Sunday, October 18, 2020

Jumpman: Won! (plus Jumpman #1)

I did it! I've beaten Jumpman's final and toughest skyscraper. I can't say I completed it quite fairly - I used five save states here in accordance with my rule on one save per half hour of earnest play - but with all of Jumpman's nasty tricks and occasionally broken platforming mechanics, I can't say its challenge was totally fair either.
The advanced tier spans levels 19 through 30, and I noted that my save states were on levels 21, 22, 23, 24, and 26. I refused to save unless I had just beaten a level without losing any lives, expecting I'd need as many as I could stockpile, and I was right. Only levels 20, 25, and 26 were easy enough to beat on a single life immediately following a perfect run of the previous one. Once I had reached 26 with a full set of lives, plus one bonus life from scoring points, I was able to finish the remaining five on that set, concluding with an ultimate "Grand Puzzle" which I survived on my last life, but didn't exactly solve.

Prior to this posting, there were no complete playthroughs of Jumpman in its original Atari incarnation, only of the Commodore 64 port. And so, I decided to record a playthrough of the full 30 floor Grand Loop, using save states freely, and with no attempt to conceal them.
Here's commentary on each of the advanced levels, which are all over the place difficulty-wise. For each level, I've also counted the number of tries it took me to complete it during this grand loop run. Note that during the grand loop run, I had already beaten all of the levels at least once before, and levels 19-26 several times each, so this count does not reflect all the failures sustained figuring out each level for the first time.

Level 19's gimmick is a moving ladder. Nothing terribly tricky here - stray bullets make your life a bit more dangerous, and to be honest you're much safer on the ladder than you are near the edges of the screen.

Tries: 1

Level 20 is a cruel puzzle where the terrain shifts and reshapes as you pick up the bombs. Getting them in the wrong order can easily render the level impossible, and the right order can only be learned through trial and error.

The ropes hanging from the center-right girder are a source of much peril too.

Tries: 2

Level 21 is a pretty standard affair of ropes, ladders, bullets, and disappearing girders. A lot of action near the edges of the screen makes the offscreen bullets especially dangerous, and ropes so close together mean trouble for Jumpman's collision detection.

Tries: 1

I hate level 22. You are dogged by freezing projectiles which can't be outran or outmaneuvered. Getting hit by one is practically inevitable, and the most common outcome is death by homing bullet. The second most common outcome is that you get re-frozen by another one, prolonging your paralysis, and then death by homing bullet. Sometimes you thaw in time to survive.
I attribute my eventual victory here to luck. The frost projectiles were very cooperative in taking avoidable trajectories. On my thirty first attempt.

Tries: 31

Level 23 is fun. As soon as you collect a bomb, an evil Jumpman starts following, and shadows every move you make until he catches up and kills you. The next two bombs spawn more evil Jumpmen, until a line of three follow in pursuit. Bombs also tend to destroy your way up, though Jumpman's hoist ability is not to be forgotten or underestimated.
Once again, this is not a level you can expect to beat on your first attempt, but once you understand what's going on here there are several solutions. Ultimately you need to traverse the whole level without backtracking too much. One trick is to spend the first several seconds pacing back and forth to buy time before touching the first bomb, but don't do this too long or they'll spawn right behind you. The Atari only has so much RAM available to keep track of your moves, after all. Another solution is to go for the top bombs first and work your way downward, but you'll need to plan carefully so that you don't touch anyone going up on your way down.

Arggh! So many ropes! So many bullets! So many chances to slip and die! During my first advanced run, level 24 gave me even more trouble than 22 did. And yet somehow, during my grand loop run, I beat it on my second attempt. I doubt I could repeat this miracle if I tried, and I don't intend to.

Tries: 2

Level 25 has a fog of war concealing everything, so tread lightly. There are at least three possible layouts here, and all of them will force you to make a few leaps of faith, but once you know the layouts, this one isn't too bad. At least there aren't any moving elements here.

Tries: 1

Level 26 is another combat zone, but this time it's a cinch. Evil Jumpmen patrol the ladders haphazardly and shoot at you. You can shoot back too, but it's better if you don't, because they'll just respawn right where the bomb is, and you don't want that.

Tries: 1

Ultimate fun time with killer robots in level 27! They're aggressive. They're unpredictable. And they're faster than you. For extra fun, try jumping over an approaching robot, only to have it halt or reverse its direction as it passes under you and kills you on landing!

By some miracle, I managed to beat this without losing a life, which wasn't really necessary at this late stage of the game. It took quite a few tries, and some very fortunate cooperation on the part of the robots during the successful attempt.

Tries: 9

Level 28 alternates between making the bombs invisible and making the level invisible each time you collect a bomb. It's not too difficult as long as you follow this rule: before collecting any bomb, have a plan to collect the next one.

From here on, the try counts will be higher. Being so close to the end of the game, I didn't need to keep replaying these levels again and again as I did the earlier ones, and therefore was less familiar with them during my grand loop run.
Tries: 6

Level 29 has a downward elevator, and a design that encourages you to collect bombs at the bottom first and work your way upward. Bombs on the bottom floor can only be reached by the elevator. Aggressive bullets and very little maneuvering room make for a difficult stage.

Tries: 7

Finally, one last grand puzzle! By now you probably don't care about scoring the jackpot and just want to finish the game, as I did when I reached this for the first time, in which case beating the level isn't hard at all. But with a save state to fall back on, I tried to see if I could discover Jumpman's final mystery.

Playing it normally, you may notice that the rectangle moving around the stage, which normally kills you, changes color at a point. Touch it when it does - and you must be standing in a very specific part of the stage to survive what happens next, and you're teleported to the real final stage.

