest fads. Though he is a police officer by occupation, he doesn't have any desire to do his job. Ryotsu's damage isn't great, but his health is higher than most.
Asakura Yoh (Shaman King)
Laughter-type. Controlling the world is the prize for winning the Shaman Fight, and the unenthusiastic Yoh is training to win. He prefers the company of spirits over people. Players can easily deliver debuffs with some of his special attacks.
Also appearing is his fiancée: Kyouyama Anna.
Jotaro Kujo (JoJo's Bizarre Adventure)
Power-type. A rowdy high school student who fights with his humanoid psychic projection. He has a sharp mind and doesn't waste energy. Jotaro is slow, but his attacks can deal heavy damage and are fantastic when enemies are bunched up.
Also appearing is the vengeful vampire: Dio Brando.
Arale Norimaki (Dr. Slump)
Laughter-type. Norimaki Senbei built a hyper-intelligent, super-strong robot girl and adopted her. Despite that, she's extremely nearsighted, childish and has a quirky personality. Arale can put the pressure on opponents by throwing poop around. It's not as gross as it sounds.
Also appearing is the mad scientist: Dr. Mashirito.
Son Goku (Dragon Ball)
Power-type. Goku is a martial artist on a lifelong quest to pursue greater strength. If you're the type of person to read this website, there's a very good chance that you've heard of this guy. Goku is a fairly balanced character, leaning more towards speed. In distinctive Dragon Ball Z fashion, he can knock an enemy into the air, appear above, and smash him back down.
Also appearing are his comrades: Piccolo, Son Gohan, Vegeta, and Gotenks.
Naruto Uzumaki (Naruto)
Power-type. Naruto spent his childhood as a target for resentment because of the destructive beast sealed inside of his body. He is both mischievous and self-confident. As expected of a ninja, Naruto is naturally pretty quick, but he's still one of the more balanced characters.
Also appearing are the other members of Naruto's team: Sasuke Uchihara, Sakura Haruno, and Kakashi Hatake.
Gon Freecss (Hunter × Hunter)
Power-type. Hunters are members of an elite organization that deals in everything, and Gon plans to become one. He is far tougher than he looks, but is still rather naïve and sincere despite the hostile world around him. Gon can charge up the power of his energy-based attacks.
Jaguar Junichi (Pyuu to Fuku! Jaguar)
Laughter-type. Playing the recorder is the life's mission of this weird young man. He tends to suck the people around him into his quest to proliferate the instrument. Some of his specials let him play his recorder to get a bonus. He can even get a point by doing so, as if he had just KOed an opponent.
Muto Kazuki (Buso Renkin)
Power-type. After being killed by a man-eating Homunculus, Kazuki is brought back from the dead and decides to fight against them. The Kakugane, a device made by alchemists, used to materialize his weapon also replaces his damaged heart. His moveset largely consists of dashing attacks, albeit in different directions.
Eve (Black Cat)
Knowledge-type. A certified bounty hunter. As a clone made with nanomachines, she transform her hair or other body parts to use as a weapon. She's one of the few characters that can triple jump.
Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo (Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo)
Laughter-type. A vigilante fighting against the Maruhage Empire with the powers of nosehair and confusion. Nothing he says and very little that he does make any sort of sense. Deals heavy damage - and since Power-types are notably more common than others, it's more valuable than you'd think.
Also appearing is his ally: Poppa Rocks.
Yugi Mutou (Yu-Gi-Oh!)
Knowledge-type. A boy who loves traditional games: the types with boards or cards or dice. After solving an ancient Egypian puzzle, troubled times find him possessed by the brilliant but brutal mind of an ancient Pharaoh. Yugi's summoning moves let him throw out attacks from just out of the opponent's reach.
Yusuke Urameshi (YuYu Hakusho)
Knowledge-type. Power-type. In an attempt to save a child from an oncoming car, a teenage delinquent is killed. After being returned to life, he finds himself as the only human able to fight evil demons from the Spirit World. Yusuke's special attacks are powerful, but they must be charged for full effect.
Monkey D. Luffy (One Piece)
Power-type. A noble pirate. After eating a magical fruit, his body turned into rubber. With his elastic limbs, Luffy has lots of moves with range. He can also aim in many different directions with his attacks, so he can play keep-away.
Also appearing are the rest of his crew: Roronoa Zolo, Nami, Sanji, and Nico Robin.
Additional Koma Screenshots
The most prominent feature of Jump Ultimate Stars is the inclusion of new series and characters. The playable cast is nearly doubled. Most of the old content and graphics remain largely as-is. Most of the Naruto cast has changed to match their newer post-timeskip looks and movesets have been tweaked, but most of the characters have not experienced drastic changes. Left at that, it might be easy to call the game an expansion, but it's actually got enough changes under its hood to justify itself as a sequel.
