Next Jump: Schmup Tactics is a great idea for a game. The combination of bullet hell and turn-based strategy is wholly unique. The graphics and music are both top notch, evoking the spirit of the classic space shooters that influenced the game, and the story is a cute take on traditional fantasy tropes. Sadly, clunky user interface and an overall lack of polish mar an otherwise excellent experience.
As the name implies, Next Jump is a turned based tactics game. After plotting a course to the enemy mothership, you enter a series of turn based battles. Your ship’s engine determines how many grid spaces you move, and your ships battery determines how many times you can move or fire a weapon in a single turn. The trick being to position yourself to where you can fire on the enemy, while avoiding the enemy lasers will be the coming turn. The systems work well, and reward careful, patient planning, but the true skill comes after dispatching the enemy.
After blowing up an enemy ship, two materials will drop: scrap, and energy. Scrap is used to buy upgrades and new weapons for your ship, which quickly becomes very important as you try to take down the gargantuan Dragon mothership. Energy, meanwhile, will refill your ship’s battery. In chaining together energy pickups, you can destroy multiple enemies in a single turn, gain scrap faster, and clear a path to safety. Planning your strategy around the energy pickups to maximize efficiency is the most rewarding part about Next Jump, and essential for high-level play.
What’s not rewarding are some of the baffling design choices in the game. Why is it possible to see the range of your weapons at all times, except when in a battle? Having access to the proper information is paramount in a strategy game, and the difference between a laser that fires two spaces and a laser that fires three can mean life or death for the player. Knowing the abilities of your ship is as important as knowing what the enemy ship is capable of.
Speaking of enemy ships, their battle sprites change based on what they are going to do next. This is great, but if you were to assume that the more animated sprites meant that ship was going to move you would be right about half the time. The animations have no consistency ship to ship, and aren’t indicative of what they will be doing next. Thankfully, the developer seemed to realize that this was an issue, and a guide for all the enemy ships is available on the game’s Steam Community page, which raises the question, why isn’t this information available in the game to begin with?
After a few hours with the game you do pick up on some of these unexplained nuances. Maybe you keep the enemy ship guide open in a different window, or write down what your ship’s weapon does on a notepad, and these faults are lessened somewhat. Still, it’s a lot of trouble, and a lot of early frustration to put up with.
While the user interface issues may lessen as you put time into the game, the numerous grammatical errors and awkward sentences will not. Upgrade descriptions such as, “Ship hull now do damage when touched by enemies” sound silly but are generally comprehensible; however, the in-game manual, while mostly adequate, can become unclear with sentences like, “The combat dynamic of the combat revolve around…”
The story and in-game dialogue fair much better than the instruction manual, mostly because it’s much less involved than the actual gameplay mechanics. There’s a lightly animated, comic strip opening that tells the tales of the four races (stock fantasy elves, dwarves, orcs, and humans) and their war against the dragons who stole their alcohol. It’s a cute story with it’s fair share of alcohol related puns, but you’ll likely only feel the need to watch it once. Aside from that there’s little in game dialogue to speak of. There’s doesn’t even seem to be an ending as such, just a loop that gradually gets more difficult.
There may not be much of an ending, but there are four different types of ships that add replay value. You start the game with the Elven Ballista and the Dwarven Hammer, but quickly unlock the agile Human Dagger and the Orc Staff. While the same upgrades are available for all ships, each has its own unique primary weapon. The Ballista fires lasers, the Hammer uses a battering ram, the Dagger uses a… short ranged dagger type thing, and the Staff fires wily energy balls that veer off in odd directions. Because of this, each ship feels unique, and while I personally had a preference for the long-ranged Ballista, each ship has its own charms.
I want to love Next Jump: Schmup Tactics, but the unintuitive interface and a lack of polish make it difficult to recommend without reservation. The developer is actively working on the game, promising things like two new ships and making the toxic effect more noticeable, but how these things will impact the issues currently in the game remains to be seen. As it stands, it’s worth looking into Next Jump for some intriguing tactical action, but be prepared for a rough start.