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Solving the 3D platforming problem in Jumping Flash


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This is Making Time, a column about the games we've always wanted to play, and the games we've always wanted to play again.

I never owned a PlayStation during the 32-bit era. I had a Sega Saturn, which I loved, though that didn't stop me from envying my PlayStation-owning friends. I was lucky enough to play a handful of games on friends' consoles – Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Vagrant Story – but I missed out on most of the games that would help solidify Sony's legacy in the game industry.

One of those games was Jumping Flash. It was a platformer, and it was in 3D, a mind-boggling concept back in 1995. With no PlayStation, all I had were magazines filled with glowing reviews and screenshots, showcasing a beautiful, colorful world and a cool mechanical rabbit. With YouTube still a decade away, I couldn't even watch a Let's Play. All I could do was imagine, imagine what it must be like to leap and soar over those wonderful floating islands.

Now, thanks to the magic of PSOne Classics and a Black Friday Vita purchase, I can play it pretty much whenever I want. I've done so for the past few days, and it turns out that Jumping Flash holds up surprisingly well. Not only that, it makes for a great portable game.

There's a peculiar phenomenon I often experience when digging into a 32-bit game for the first time in years. If you lived through the 90s, you may be familiar with it as well. Upon firing up any 3D game from the 32-bit era, I'm immediately and forcefully reminded that there was once a time before dual analog sticks existed. If you think 3D cameras suck now, they could be downright nightmarish back then.

Different games handled the camera in different ways. Most games had a "look" button, which allowed the D-pad to manipulate the camera. The problem there is that your character has to stand still in order to use it. That's fine for locating points of interest, but not so helpful when it comes to actually navigating environments.

Jumping Flash is a platformer primarily focused on huge, precision jumps. The goal is to guide Robbit (a robot rabbit, get it?) through whimsical worlds in order to collect four Jet Pods and then find your way to the exit. Some of the levels are quite large, and getting around them could have been an incredibly clunky ordeal, especially given the game's first-person perspective.

It could have been, were it not for one simple, intuitive design decision: Whenever Robbit jumps, the camera automatically tilts downward. Paired with a handy shadow that hovers wherever Robbit will land, it's incredibly easy to plot your jumps. That's good because, unsurprisingly, you do a lot of jumping in Jumping Flash.

It's fun to jump in video games but, as Low G Man, the Game Genie, Halo exploits and PC mods have taught me over the years, it's even more fun to jump high – and Robbit jumps really high. Even though Jumping Flash's environments are incredibly rudimentary by today's standards, I found it completely delightful to watch the world recede from view as I launched myself upwards, sailing toward distant platforms.

Jumping is absolutely the central mechanic of Jumping Flash, and it's here that the game really shines. That's not to say there aren't a few pitfalls, however, and I'm not referring to the abyss below the game's floating worlds. For one, as helpful as the automatic camera is, it makes it impossible to see what's directly above or in front of you, which can cut jumps short if you run into unseen obstacles. You can use the old-school look button to scope out your jumps ahead of time, but expect to bump poor Robbit's head more than once.

In addition to platforming, Jumping Flash also has first-person shooter mechanics, allowing Robbit to blast adorable enemies with basic lasers and an assortment of firework power-ups. Usually, this works fine, but enemies sometimes hover just above or below Robbit's line of sight, causing his basic gun to miss. Again, you can use the look button to adjust your aim, but it locks you in place, leaving you vulnerable. You can also jump on enemies to hurt them, which is actually more fun anyway, though it's not always practical or possible.

Solving the 3D platforming problem in Jumping Flash
Which brings me to one other minor issue. While most levels give Robbit plenty of room and wide open spaces in which to gleefully jump, there are two levels that take place in labyrinths with low ceilings and narrow corridors. The limited space forces you to play the game as if it were a shooter, which isn't Jumping Flash's strong suit. I suppose you could argue these levels add some variety – and admittedly I kind of liked the nifty underwater tunnel in one of them – but I'd take more open levels any day.

Still, these are very light concerns when weighed against the power of truly excellent video game jumping. The levels in Jumping Flash are well designed, with just enough challenge to keep them interesting and even a secret or two for those willing to look. The music is peppy, even funky at times, and the world is about as colorful as it gets. And did I mention the villain's name is Baron Aloha, a mad scientist with a penchant for monocles and Hawaiian shirts? Honestly, what more do you want?

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