Jumping Flash: Platforming in its purest form
By Geena Mann
It was June of 1996. The Fugees were number one in the charts with Killing Me Softly, a cover of the Roberta Flack classic, which went on to achieve legendary status in its own right. The song spent four weeks at the top of the charts, bookmarked at either end by Baddiel and Skinner’s Three Lions, England’s official song of Euro 96. England were not only hosting the tournament but were also among the favourites to win it, football fever was sweeping the nation.
I was only 11 at the time but it was a summer that represented the first great transition in my life as I entered the final few weeks of primary school and prepared to step up to secondary school. Innocent childhood frivolity would imminently give way to harsh teenage survival, the safety net of my childhood friends was to be removed and, instead, I would find myself sitting alongside other 1st years at a new school, dodging apples which were regularly thrown at the back of our heads on the bus.
“It was a summer that represented the first great transition in my life”
It really was the end of an era and, as such, I will always remember the summer of 1996 as the final one of my childhood, an eternal sun-drenched holiday where my happiness was reflected in the mood of a celebrating nation. I spent much of it at my dad’s house who lived on the sea front, the view from his front room was an unobstructed gaze over the North Sea.
Every England match saw most of my family gather in his front room to watch the action unfold as we left Scotland, Holland and Spain in our wake before eventually succumbing to our perpetual tormentors Germany. Aside from the excitement and camaraderie I felt during these matches, a vivid memory remains of the house clearing out in the aftermath, when I would finally be left to my own devices and could fire up my cutting edge Sony Playstation.
For context, having been raised on a diet of 2D Sega platformers, I was in awe the first time I played Sonic 3D: Flickies Island, believing at that point that video games had reached peak realism. So imagine my 11-year-old awe when I was first transported to Crater Planet, where I was lost in an ocean of first-person platforming wonder as I explored the marvellous Jumping Flash.
“I was lost in an ocean of first-person platforming wonder”
As with all great platformers, the plot was minimal and largely irrelevant. Having just looked at the Jumping Flash Wiki page to research this article, I’m informed that the premise revolved around an ‘insane astrophysicist’ called Baron Aloha who removed large pieces of land from Crater Planet in order to turn them into giant space resorts for his own gain. Bastard.
I remember absolutely none of that and you simply didn’t need to know it to enjoy the gameplay. You played as a robot rabbit, lazily named Robbit. I certainly did not appreciate the pun at the time and, 22 years later, strongly suspect that the entire game was built on the original conception of that joke.
With 18 worlds to explore, Robbit was tasked with finding four jet pods (carrots) in each within a time limit. Many of the worlds were floating islands and, looking back, they must have influenced the creators of Mario 64 which came along a year after Jumping Flash’ release. To aid Robbit in his quest, he was able to collect a series of power ups along the way which could be used as weapons against the various enemies you would encounter, though his greatest strength, in true platformer style, was his jump.
“They must have influenced the creators of Mario 64”
The game’s gravity afforded you a fairly substantial jump to begin with but Robbit possessed thrusters which allowed you to double, or even triple, the jump and cover some substantial distances and heights. In truth I believe that Jumping Flash is 3D platforming in its absolute purest form, more so perhaps than even the aforementioned Mario, who naturally tends to define and represent the genre. Though Mario is often seen as the trailblazer in the category, it is jumping flash that the Guinness Book of Records saw fit to crown the ‘first platform video game in true 3D’.
When a video game does tread new water, naturally an increasing rarity in 2018, it will obviously define the initial rules of the genre, some of which may become standard and others will be altered or dropped entirely. One such facet of Jumping Flash, which wasn’t carried on, was that it was played almost entirely in first person, an idea that was largely abandoned in favour of third person viewing, though there is the odd exception such as Mirror’s Edge. Overall the change makes sense, you have a much more profound ability to judge the location and potential landing spot of a character if you can see their trajectory from afar yet, in Jumping Flash, the first person idea works tremendously well.
For each boost that Robbit applies to his jump, the angle of the camera pans increasingly downwards towards the floor until you are facing virtually straight down. From this point you can judge from Robbit’s shadow where he will land. It works incredibly well given the boosting ability but I can certainly understand why the notion was abandoned for alternate games hat boasted characters that possess different physics and abilities.
“In Jumping Flash, the first person idea works tremendously well”
As I sit here now listening to a playthrough of the game whilst typing, it strikes me at how evocative music can be when reminding you of a previous time in your life. As memories of playing Jumping Flash over that summer are evoked, I can virtually smell cigarette smoke because, while I was immersed in its world, my dad would be in another room drinking whisky and chain-smoking, demons that he would later face. I was naturally oblivious to this at the time and despite it leading to some hard times down the road, I can’t say that it taints an otherwise wonderful memory.
Things change and so does your perspective of the world. What seemed like an ultra-realistic graphical vision at the time, now looks dated and blocky. However I’d argue that for the incredible graphical progression that has happened since the PS1 era, what games have gained in size and epic moments, they have lost in heart. 11-year-olds now are exposed to violence and realism in video games a way that I never was, even from the comical blood and fatalities of Mortal Kombat.
“What seemed like an ultra-realistic graphical vision at the time, now looks dated and blocky”
Whereas the innocence of Jumping Flash represented the end of my childhood over that summer and served to distract and protect me from certain tough realities that were occurring, the mature themes and situations that kids are now presented with in video games can only serve to do the opposite, forcing them to confront brutality and crushing childish naivety as a result. I find that a pity.
With its imminent re-release as part of the Playstation Classic, this new generation of gamers will be introduced to Jumping Flash for the first time and, I daresay, will scoff at its graphical limitations and occasionally inconsistent gameplay. However, I am eagerly anticipating returning to the action once more. It may no longer serve to distract me from my father’s drinking, he eventually managed to give up, but if it can take my mind off work, bills and an increasing inability to eat bread without putting on a stone then it will still serve a grand purpose.
Audio / Visual