Humans, elves, dwarves and orcs once feuded with each other until they discovered the joy of alcohol. One day, however, dragons stole the power of alcohol, which culminated in a centuries long conflict. In space, a federation of the united races has teamed together to pursue the great dragon mothership for, uh, the right to have beverages, I guess? I dunno, the fantasy sci-fi stuff already worked for me, it didn’t need this dumb beverage angle. Anyway, it’s NEXT JUMP: Shmup Tactics.
NEXT JUMP: Shmup Tactics is a game by Post Mortem Pixels, billing itself as a turn-based tactical shmup with roguelike elements. As stated by the surprisingly long opening cutscene, your goal is to chase down this dragon mothership. To do so, your ship must make constant jumps across the galaxy to catch up.
There’s three pre-determined paths with different types of locations on the way and you pick which path to take jumps along. The mothership is a large number of jumps away, and dawdling around will actually cause it to get farther. You can choose to do multiple jumps in one attempt to easily get closer. Besides closing the gap, the advantage of doing this is that the multiplier for your reputation score – which gives discounts and money when you meet certain thresholds – will carry over between jumps. Of course, this also means that you’d have to truck through multiple fights before you get some respite.
On each jump, you fight enemies within a condensed time, weaving between bullets and wrecking ships. As per the lore of the game, you’re constantly jumping around, so combats will end after three turns – regardless of how many enemies are still onscreen – so that you can make another jump to elsewhere. In fact, it’s a perfectly valid tactic to hide in the corner and wait out the clock if you’re injured to dodge bullets in true shmup fashion.
But you won’t be getting any scrap (the game’s currency) if you’re just sitting around. So, within a turn, you’re allowed to take as many actions as your ship’s energy allows you. If you run out of energy, the turn automatically ends, which leads to time resuming and enemy ships making their own moves. As you can see the trajectory of bullets frozen in time, you can position yourself before your turn ends King Crimson style to avoid damage. Though, toward the end of a session, you’ll start running into ships that has extra energy during your turn and they and their bullets will move alongside yours, so you also have to get used to the more immediate threats that’s harder to predict.
You pay an energy cost depending on how far you move and the weapon you use. When you destroy an enemy ship, it drops energy alongside scrap. If you’re not on your last bit of energy, picking up more energy will sustain your turn. If there’s a bunch of energy lying around, you can easily chain your movements and attacks into a long turn that feels satisfying to pull off. Personally, it’s why I liked using the Hammer as the default ship, because it starts out with a melee weapon; weapons can knock you backward or forward and melee weapons always bring you forward, which also automatically collects the energy of any ship you destroy.
There are various different settings to jump through. Jumping through areas with meteors will add meteors as a hazard that can block shots, nebulas will automatically drain energy from ships at the start of the turn, etc. You can also make stops at shops to upgrade your ship and buy weapons. There are also some areas that emit a signal to stop at, but gotta say, the game doesn’t really do anything interesting with them, as I found in my time that they’re either “pay scrap for reputation boost,” “buy illegal things for stuff and a reputation hit,” or “nothing”; it’s unlike inspiration FTL: Faster Than Light, which offers a bunch of events and sidequests, and is kinda baffling considering the bizarre long winded opening.
NEXT JUMP presents itself as a shmup for people that like to play shmups but are at them. However, does it capture the feeling of a shmup? What is the essence of a shmup?
For me, shmups are something to play in bursts, and I think NEXT JUMP sorta replicates that with its short rounds of combat. There’s also that sense of intensity of trying to navigate a screen full of danger, and though early game combat is simple, the late game stuff is more engaging with the sheer amount of stuff to navigate around.
Now, there’s another aspect of shmups that I love and it’s the exciting bosses at the end of stages. They always provide unique challenges and it’s always satisfying to finally get through them. For me, they’re the hook of getting through a stage, especially if it has music that slaps.
NEXT JUMP does have a boss, but that boss is the end goal, and you’ll be playing for like, 15-30 minutes before you finally encounter it. As far as I know, there’s no other kinda boss encounters on the way, which I think is a problem for two reasons. One, even as combat grows to be more intense, the game lacks the unique roadblocks of shmup bosses, so it lacks that kinda hook to push you forward. Two, the final boss has a bunch of unique moves that you have no formal training to deal with.
My thing is, I think NEXT JUMP‘s core game is interesting, but it lacks hooks. There are no special encounters, no events, just getting stronger as you travel across the stars to fight a dragon spaceship. And that part should sound cool, but as the game barely does anything with its fantasy/sci-fi theming beyond the beginning and the ship names, it may as well just be a Big Ship. Like, I think it’s fine if you’re looking for a purely roguelike experience – though, without unique events to break up monotony, I prefer FTL in this regard.