Say what you will, but I like frustration platformers. There’s something immensely satisfying about breaking through a seemingly impossible challenge and mastering difficult controls. Then you have something like Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy, where you’re only one false move away from losing everything. With that in mind, Jump King’s gameplay is a lot like Getting Over It, but more methodical and precise.
You play a knight with thighs like tree trunks. An old man tells you that there’s a “smoking hot babe” at the top of the world. Your job is to platform your way up various biomes confined to a strict aspect ratio. There’s no safety net. Make a mistake and you’ll end up back at the beginning, wiping the mud off your helmet.
Jump King is difficult, mostly because of the controls. It’s a platformer with no aerial movement. Your only choices are jumping up, left, and right. The challenge comes from charging your jump. You can do a quick hop, a medium jump, or a long jump. Medium jumps are the most common, especially toward the middle, and it’s difficult to determine when exactly you should release because there’s no charge meter.
Levels are all about the angles. Every jump must be pixel perfect. This is especially difficult because your knight bounces off walls. I didn’t appreciate this at first, I thought it made Jump King unnecessarily difficult. However, as I approached the end I realized that bouncing off walls actually saves your progress.
Falls are punishing, but not frustrating. Some walls have ramps which seem inconsequential at first but end up saving you from a 10-minute hike when you slide off them and land on a safe platform. Likewise, boxed-in levels serve as artificial checkpoints. Jump King's developers looked at all the angles and designed their levels to be dependable and repeatable.
While the level design itself is excellent, I felt the mechanics could use some padding. Platforming starts to feel samey after the sewers, but there are new environmental elements toward the end. Jump King wants you to master its controls before giving you anything new. The proof of this came when I had to long jump through a narrow chimney. A single miss would send me sliding off the roof, down to the beginning of the zone. Thankfully, the very next area forces you to time your jumps with the wind. Jump King keeps a few tricks up its sleeve but forces you to work for them.
You might think all this platforming would get boring but Jump King’s background content keeps it fresh. The pixel art is stunning and made me fight to reach the next screen. Likewise, each of the NPCs got a chuckle out of me and there are plenty of easter eggs, journals, and illusory walls to keep you busy if you find yourself hitting your head against the floor.
Jump King is all about mastering the minimal. It's a charming little adventure full of tricks that prods you into gritting your teeth and trying again, no matter how many times you fall. The platforming is difficult but satisfying and the world design is superb. Jump King is hard. It might even feel unfair, but it never feels frustrating.
TechRaptor covered Jump King on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the developer.