Jumpman is a delightfully bizarre platformer which more closely resembles Circa Infinity than the Atari-era game it appears to be at first glance. Favoring chaotic physics over more precise platforming, Jumpman is loaded with deliberately slippery controls, rotatable levels, deadly bouncing balls, explosions, and new surprises around every corner.
Enjoyable disorientation is the primary element at play here. Jumpman is a remarkably slippery protagonist who quickly gains momentum, making it impossible to make pixel-perfect jumps and harder still to stop exactly where you want to. This isn’t actually a problem though because platforms are always either large enough to allow for plenty of leeway or positioned so close to each other that you can make the jump from a standing position. Instead, most of the challenge comes from timing your jumps against the movement patterns of enemies and quickly jumping away before they can reach you, though even then respawning is instantaneous and levels can be finished in a matter of seconds.
The real sense of disorientation starts to kick in after the first few short levels when you gain the power of rotation. With this power you rotate the entire level clockwise or counterclockwise by 45, 90, or even 180 degrees at a time depending on the level in question. Jumpman himself doesn’t rotate along with the level and maintains his momentum, allowing him to land on what was previously the side or bottom of a platform or to narrowly avoid hazards by rotating them away from him. However, objects in the environment, such as loose walls and bouncing balls, as well as most enemies do rotate with the level and are affected by gravity, allowing you to use rotation to maneuver parts of the environment and to shove enemies off of platforms. Levels also do not reset when you die, allowing for a sense of creative chaos as you toss enemies and hazards around the screen while looking for a way to reach the exit block. Later levels even take things a step further by introducing ‘no rotation’ zones and by limited just how much you can rotate the screen in either direction. The basic rules of the game never change, but limitations are constantly added or taken away and new objects and challenges are introduced frequently.
Aesthetics are a surprisingly large part of the Jumpman experience despite the simplistic style because of just how much this game plays with its basic assets. A very cool feature which players will notice immediately is the fact that you can see and sometimes even hear sound effects from upcoming levels in the background and touching the exit block will make Jumpman warp into the next layer. This stylistic technique is great to see in and of itself, but it is taken advantage of in two ways. First, it not only gives players a sense of what obstacles to expect in upcoming levels, but it also creates a sense of mystery as to what surprises may await in levels which look like they are far too simple or like they would be impossible to solve with the tools and rules you’re familiar with; even the first time you see a strangely shaped level after the initial series of very rectangular levels holds a sense of wonder as it shatters the assumptions you may have made about the rules of the game up to that point. Secondly, Jumpman is more than happy to subvert your expectations for various levels by performing stunts like warping Jumpman to a level so big that you didn’t know it existed between the previous level and the level you thought you would be warping to, creating an infinitely looping tower, and performing a more elaborate take on a trick similar to one found in Nintendo Remix where an infinite number of Jumpmans (Jumpmen?) run and jump through endlessly repeating rooms to simultaneously reach an exit. Like with the gameplay itself, many of the aesthetic tricks are disorienting, but in a way which is clever and enjoyable without being nauseating or overly confusing.
There are quite a few bits of polish to round out the whole Jumpman experience. Levels are divided into sets labelled as ‘paths’ and once you complete a set you can go back to it at any point to try to beat your old time and/or your old death count, though you are also free to maintain a steady pace and play through all of these paths in a row without even being taken out to the menu. As color is an important element in some situations, such as the color of a ball determining if it only kills Jumpman, only kills enemies, or kills both, and becomes especially important in one particular set of levels near the end, there is a color blind option, which I was pleasantly surprised to see in a freeware indie game from about a decade ago. A level editor also exists which is both powerful and easy to learn, though the fairly obscure nature of this game means that there are only a handful of player-made levels out there unless you want to make your own levels. You can even choose to just randomly place objects in a blank space and move around with Jumpman in a ‘Playground’ mode or make the game virtually impossible to play by making every character and object leave smearing trails of color.
At the end of the day, Jumpman is a game which just wants its players to have fun. Enemies and walls will bounce around in a chaotic mess, Jumpman will slide all over the place, and you may very well get into a situation where a ball lands on the respawn point to rapidly skyrocket your death count until you can rotate it away. The penalty for failure barely exists and it is immensely satisfying to try out a crazy path through a level where you rapidly rotate the play area back and forth and somehow actually succeed in reaching the exit in the process. This is a game which exists for the sake of surprising and entertaining its players every chance it gets and it absolutely excels at accomplishing its goal.