PC, Mac, Linux •
NEXT JUMP: Shmup Tactics has my number something fierce. Do you like shmups, this Brazilian indie effort asks. YES, I proclaim. But do you suck at them, it continues. YES, I admit. If you find yourself in this quandary of unquenchable thirst, Post Mortem Pixels has your back.
In a display of inspired design, NEXT JUMP: Shmup Tactics blends bullet-hell with turn-based strategy. It’s akin to FTL and the combat elements of, say, The Last Federation. You’re travelling across sectors in pursuit of space dragons – chasing, if I’ve tapped into NEXT JUMP correctly – and upgrading your ship as you go. It’s of the rogue variety, and as much as the mechanical elements feel close to the aforementioned FTL and TLF, I get Weird Worlds vibes in NEXT JUMP’s coffee break-friendly runs.
Leaping along sectors, players shunt their ship around grids in sharp parcels of three-move ‘levels’. Enemies, laser bolts and all manner of space detritus form things to dodge or detonate. Every turn is a freeze-frame of ordnance and opponent to navigate, based around anticipating movement and killing for crucial energy.
Augmented by ship battery upgrades, your combat turn ends when you’re drained of energy. Key to combat is harvesting as much dropped energy as possible to extend combat. It’s a very neat abstraction of the real-time shmup conceit, making movement and position paramount. Destroying an enemy leaves energy in surrounding cells, which is then – hopefully – scooped up to power subsequent firing and manoeuvring. Those three turns go fast, but each turn is a puzzle in itself.
Enemies also drop scrap, which forms the currency in NEXT JUMP. This is expended in sectors that contain outposts, where ships can be repaired, upgrades made and items bought. Laser augments, missiles, scanners and the like; in place of a traditional shmup’s on-the-fly enhancement dredging, NEXT JUMP lets players peruse at their leisure. For a spiritual geriatric such as this old dog, the breathing room is welcomed.
I’ve only managed to use two of the four fighters, and they offer up some marked differences in the way they play. You might need to initially consider recoil on a particular ship, so firing a laser might shunt your little craft backwards into a laser bolt. There are armour differences, requiring a lot more scrap be spent patching up between missions in some cases. Engines set the limit on how many sectors you want to jump through before stopping and recouping, so the meeker machinery might be limited to two jumps before needing to restart the course-plotting.
And as much as the stress of real-time bullet dodging is lessened in its turn-based form, NEXT JUMP is still a punishing little game. Within the cute, chaotic, punk-pixel aesthetic beats the heart of a brutal tactics game. No quarter given. If measured in coffee breaks so far, I’ve never lasted an entire cup. But that’s appreciated. Post Mortem Pixels have crafted something compact. And while I concede the visuals might not be to everyone’s liking, the mechanics are fool-proof.
Bite-sized with bite, I say jump in.
NEXT JUMP: Shmup Tactics releases on Steam (PC, Mac, Linux) April 28.