By: Matthew Striplen
A famous saying goes that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. JUJU pays homage to the classic platformers of the ‘80s and ‘90s, especially those published by Nintendo. On consoles not particularly known for their family-friendly platformers, JUJU is a welcome addition that draws heavily on games of the past to create a cute, colorful adventure for all ages.
JUJU permits gamers to switch between d-pad and analog controls at will, both of which are tight and responsive. Personally, I preferred the d-pad, as the analog stick does not offer any speed gradations for movement, though I never encountered any trouble with the responsiveness, I did notice the character moves rather slowly across the screen. Even with the dash function, which is unlocked later, movement can be a little sluggish. Other than this minor issue, I was quite impressed with how well JUJU handles.
Easily, my favorite aspect of JUJU is the vibrant colors. The opening cut scene is especially pretty, with characters traipsing through jungle scenes and soaring across blue skies. Once in-game, the environments teem with detail, adorable enemies and picturesque backdrops. Character models and backdrops alike are clean and fluid. Even the loading screens, which can be a little long, have fantastic color and animation. The best way I can think of to describe the style is cartoonish and appealing, without becoming too silly or forced.
The soundtrack is a bit more subdued than its graphical counterpart. The melodies are pleasantly ambient, but they lack the ever elusive quality of catchiness. I did quite enjoy the assorted sound effects. The satisfying crunch when stomping an enemy, or the light chime signaling item collection kept me coming back for more.
As mentioned above, JUJU relies heavily on classic Nintendo platformers. Although not from the ‘80s or ‘90s, the strongest parallel I could find between JUJU and Nintendo’s library is with the Donkey Kong Country Returns franchise. In fact, so many similarities exist that one could make a case for JUJU being merely a re-skin.
Instead of Donkey Kong’s famous collectable bananas, JUJU’s MacGuffins are crystallized butterflies. Both games’ protagonists have a special ability to either stun opponents or trigger special events. Whereas this function works well in Donkey Kong, JUJU’s version quickly becomes tedious as its usage requires no skill and just enough effort to be irksome.
A more subtle resemblance is between Donkey Kong’s hidden K.O.N.G. letters and JUJU’s hidden portals. Instead of merely finding and collecting another object, these portals warp the player to an unknown location. Once through, gamers are faced with a mass of collectable butterflies. To complete the challenge, players must grab each butterfly within the time limit, and then must grab the awarded medallion. Unfortunately, the majority of these “hidden” portals are anything but — spot a conspicuously large, blank wall, bet money that a portal is behind it.
Although the majority of the level design is cute and fun, JUJU lacks variety. Across the various new worlds, a handful of new enemies and abilities are encountered and acquired, but very little feels innovative. After only a few levels, it felt as if I’d seen everything the game had to offer.
The biggest source of variety, as well as fun, came in the boss battles, probably because of their increased difficulty. Although the style and feel of the fights remained traditional, each had its own specific mechanic, and I actually found the boss designs even more appealing than the fights themselves. The biggest issue with the bosses is that each one is typically faced twice; the first time as a mere mini-boss. Little changes between the two fights, which steals the thunder of the second battle.
The vast majority of the game presents little challenge. Even young gamers should not feel too much heat from the average enemy. That being said, I was consistently surprised at the difficulty of the hidden portal stages. Even though these stages are purely optional, younger gamers are sure to struggle here. A difficulty discrepancy certainly exists, but one could also argue that this promotes replayability.
JUJU is a cute, accessible and mostly solid adventure title. The colorful atmosphere easily stands out above the rest of the game. In the end, very little is inherently wrong with JUJU, but what the game lacks is not something that can be quantified. When I pick up a new game, I want to be transported to an interesting, fresh-feeling world. JUJU fails to move beyond the mold set by the great Nintendo games of the past. I’m hopeful that if this game is given a sequel, the developers will break from such strict adherence to tradition to create something truly magical.