Jump O’Clock stars LE0, a charming steambot whose job it is to climb as high as he can up the innards of a perilous clock tower. There are no platforms inside this tower – only gears that LE0 can affix himself to and walls he can slide down or bounce off like a little ninja. Therefore gameplay boils down to making LE0 jump from gear to gear by tapping the touch screen. Since LE0’s trusty magnetic feet keep him glued to a gear indefinitely once he lands on it, the crux of Jump O’Clock’s gameplay is exploiting windows of opportunity, commanding him to jump to a higher gear when has a clear shot at it.
If the game sounds incredibly simple, that’s because it truly is. Nuance in the player’s experience stems from the fact that LE0’s windows of opportunity shrink further and further with vertical progress: gears will start sporting serrated spikes that deny him access to part or all of their surface areas, steam will shoot from the tower walls at regular intervals, and specially marked gears will electrify and eject LE0 if he stands on them too long. Since LE0’s a tough little ‘bot he can apparently withstand any amount of damage, the main danger being that he might fall to the bottom of the touch screen once ejected and trigger a “Game Over.”
Abuse from the environment will also decrease an energy bar LE0 builds up by collecting golden fastener nuts (mis-termed “bolts” in-game, probably for reasons I can forgive) that are strewn throughout the environment. If LE0’s energy bar reaches its limit a virtual button appears onscreen that the player can use to execute a Super Jump, which allows LE0 to gain significant altitude and bypass the tower’s current section if it becomes particularly troublesome.
As expected of an “infinite” game that never ends, Jump O’Clock lacks structure beyond the simple command to ascend. In addition to the main adventure the menu screen affords access to various “Challenges” that mix up gameplay by introducing extraordinary obstacles, timed events, and item collection goals, but these often feel like sideshows due to the removal of the Super Jump option that adds strategy to the main game.
OpenFeint compatibility allows the player to compare his or her achievements and height records with fellow purchasers, and this competitive aspect is clearly the game’s major draw. As a purely single-player experience Jump O’Clock is liable to frustrate with unforgiving erasure of progress upon “Game Over,” but there’s no denying it makes one appreciate the dedication of the player who currently rests at the top of the OpenFeint Leaderboard for this game.
Jump O’Clock‘s tower strikes a perfect balance between random generation and consistency in player experience. Each new play features different gear and obstacle placement compared to the last but always manages to stay true to its aim of providing challenge that evolves in proportion to LE0’s height attainment. The most extreme example of variability I found on one play was a completely saw-toothed gear right at the tower’s base, but LE0’s wall jumping capability made this feel more like a welcome conundrum than a misplaced hazard.
The game is no slouch when it comes to music composition either, and in fact music provides the only appreciable proof of progress aside from skyrocketing challenge. At certain heights the main game cycles through at least four tracks that range from a laid-back steampunk-sounding tune to music fit for risky high-wire circus acts, and this musical progression perfectly matches the evolution of risk little LE0 faces higher up the tower. It’s unfortunate that Glu doesn’t offer the player separate control over music and sound effects here, since Jump O’Clock – with its unchanging environmental aesthetic – is the first iPhone game I’ve encountered that would otherwise lend itself perfectly to linear user-defined playlists.
While I reflected on the first music track that plays at the tower’s base, the following description popped into my mind: “Marching to work in an upbeat steampunk world in which everything is as it should be.” And it’s really the absence of conflict – or at least some clear goal – in LE0’s world that will separate Jump O’Clock‘s die-hard fans from consumers who might rather plunk their money into a different experience altogether. The game is so superbly designed and polished that I found myself itching for crazy boss battles and varying locales in which the development team could further demonstrate their prowess. Nothing is forthcoming – not even a twist or turn in the tower’s shape – because it might, perhaps, defeat the simple OpenFeint premise into which Glu has locked Jump O’Clock.
iFanzine Verdict: With such an appealing mascot and excellently crafted gameplay Jump O’Clock might look like the next Sonic the Hedgehog at first glance, but one must bear in mind that it caters to a specific crowd. If you’re searching for an infinite competition fix and want to compare your progress against that of other players, this high quality offering will likely fit the bill. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a compelling adventure that offers tons of variety, LE0’s well-honed but constricted ascent will fall short of expectations.