What a pleasant surprise Juju turned out to be. After a sickeningly cute introduction to the characters and story, Juju reveals itself to be a delightful, well-designed, and visually impressive side-scrolling platformer. There’s a slight lack of character to the leads and the odd complaint here and there, but otherwise Juju is an excellent little adventure.
The story begins as a panda leisurely walks through the forest to a temple, with an artefact in hand, whilst a young panda named Juju and a young lizard named Peyo, sneakily and curiously follow behind. With the artefact placed on the temple pedestal and projecting great power, a distraction gives the young’uns an opening to investigate with a more hands-on approach. Cue tampering and breaking the artefact, spreading pieces of it in four different lands, and leading to the release of a great evil. It’s now up to the cub and lizard to gather the pieces together and defeat the escaped villain.
Juju very much feels like the collation of all past platformers, reforming their ideas within a unique shell. There’re obvious influences ranging from Sonic to Rayman, with level design similarities bringing back nostalgic memories of Mickey’s Castle of Illusion and Crash Bandicoot to name but a few. However, concepts from history’s great platformers are merely borrowed rather than copied or stolen outright, maintaining a unique enough feel and look to avoid direct comparisons with its peers.
3D visuals on a strictly 2D plane setup the perspective for the left to right side scrolling, meanwhile simple jumping on and over obstacles and platforms in order to reach the end, whilst collecting butterflies holding gems, is the objective. Enemies are present as well, stylised appropriately to the theme of the four different locations: a forest, a land of toys, an ocean of plastic inflatable islands, and a land of sweets and deserts. Beyond the forest things gets wonderfully weird in terms of setting, and whilst these locations have certainly been seen before, they’re still a treat to witness.
It’s not just each location’s design and theme that delights, the visuals are so detailed, crisp and bright that each floating plastic ships bobbing on the clear ocean, and every tree and rock protruding from the forest floor looks spectacular in its cartoon-esque splendour.
Defeating enemies is a matter of good old jumping on their heads, or using abilities you gradually unlock as you progress, like the dash move which quickly sees to armoured or spiked enemies. There are also huge boss fights, one for each location, but for each foe you face them twice, once half way through the set of eight levels, and again at the end.
There is, however, a slow pacing to Juju, partly because of lengthy stays within each location due to their eight levels, but also due to the slow gait of our heroes. Juju’s slow stroll feels very restricted initially, and takes some getting used to. However, this does work in favour of local multiplayer: keeping both players close-by as they explore. And exploration is eagerly encouraged with collectables hidden within each stage and tracked on the level-hub, as well as portals to a mini collection game set in an otherworldly venue. Having a second player for these is extremely useful, as failing it will remove the portal unless you restart the level – or kill yourself before a checkpoint, I suppose.
There’s also a lack of character to the heroes, and even the villain. The narrative is shallow but ultimately doesn’t require any depth, but no dialogue – written or spoken – and minimal cut scenes means Juju and Peyo never carve an identity out for themselves, and beyond being evil, neither does the villain. It’s not a crucial component by any means, and it certainly doesn’t take away from the otherwise fun, family-friendly adventure, but it’s a layer of polish that would help elevate it amongst the greats.
Juju is an excellent platformer that surprised me wonderfully. With little to no promotion leading to such a quiet release, I expected a throwaway adventure that would disappear into the XBLA catalogue, but instead it’s one of the best titles in its genre. Eight levels is a bit long to spend within each location – more location would have been better – and the injection of some character into the cast would have been a nice addition, but exceptionally well designed levels and mechanics makes Juju a terrific platformer for any age.
Thanks to the publisher for supplying TiX with a download code
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