In Jump Super Stars, the Saiyans of the Dragon Ball franchise changed into their Super Saiyan forms when their Koma size increased. This sort of visual change is added to more characters in the sequel. More importantly, about half of these new transformations are accompanied with a different set of normal attacks as well.
The game runs more slowly than its predecessor. To compensate for this all characters can perform a short dash. Strangely, it also removes the dashing attack that all characters could perform in Super Stars. Instead there are now two different attacks that can be done from a blocking position. In Super Stars, the attacks from block dealt a lot of knockback. In Ultimate Stars, one attack breaks enemy guard while the other forces them to switch characters on a successful hit.
Each deck must now be assigned a Leader. The Leader is played at the start of the match. They also earn double points for every kill they make in a time match and lose double points when killed. It may be an attempt to prevent an over reliance on switching characters - there is no cost for doing so - but it feels unintuitive.
The most significant change is the new Koma evolution system. Now only one-block Koma are collected, no incomplete Serif Koma. There is no need to fit Koma together to get a usable one. Instead, each Help Koma has its own branching evolution tree to unlock its higher forms, as well as other additional content. To upgrade a Koma you need a certain amount of different coloured gems. These gems are scattered by hitting enemies in both single and multiplayer. They are also earned from completing missions.
While the removal of the Serif Koma is much appreciated, this system is still imperfect. When the player has beaten the game they will likely still have many Koma to evolve, so there is now a new need to grind for gems. This leads certain players to go online and gather gems from fights instead of participating.
Help Koma are now overhauled into an additional source of passive effects that is equipped to an adjacent character. The simple buffing effects are instead passed to new Support characters. This new use for Help characters means that they can no longer be used as a quick fix for debuffs, they aren't fully useful when in the wrong place, and they only apply their effect to one character in your deck. They also can no longer boost Support characters, drastically reducing the ability to increase the maximum super meter. However, they also no longer compete with super attacks and Support characters for the super meter, and they offer a far greater variety of effects.
Battle characters have also been given their passive abilities, differentiating them further. Some of these are clearly inspired by the characters' attributes in the source material: Allen Walker can detect Akuma with his Pentacle Eye, translated in Ultimate Stars as immunity to blindness and the ability to see through the invisibility status. Killua's immunity to the poison and shock effects match with the torturous training he received as a child.
Another neat addition to the Battle characters' arsenal is the Ultimate Action, a taunt-like move. Most of them serve as a way of filling the super meter, although exactly how to use them varies. Some restore health instead. Others possess more unique combat functions. For example, Dr. Mashirito and Kurama can set up traps. Several characters can power up certain attacks using their Ultimate Actions. Still others have an ability to evade an incoming enemy attack, such as the ninjas from Naruto preparing their Body Replacement Technique.
Battle characters have also been made more versatile through the addition of alternately-typed Koma. In Super Stars, every character can have only one Koma of each size. In Ultimate Stars, characters often have an alternate Battle Koma of a certain size. Besides being a different shape, it is of a different type than the character normally is. However, the special attacks are the same as the normal Koma of that size. This allows the player to more easily cover their weaknesses using a favourite character. It can also prey on opponents' expectations, leading them to mistakenly switch in a character with a type disadvantage.
Jump Super Stars already included a few features to make deck making more convenient. The player could unlock premade decks and filter the Koma list according to series, size, type, and other attributes. Ultimate Stars improves on this a little; it also allows Koma to be set to L and R, so that they can be activated without use of the touchscreen. While you can send copies of your decks with friends in Super Stars, Ultimate Stars adds the ability to download the decks of online opponents.
There are over 800 usable Koma in the game, and 56 distinct playable characters. Hikaru no Go and Mr. Fullswing are no longer featured. New featured series without playable characters are I"s, Captain Tsubasa, Cobra, Jigoku Sensei Nuubee, Jungle King Tar-chan, Taizo Mote King Saga, Tottemo! Luckyman, Midori no Makibou, and Rokudenashi Blues.
The addition of online play not only increased the game's longevity, but also fostered its fighting game community. However, online games are susceptible to hackers. Overpowered debug Koma are left unused in the game's code, allowing hackers to equip their characters with unlimited super gauge.
Kagura (Gin Tama)
Laughter-type. Kagura is a member of a violent alien race that has immigrated to Earth to start anew. She has greater physical abilities than a human but the same bad habits as Gintoki. Kagura has a couple of moves that let her restore her health, and her super meter also slowly regenerates.
Power-type. A weird alien wrestler who tries to prove himself by fighting weird alien wrestlers. He's also a cowardly idiot. As can be expected, Kinnikuman has lots of grappling moves and can do big damage to single enemies. Though many of his super moves are air grabs, he can easily follow up with one after popping his opponent into the air.
Edajima Heihachi (Sakigake!! Otokojuku)
Power-type. Edajima is the principal of Otokojuku, a high school that focuses on violence and outdated samurai traditions. Despite being a ridiculous nationalist with a mind stuck in World War 2, his strength matches his manly ideals. Edajima has a huge health bar, but his attacks aren't as useful as his defense.
