Review: NEXT JUMP: Shmup Tactics17 May 2017 0
Review: NEXT JUMP: Shmup Tactics
Released 28 Apr 2017
NEXT JUMP: Shmup Tactics. It's a title that raises a question before immediately answering it. You might not get much detail from the idea of "NEXT JUMP", but "Shmup Tactics"? It's not a light derogatory term aimed at you, but the notion of this being a tactical approach to classic space-based shoot em' ups.
We can already grasp the basic premise of this particular game from the title alone, but what are we looking at under the skin? NEXT JUMP: Shmup Tactics is another rogue-lite to add to a rapidly growing collection - or queue - of similar 'you die, you're dead' concepts; but one that plays out as a turn-based strategy title as opposed to the real-time affairs you'd typically find atop Steam's best sellers.
Once the tutorial runs you through the initially complicated UI, you're guided into its main attraction - the 'jump'. You see, the full experience of this grid gauntlet is a great game of number management. You'll be asked to choose one of four ships - each with different strengths and weaknesses - to commandeer through various space-based environments by means of 'jumping' - essentially light-speed warps. With a set amount of 'parsecs' being between you and the 'Dragons' who've stolen your beloved beverages, your aim is to survive enough of these jumps to make it to a final showdown. But each jump along this chain of events is a battlefield teeming with other ships looking to shoot you down. That's where the finer details come in.
Say your ship is capable of 3 jumps from the get-go and you're presented with a map branching out into three different directions. Each path will bring you just as close to the Mothership as the other; but each might present itself with different battlefield environments like asteroid belts, electrical storms or even simply wind that can easy thwart even the best runs if you're not paying close attention. By selecting three 'jumps' you'll be thrust into three battles consisting of 3-4 'turns'. At this point, it's up to you to maintain your energy levels in a way that'll allow you to survive through one and into the next. Each movement along the battlefield's grid-based system takes energy - as does shooting your primary weapon. With a 'turn' only ending if your energy reaches 0 and defeated ships dropping this fuel source, there's every possibility to keep a single turn going with the right strategy in mind.
But the aim here isn't to necessarily blast down the opposition. Sure, the ships might inch closer to you with each turn, but that doesn't mean they're an immediate threat. You can salvage their scrap to procure new upgrades in the shop or take their energy to extend your turn - but running an increased risk of death shouldn't be your priority. You'll want to choose your battles wisely if you're hoping to make a sprint for the finish line. With enemy movements happening after each of your turns, you're constantly re-evaluating your plans on the fly; do you dodge that incoming bullet or take it on the chin to blast through a convenient line of enemies? Would that be a scrap profit, or an unnecessary risk of failure? One wrong calculation with your energy and hull reserves could quickly mean death - so even being turn-based, you're constantly kept on your toes.
It may seem simple to assume you're just making quick-fire decisions based upon how much energy you have left, but there's a little more to it. Enemies telegraph their moves either by spinning to indicate an impending movement or lying dormant - suggesting any amount of bullets will soon take up adjacent spaces. But even your weapon's recoil can be used to your advantage due to how firing it can cause a 'recoil' effect throwing your ship backward (though potentially straight into enemy fire). You're essentially looking at an intricate game of chess here where you're constantly second-guessing your own judgement.
Traversing the cosmos is a delicate process. If you've just exited a 3-jump sequence with your hull about to implode revealing your sensitive skin to the harsh conditions outside, you're forced to make some tricky decisions. You could bank excess scrap and use the rest to eject into a new, basic ship (losing your upgrades) or vow to press on determined to outsmart the opposition and make it to the next store 4 jumps forward. It's just a shame that the stylized UI can be a little hard to read sometimes. Though there's a heavily detailed manual available to read through back in the cockpit, you're likely to run into more than a few situations where a seemingly perfect move has led to your demise with you struggling to understand why.
But what if between those four jumps are various environmental hazards and an increased fleet hot on your tail? Sure, pulling it off might bring you closer to your target - but blowing it could cost you everything. Heck, even stopping off at the store could see you waste enough time for the boss to gain a distance advantage that could prove fatal. You might have upgraded your weapon yet neglected your battery, leaving you in a sticky situation where you don't have the power to sustain both moving and firing in one turn to generate the scrap needed to grab a bigger power supply - something I fell victim to more than I'd like to admit. Every choice has a particular consequence, and while there aren't many of them NEXT JUMP: Shmup Tactics moves like a well-oiled space machine.
That being said, there's a certain degree of simplicity here that lends itself to one noteworthy question - why is this a PC game? It's relatively short length, somewhat shallow upgrade/combat and simplistic visuals make it feel like an incomplete package on muscle machines; while its rapid pacing and big interface would seem right at home on a mobile device. It feels very much like a commuter game rather than something you'd fire up as you come home from a long day the office. Of course, nobody is forcing that scenario to be the case, but it really doesn't seem like a title I, personally, could see people throwing their weekends into.
NEXT JUMP: Shmup Tactics is a complicated beast for various reasons. It's a simple looking game that can rigorously test your wits under the right circumstances - but at the same time feel a little bare. With only 4 ships to choose from and an equal handful of battlefield effects, even the near-endless combination of skirmishes can feel a tad repetitive. Thankfully, it's blurting out a strong retro-inspired soundtrack and rocking some brilliant ambient sound design to keep your ears happy as you play.
For the £3.99 asking price there's little reason to complain about what this particular strategy mix-up offers; but you'll need to think hard about how much time you realistically think you'll pump into this. It's hard to imagine it climbing high into your 'priorities' list at home; but if you're lucky enough to be able to sneak this onto your PC in the office for a bit of tab-in enjoyment, it wouldn't be a bad choice at all. I can't see people whipping out a laptop on the train for this - but mobile? That's where this one has the highest chance of finding its place.