Sometimes it seems like Microsoft's XBLA service just loves shooting itself in the foot. I mean, we have this great addition to the 360, one that has borne fruit to some excellent re-issues such as Sonic the Hedgehog and Castlevania: SotN. We have also witnessed some innovative titles such as Cloning Clyde and Carcassone. However, these games are sadly few and far between. The dirge of uninspiring and frankly boring titles that appear week in, week out is growing in size at an alarming rate. Microsoft has upheld its pledge of two new Live Arcade titles per week, solemnly swearing that this will be the service with the most downloadable content compared to its rivals. Games like Screwjumper! make me wish it had never made that promise.
Screwjumper! falls into the top-down action category. Well it's certainly top-down but the word action implies intensity, determination and in a videogame context, fun. In order to immerse the gamer, action titles usually have a plot and setting in order to give your mission some kind of purpose. So you can be forgiven for remaining completely nonplussed when you're told you're a former mine worker who, disgruntled with the safety risks of your previous job, is now hell bent on blowing everything up in the mines where you used to work. Sounds exciting, eh? Well, in case my attempt at sarcasm was lost on you, let me just say that it adds absolutely nothing whatsoever to the already bland and monotonous gameplay.
You dive down the mines using your booster to smash into green objects and thus racking up points and cash. Red objects are to be avoided at all cost, and if you bump into too many of these it's Game Over. The longer you hold down the boost button, the more points you receive as you hurtle head first into these platforms to the sound of a tinny explosion. Don't hold it down for too long, though, as it will overheat and send you back to square one. That's not all the arsenal you have at your disposal, however. You have dynamite! Yes. You can lob sticks of dynamite at various objects blocking your path for even more meaningless points and more cash you can't spend when you make your way back up.
If you fail to obliterate a sufficient amount of inconsequential objects on your way down, when you finally land at the bottom, poisonous gas is released and it's back to the previous check point. Playing Screwjumper! you'll find this happens quite a lot as the game engine does its level best to hinder your progress by simply screwing up (pun intended) your aim. You position your character over several layers of green goodness, hit boost and your manic miner becomes instantly uncontrollable and you end up hitting about two of the platforms on offer. There is also a slight delay when you throw the sticks of dynamite, meaning you have to use your airbrakes often in order to make sure you don't hurtle past a cylinder (even though you actually threw your projectile in time).
The placement of red spiky mines means you have to constantly jam on the brakes, and thus your descent is a slow, arduous, frustrating one. This only serves to work against the game's intended premise of you falling at break neck speeds leaving a trail of explosions like John McClane down an elevator shaft.
In an attempt to mix things up a little, developer Frozen Codebase has given you an initial choice of six characters, with the option to unlock a few more as you progress. This is a good idea in theory, but only if the members of your renegade explosive army actually display different attributes that affect gameplay. However, given the fact that they turn out to be almost identical puzzles me as to their inclusion. After you've unlocked a leve, you have the option to re-do it in Time Attack mode. When we take into consideration the borked aiming and the continual braking, there really isn't much point or more importantly, enjoyment in attempting them.
Visually it's passable. No tearing to speak of but nothing very imaginative or interesting either. The level geometry is rather bland, with all the mines looking pretty much the same with some tricky twists and turns in some of the later levels to make you want to throw your controller that little bit further. The Achievements are as you'd expect: complete Time Attack mode, complete levels one to five, play multiplayer with 754 friends for 800 hours etc. It all reeks of laziness, and dare I say it, shovelware.
Quality over quantity is one of the oldest discussion points there is. Do we need to have four great games out of fifty, for example? Wouldn't we rather there was some kind of quality control before a game was unleashed on an unsuspecting public? Yes, I know there's a free trial version, and, yes, I know it's all about choice, but it's also about reputation. Charging 800 points for this when the aforementioned Castlevania: SotN comes at the same price is taking the proverbial. Steer well clear of this one.