Also appearing is his student: Mototarou Tsurugi.
Lenalee Lee (D.Gray-man)
Knowledge-type. Another Exorcist in the Black Order. She was separated from her brother when she was forced into the Order, leading her to develop mental illness. Lenalee is distinctly more agile than most characters, with even her normal attacks causing her to fly about.
Freeza (Dragon Ball)
Power-type. An alien overlord that conquers and sells entire planets. Personally responsible for enslavement and near-extinction of Goku's Saiyan race. Has a fair variety of ranged attacks; his telekinesis attack has a lot of knockback.
Also appearing is the childish monster: Djinn Boo / Majin Boo.
Knowledge-type. A child ninja with control over wind. His company of ninjas were destroyed by the Imperium, so he has to reunite with his old allies in order to defeat the Imperium. Fuusuke is a bit better equipped for air combat than most: his aerial attacks can push him upward, and he's one of the few characters that can naturally air dash.
Train Heartnet (Black Cat)
Power-type. Once a cold assassin, now a bounty hunter with a heart. He now finds himself facing against the same criminal organization he was once part of. He's fast and specializes in rapid-fire shots.
Rukia Kuchiki (Bleach)
Knowledge-type. The injured Shinigami who has lent Ichigo her power. Though adopted into a noble family, she does not enjoy being given special treatment. Rukia can freeze her opponent with some of her super attacks.
Also appearing are her fellow Shinigami: Renji Abarai and Tōshirō Hitsugaya.
Taikobo (Hoshin Engi / Soul Hunter)
Knowledge-type. This immortal-in-training tasked with defeating the sadistic, cannibalistic temptress that is controlling China. He prefers to use cunning and deceit to win rather than strength, and is even willing to use hostages. Taikobo has lots of projectiles as well as summoning moves.
Kenshiro (Hokuto no Ken / Fist of the North Star)
Power-type. A martial arts master wandering a post-apocalyptic world to protect the weak from the strong. He can cause people's bodies to explode by striking at their pressure points. Kenshiro has a lot of crowd-hitting moves, but he also has moves with buffs and other effects.
Also appearing is the Fist King: Raoh.
Neuro Nougami (Majin Tantei Nōgami Neuro / Neuro: Supernatural Detective)
Knowledge-type. A demon detective that feeds on the energy of a caught criminal. Being a demon, he is not only superhuman, but heartlessly cruel. He has some strong attacks, but both he and his attacks are slow.
Toru Muhyo (Muhyo & Roji's Bureau of Supernatural Investigation)
Knowledge-type. Muhyo is an official Executor, working to exorcise and penalize ghosts. He seems to have a detached personality, but he tries to avoid harsh sentences. Muhyo's summoning moves let him keep his opponents back, but also leaves him a sitting duck.
Kurama (YuYu Hakusho)
Knowledge-type. In order to save its life, a fox demon merged with a human both physically and mentally. Kurama, the result of this combination, fights with a whip made from a rose. He has good range and can set traps.
Also appearing is another of Yusuke's demon allies: Hiei.
Franky (One Piece)
Power-type. Franky rebuilt himself as a cola-powered cyborg after being struck by a sea train. While he is now the shipwright of Luffy's crew, he was originally the leader of a gang that dismantled ships. Franky can double the power of his stronger attacks, but his power-up move is unreliable.
Additional Koma Screenshots
A one-shot manga was made to promote Jump Super Stars. Generally speaking, it's what you'd expect from an advertisement: some vapid fanservice and little else. The plot roughly follows what little the game has: Dr. Mashirito brings the protagonists of the series into Jump World through their Nintendo DS's and the heroes have to team up.
While the manga isn't particularly fantastic, it does at least take an interesting perspective on the crossover concept. It is written by Eyeshield 21's Murata Yusuke and stars that series' protagonist, Kobayakawa Sena. In about two dozen pages, it shows Sena questioning his place among the superhumans of popular Shōnen manga.
These two games are both fun and unique. But did they actually help to spread the popularity of the manga they are based on? It's difficult to say. Viz Media, partially owned by Weekly Shōnen Jump's publisher Shueisha, began releasing many of the manga featured in the games at around 2005, lining up with the games' release. Perhaps most notably is Hoshin Engi, which had originally been published in 1996 but only made its way to the US in 2007, shortly after its appearance in Jump Ultimate Stars.
It's also possible that Shueisha had these games in whey decided to let Namco Bandai produce J-Stars Victory Vs. for the PlayStation Vita. While the name is similar and both are crossover multiplayer action games, J-Stars Victory Vs. resembles the sort of 3D action game popularized by Bandai's own Gundam Vs. Gundam series. The game's developer is also different. Previous Jump crossover games have also been made, such as Famicom Jump Hero Retsuden, released by Bandai in 1989.
Thanks to rockman zx for the character images.