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JUJU

Score: 80%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Nordic Games
Developer: Flying Wild Hog
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Action/ Platformer/ Family

Graphics & Sound:

Cute and family-friendly platformers are harder to find than they should be on the Sony and Microsoft consoles, but the demographic is what it is for those platforms. JUJU stands out as a well-wrought adventure platforming game that happens to be designed with a young, fun aesthetic. When we say "young" we mean under 10 years, in case you were thinking we just meant fresh and youthful. This really is a game for kids, but one with solid enough mechanics that adults or older siblings wonít mind playing it.

The animation style throughout JUJU is reminiscent of a Nickelodeon series like Little Einsteins with tons of color and sound effects triggered by almost everything you do in the worlds you explore. A magical setting allows for all kinds of creative backdrops, and the characters are all cute animals, so cute that even the bad ones look like cuddly stuffed playtoys. There are some nice animated sequences stitching together the story, but the attention to detail that went into the level and character design is what will keep you playing.


Gameplay:

A mischievous little panda is the source of the gameís central problem when he unleashes an evil force his father has kept bottled up with special magic powers. JUJU has a chance to redeem himself and gains some powers of his own as he journeys to save his father, battling aggressive animals, bosses, and the big bad guy threatening to destroy the world. Nobody really gets hurt or dies along the way, just a lot of falling, fainting, and disappearing in a poof of smoke. Thereís really nothing offensive or off-putting in JUJU, making it perfect for parents in search of a non-violent game that isnít boring.

The platforming definitely keeps things exciting as JUJU bounces around from level to level gathering items solo, or with a friend. The ability for a second player to drop in and out is a nice touch that improves the replay value of JUJU and makes it easier to demo jumps and other tactics when playing with young ones. Levels are anything but cookie-cutter, rewarding exploration with secret items and hidden areas where you can do timed runs and test your skill at a level slightly higher than the standard experience.


Difficulty:

In terms of how much youíll feel tested, JUJU is very middle-of-the-road, but leans toward a very simplistic platforming model that young players will appreciate. Not to say there arenít deadly drops, but far less than you would expect in a more old-school or speed-run oriented game of this type. Not only can enemies be avoided in many cases, but JUJU has one ability right out of the box that freezes enemies and makes them easier to tackle. There are upgrades available, but nothing like a skill tree or anything resembling a strategic decision. JUJU is fundamentally about running, jumping, and butt bouncing. Where the game suffers a bit is on the control side of things, with some not-so-responsive mechanics, but getting over this hurdle is just a matter of getting used to the way JUJU does things. The game is kept simple and not too difficult, which lets players stay focused on the fun stuff.

Game Mechanics:

Where itís easy to lose focus is adapting to the control scheme. On one hand thereís nothing at all controversial here, just the standard up/ down/ left/ right and buttons to jump or trigger special abilities. The catch is that moving around feels slow and reaction times are muddy. Comparing JUJU to a more mature Action/Platformer like Dust: An Elysian Tale would leave JUJU in the dust, but the focus here isnít on lightning-quick action or smart enemies. Enemies on the whole are pretty simple (read "dumb") and move in assigned patterns. Your job is just to avoid or jump on them, and youíll end up with a host of helpful abilities, if not a helpful friend. Not that we can completely forgive what amounts to poor controls, but once you start exploring JUJU and get used to the controls, youíll mostly forget them. At least theyíre consistently muddy, as opposed to unpredictably glitchy.

We love our Xbox 360 and we love platforming games, especially those made with a family audience in mind. There are a few titles out there like Rayman that have set a high bar for quality, but not enough to make it easy for parents looking for a well-designed game for kids on this console. JUJU has its faults, but theyíre limited to one specific area, and are easily outweighed by the fun kids will have saving the world in the form of a cute, magical panda.


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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