And this last stage is the ultimate in trial and error. As if it didn't take enough trial and error to figure out how to reach this secret zone, being in the wrong spot while teleported will kill you, and death here means the end of the game. And if that wasn't bad enough, only four of the bombs here can be taken safely. The rest just destroy the girder below you, killing Jumpman and ending the game. Trial and error is the only way to deduce which ones to take, and each error, be it teleporting into the stage wrong, collecting one of the wrong bombs, or getting hit by a bullet means ending the game and re-completing the whole advanced tier of stages again if you want to try again (and aren't using save states).

Tries: 12

GAB rating: Above average. It pains me to deny Jumpman entry to the ivory deck. A far cry from the sluggish, monochrome BASIC Dunjonquests from the Freeman/Connelley era of Epyx, Jumpman is fast, colorful, challenging, endlessly inventive, and controls responsively and almost perfectly. But almost isn't good enough in a game so unforgiving.

I didn't mind the merciless deathtraps, the trial and error gameplay, the cheap deaths from stray bullets, or even the occasional unreasonably difficult level. That's what extra lives are for, and Jumpman is generous enough with them that you could overcome all that through determination and skill - at first the lives mean seven chances to figure out each level, and as you gradually master each of them, they come to mean seven allowances for slip-ups and otherwise unpreventable deaths.
But the tipping point came from death by control hiccups, by far the most common one being of those damned ropes that Jumpman keeps slipping from. I feel my level by level commentary critically understates just how bad it is - with so many deaths caused by collision detection problems on ropes and ladders, I spent far too much time having to restart and replay previously beaten levels, which quickly got unenjoyable. I think that without these control problems and everything else being the same, I could have finished intermediate in half the time it took, and possibly even beaten the advanced tier fairly (that final secret room notwithstanding).

For what it's worth, I played the cartridge-based sequel Jumpman Junior for a bit, and found that it did not have the rope problems of its predecessor.

I also played the more popular Commodore 64 port briefly, playing the advanced levels as far as I could, and found these differences:
  • Loading takes nearly two minutes, compared to the 20 seconds needed on Atari.
  • The title screen animation is completely different.
  • Sprites are multi-colored.
  • Animated level transitions are missing, and replaced instead with a brief loading screen showing the level's name.
  • The moving ladder in level 19 is shorter and has a wild zig-zagging pattern.
  • Bullets sometimes fly diagonally at you from the corners.
  • Level 20 has some tweaks to make it a bit fairer, such as girders that disappear in front of you rather than underneath you.
  • Jumpman's hoisting hitbox is a bit tighter, which renders some level solutions nonviable.
  • When getting frozen in level 22, you thaw out MUCH faster. I beat it on my first try.
  • There can be up to seven evil Jumpmen following you in level 23.
  • Level 25 does not have a fog of war, and instead simply makes everything invisible until you touch it, making things much more difficult.
  • The cool game over animation where the level collapses around you is missing.
Perhaps the biggest thing, though, is that like Jumpman Junior, the rope issues are mostly fixed. It's still possible to fall from them by touching the joystick too soon, but those deaths felt like my fault rather than a fault of the engine. Would I have rated Jumpman better if I had played the Commodore 64 version instead? I suspect I would, but can't say for certain. I generally play the most original incarnation available, and in Jumpman's case, that was the Atari version, whose rope collision detection soured me just enough that I can't quite say I enjoyed my time here.

There's also a beta version called Jumpman #1, which I tried. It's obviously an unfinished game - there's a high score board that you can't ever put your own score on, the visuals and controls are unpolished, Jumpman's falling intolerance is somehow even worse, and his wild pratfall isn't programmed yet; he just falls to the bottom of the screen and turns into a stone cross.
But the set of levels, of which there are six, are for the most part quite different from anything you see in the final product.

Level 1 feels like an early version of Jumpman's introductory stage. Getting bombs in the wrong order will destroy the ladders and leave you stranded in the upper half, which wasn't a possibility in the final version.

Level 2 has no obvious analog to the final product. Here, bombs will destroy ladder segments and even girders, making it necessary to find a sequence that allows collecting them all.

Level 3 is where things start to get hilariously unfair. Bombs will radically alter the layout of the stage, and it's very easy to make things impossible. An early version of the freezing projectile appears here as well, but instead of freezing you it just slows you down, and only while you're inside its hitbox.

Level 4 bears some resemblance to Jumpman's penultimate stage with the descending elevator, but the final product has been heavily modified if it is indeed based on this. As with other stages, the bombs can really screw you up. Jumpman's shortened fall tolerance hurts you a lot here too.

Level 5 is obviously the basis of that intermediate stage with the exploding jumps, which are seen here too. Once again, the stage is more unforgiving than the final product (which itself was one of the least forgiving stages in the final game) thanks to even more bomb effects on the landscape.

Finally, level 6 is a combat stage, and seems like it may be a very early concept of what would become the dragon level.
I haven't seen any footage on Youtube of a complete playthrough, so I made one. Save states were used liberally here.


  1. Same thing.

    I thought of Mortal Kombat 3's towers when I saw Jumpman's skyscrapers.

  2. I (and my family) played the c64 version to death back in the day. One mechanic I didn't see mentioned is that Jumpman is still "alive" when falling/bouncing through the level after death, which means you can collect bombs by hitting them.
    This can lead both to amazing escapes (hitting the last bomb wins the level and avoids death) and brutal failures (hitting an out-of-sequence bomb on a changeable level, putting it in an "unwinnable" state).

    1. Yep, that happens in the Atari version too. Won the dragon stage quite a few times this way until I realized you can jump, and I did it deliberately in my video (see the 14:15 mark). One time I "beat" a level after getting hit by an offscreen bullet by crashing into three or four bombs on the way down, and I'm kind of mad I didn't record that!


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