Game Review: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure HD Ver.

Even after Sega officially stopped production of the Dreamcast system, the console continued to sell steadily, used Dreamcasts quickly being gobbled up from second-hand store shelves. It became, for a short time, the gaming equivalent of Latin: a dead interface that would never see any new works, the beauty of it and the quality of its existing library drew gaming aficionados to it.

As I contemplated reviewing this particular title, I wondered if this manga-based port might be one of the ill-fated console’s many hidden gems. Only one way to find out, of course.

JoJo‘s Bizarre Adventure is a Street Fighter-era 2D brawler with a cast of characters that, excepting the chihuahua, seems no more bizarre than any other fighting game of its time. The fighting system seems fairly typical at first, with various types of punches, kicks, and projectile attacks, depending on the character. What sets this title apart is the “Stand” ability–a second fighter–possessed by each character.

A sort of inner spirit or projection of the fighter, both the appearance and behaviour of this second self varies wildly from character to character. Some will hang back and let their Stand do the work, allowing the player to control it directly. Others manifest the stand as a shadow that mirrors their movements, allowing every attack to, potentially, hit twice.

Others are in-between. Jotaro, for example, can send his Stand forward as a type of projectile attack. A certain attack calls up the Stand to rush forward and let off a flurry of punches before fading away. One useful strategy therefore is to have the Stand perform its one-off as either an opener or a distraction, while simultaneously diving in after it with a follow-up attack.

The strategic possibilities of this tag-team style fighting are intriguing, though they’re also very different from character to character and Stand to Stand. And, of course, there’s a defensive side as well. A character takes damage either from direct attack or attacks on his Stand.

Use of the Stand can leave the main character wide open to attack, especially for those characters who stay still while the player controls the Stand remotely. Too much damage on the Stand itself also has its risks: the Stand will fade and the character will be left dizzy and open to further punishment.

The game is 2D sprite-based so the HD aspect of this re-release is less important than it might otherwise be. Some parts of the game are a bit dated. The gameplay is perhaps a little less fluid than Street Fighter and other series would become, but the Stand system is also unique, even today. Somehow the idea hasn’t (to my knowledge) been copied and appropriated into other game franchises.

Perhaps the most notable quirk of the game (I hesitate to call it a weakness) is its high learning curve. No effort is made to ease the player into it’s fighting system. There is no tutorial, no in-game hints, no move lists, nothing. You have to experiment and play around if you want to master your character. This is old-school 2D brawling, arcade style: play, lose, get frustrated, experiment, and make joyous discoveries.

Since many likely missed it the first time around, this might just be a chance for classic fighter enthusiasts to experience a new game like it’s 1999 all over again.

Article first published as PS3 Review: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure HD Ver. on Blogcritics.

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