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‘Jump Force’ Promises to Deliver Supercharged Shonen Thrills

As long as there have been heroes, there have been nerds trying to place them in a sort of arbitrary pecking order. It’s classic fodder for a playground argument – who do you think would win, super-powered hero A, or super-powered hero B? For more wizened generations of gamers, those blanks might be filled by American superheroes like Green Lantern, Batman, or Superman; for those who grew up in the late ‘90s or later, however, animated stalwarts like “Dragon Ball’s” Goku or “Naruto’s” eponymous ninja are more likely to fit the bill.

But while comic book fans can always rely on a bevy of crossover fighting games from the past two decades like “Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe” to indulge their fantasy clashes between Batman’s utility belt and Superman’s heat vision – a fairly one-sided matchup, if you ask me – anime fans might finally the chance to see Goku blow Luffy away with a ball of pulsing energy in stunning 3D in Bandai Namco’s recently-revealed “Jump Force.” While this isn’t the first crossover event to feature many of the heroes of “shonen manga” – Japanese media typically aimed at a teenage male audience – it’s surely one of the biggest yet, arriving with a buzz-worthy announcement trailer at Microsoft’s E3 press conference last week. Though it’s not clear how expansive the cast of characters will be, producer Koji Nakajima says it’s a fine line to walk.

“We’re trying to make this game for a worldwide audience,” he says, via a translator. “We want to include iconic characters, characters that everyone around the world will see and go, “wow.’ But, also, we don’t want to be predictable either. Everybody expects us to include characters like Goku in the game, of course. We want to include a few surprises in there, too.”

Nakajima’s stated focus for the game is something akin to mass nerd appeal, and it’s easy to see how that’s flowed down to every level of the game’s development, from its controls to its settings. Even compared to “accessible” fighting games like Bandai Namco’s other “Dragon Ball”-christened effort, “Fighter Z” – a veritable rookie phenomenon in a genre where the titans are often valued by their age, rather than cursed by it – “Jump Force” is a notably lightweight effort in the style of the previous “Naruto” fighting games, requiring none of the adroit quarter-circles or dragon-punches that the genre is known for, even to execute signature maneuvers like Goku’s devastating “Kamehameha Wave.”

While it’s difficult to gauge the game’s relative depth based on a thirty-minute hands-on demo on a bustling show-floor, it’s probably fair to say that Bandai Namco is banking more of those who find the concept of Naruto bashing Luffy’s skull in amusing, rather than those who would consult the resulting “tier list” to determine their preferred opponent. That’s not to say that the game isn’t taken seriously by some – after all, even the harmless bongo-to-bongo action of a “Donkey Konga” can instill a sense of dread competition in the right person – but, in Nakajima’s words, the game’s more about all-out fisticuffs than the careful fast-motion chess-match of a full-fat competitive fighter.

“We want to give the players a sense of action,” he says. “And we want anyone to be able to pick up and play it. There’s strategy to it, and even some techniques, but the action that it produces was definitely our focus. We want the players to feel powerful, like they’re really these characters, and for them to feel distinct. Those who like the previous ‘Naruto’ games or the ‘Dragon Ball Xenoverse’ games are exactly our audience for “Jump Force.”

Bandai Namco plans to reveal the game’s slate of character piece-wise as the weeks roll on past E3. And though the game’s release date has yet to emerge, to Nakajima, it’s all already settled, without anybody even picking up a controller. In his view, Goku could just wipe the floor with all these clowns, so what’s the point?

“In his own universe, Goku is clearly the most powerful,” he says. “But, for the sake of the game, we have to keep it a little more balanced. The strength of Goku has to meet the sort of ‘rubberness’ of Luffy. Maybe we would be surprised if they actually met each other in a fight, but for the sake of the game, it has to be even footing. In my opinion, Goku would definitely beat them all.”

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