This port feels a bit forced
Let me preface this review by stating that I am neither an expert on the subject of Shonen Jump or fighting games. I have seen a couple of the most famous anime from the pages of Jump (most notably Dragon Ball, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Death Note and Naruto) and have played a selection of traditional fighting games in the past, but I would never consider myself an expert on either topic. So why this review then? Well there was something interesting pulling me towards this particular game and its surprising decision to release a port on the Switch. When Jump Force was announced for consoles back in 2018, my friends, who are very much into anime, were beyond excited. That first trailer showing off Goku, Luffy, and Naruto in a semi-realistic artstyle fighting some of the most famous villains from their respective series in New York seemed to blow their minds. Of course, this isn't the first time these series have crossed over—Jump: Ultimate All-Stars back on the DS was a fairly competent take on the Smash Bros. genre on a portable, years before we would see Super Smash Bros. for 3DS. But everything about that particular trailer felt epic, edgy, and above all hinted at something greater. Unfortunately, the game dropped off my radar after that first trailer and reactions were mixed when it launched on other systems. So imagine my surprise and intrigue when it was announced that Jump Force would receive a port on Switch, a system that wouldn't be able to match performance with other platforms, but was clearly pursued due to the demand by fans for its release. In the end however, Jump Force: Ultimate Edition on the Nintendo Switch is nothing more than a morbid curiosity that cannot be recommended to either anime fans, fighting game fans or fans rooting for more Switch ports.
Look, it is almost pointless to explain the plot in Jump Force. There is an incredibly contrived reason why the different worlds of Jump are colliding, but in the end the titular Jump Force is established and sees heroes from all over the Jump Worlds come together to fight a great evil. Interestingly, you do not choose one of the famous faces of the roster as your player character; instead, you create a pretty extensive original character in the character creator. While this tool is pretty extensive, this does mean that there is a certain disconnect with you as a player. You are fighting these battles alongside Shonen-characters, rather than fighting as them. You are given the choice of joining one of three teams (Alpha, Beta, and Gamma), but generally this choice doesn't change much. In the deserted hub world, you pick missions from a kiosk and fight battles one after another. After completing these missions, you mostly unlock the defeated fighters to be added to the overall Jump Force. The hub world tries to sell the idea that Jump Force is a large global task force, but it feels unbelievably empty, lackluster and is a pain to traverse. It would've been far easier and less contrived to have all the missions in a singular overview and just be selectable from a list. This lackluster approach can also be found in the soundtrack which consists of a weird mix and match of genres, but also becomes dull and repetitive incredibly quickly.
Missions are all similar in structure. You are tasked with fighting someone, sometimes with a different partner and afterwards the partner becomes part of the crew. While there is an overarching narrative, there is very little character or personality to any of the fighters within these story moments. You'd think that after Vegeta would beat up a schoolkid fighting with children's trading cards there would at least be a fun interaction or acknowledgment of the absurdity, but no, the story and character are all as flimsy as the pages they stem from. Even though you might wave this off due to my earlier stated lack of knowledge about most of these series, it's almost comical how badly these scenes are written to guide you from one fight to the other. There was a lot of potential here, but partly due to the use of an original character and the teaming up of very select fighters, there is a lack of personality in both the story and the fights themselves.
Speaking of which, let's cover the Battle system. Jump Force uses a 3D fighting combat system similar to titles like Tekken, Soul Calibur or some of the earlier Dragon Ball Budokai Tenkaichi series. Unlike those games, however, you pick from three different fighters that can be swapped at any time with the press of a button. What I found was a ton of interesting movesets that pay homage to the origins of these characters that was stuck within a boring combat system. One of the core issues is that the fighters always share one singular life bar. This provides very little incentive to switch fighters in battle and not use them just for ranged attacks while performing a combo. There is also a meter to perform special attacks, which is where you will find a lot of differences between certain fighters. Character’s special attacks can also be boosted using an awakened ability that is filled up depending on how much damage you have received during the match. Even from a fighting game perspective, there is very little on offer here that puts a unique spin on the formula. Sure, it's fun to recognize Piccolo doing his signature Special Beam Cannon, but these animations get old fast and eat up a lot of time during battles. There is nothing here that really kept me coming back to battles. After doing so many missions, they all felt like a slog to get through. I do have to say that the roster selection of Jump Force feels very fun and shows off a lot of different fighting styles. I personally really gravitated towards a combination of Gon (HunterXHunter), Vegeta (Dragon Ball Z) and Yugi Moto (Yu-Gi-Oh!). Yugi especially was a blast to see. Instead of fighting himself, he uses the Dark Magician to attack opponents and draws cards from his deck to add special effects. Seeing him unleashed Slyfer: The Sky Dragon as his final move was a blast every time I saw it, partly due to my familiarity with this particular series, but also because the game had given a character that isn’t part of a fighting series a unique way to play. I just wish there were other series represented aside from just fighters with swords, fists, and magic. How about using one of those volleyball sports manga?
But now we arrive at the question that first came to mind when hearing about this Switch version: "How does it run?" While I was expecting to end this review with an autopsy of how my console tragically died trying to play this game, I am surprised to report that this game runs surprisingly okay on the Switch. I am saying this carefully, because visual downgrades have been absolutely merciless to get this game to run. My first thought was that it reminded me of Xenoblade Chronicles 3D on the New 3DS because of how blurry, pixelated and chunky the graphics are. Even in cutscenes these downgrades are unavoidable. Framerate drops are plentiful, especially within that barren overworld, and in handheld mode the game really becomes a sight for sore eyes. Not to mention the loading times in between cutscenes, booting up the game and selecting fighters which can take up to 15-29 seconds each. *But* (and this is a big but), during the actual battles the game does run surprisingly okay. Framerate drops are still there and the game tends to drop a lot of graphical vidality to get it there. I would highly recommend playing only in docked mode, even if the battles are fully playable on the Switch’s handheld mode. I know that doesn't sound like much, but the graphical drop is far more noticeable in menus, cutscenes, and the hub rather than in the actual battles.
Admittedly, there is definitely a market out there for Jump Force. Anime fans will probably get a kick out of the large selection of playable fighters and the ability to create a pretty unique original fighter inspired by all sorts of manga. But there isn't much more to add beyond that selling point. The combat system has barely any depth and feels repetitive after only a few matches. The story mode is nonsense and gives the characters, known for their personality, absolutely nothing to work with or play off of. Even then you will still have to contend with the Switch version being an unbelievable graphical downgrade compared to the other versions of this game, and if handheld mode is really your argument for picking up the Switch version, I will be blunt and implore you: Don't. Jump Force: Ultimate Edition goes to show that maybe not every single game should be ported to Switch. While the core gameplay and ideas presented probably wouldn't feel at home regardless, the Switch version really shouldn't be the way to experience this game. If you are looking for a portable version of Jump Force I'd recommend putting some manga in your backpack. It will probably last you longer.