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  • Writer's pictureNate Hermanson

Not-E3 2023 Mini-Preview: Jumplight Odyssey gives us management and melodrama in space

Throughout June, Video Games Are Good is spotlighting a handful of amazing demos released on Steam as part of "Not-E3" or the summer Steam Next Fest (June 19-26).

A lot of the sim and management genre can feel a bit stuffy, more about the nitty-gritty numbers than actually selling a vibe. More about min-maxing than allowing genuine experimentation.

And I say that as a guy who spends hours in the annual baseball management sim game Out of the Park Baseball, a game that is essentially all about balancing budgets and organizing spreadsheets.

What? I like baseball.

Efforts in recent years, especially from indies, have tapped back into the cheekier roots of the genre. Cult sims, weed shop managers, and... full-on classic anime starship sims where managing your crew's emotional states and up-and-down relationships matters just as much as maintaining the resources you gather out in space.

We're talking Jumplight Odyssey.

GIF: Princess Euphora, the captain of the starship dressed in a berry colored jumpsuit with pink hair, pets and plays with a pig in the middle of the starships greenroom. The pig rolls around and seeks attention from the Princess.

League of Geeks is a self-described "Triple-I" indie studio based out of Melbourne, Australia. The label is a statement about their commitment to Triple-A levels of quality and polish while maintaining their independence and smaller team size, something that's clear to see in their incredible digital board game experience Armello and the four years of constant support and content they poured into it.

After years of playing in the digital board game world, LoG is ready for something new. They're ready to put the board games back on the shelf and move on to the next part of the classic nerdy hangout: when you sit your friends down to dust off your favorite old-school anime and get way too invested in the relationships between its characters.

Jumplight Odyssey cites epic 1970s anime adventures as a source of inspiration. Its vibes aren't lightyears away from the '90s-cool anime I grew up with, either, proving to hit that sweet spot of nostalgia. And it wastes no time showing off its influences, opening with a beautifully animated anime intro that sets up the game's main storyline.

A gigantic space battle erupts over the skies of Princess Euphora's home planet, a land full of hope and happiness that could only be disrupted by the cruel warmongering Zutopans. Even with their entire fleet activated and with the princess herself on the front line, the Zutopans prove too powerful.

All it takes is a grimace from the capital-E evil Admiral Zoltan for his crew to activate a giant laser, disintegrating the planet below and leaving Euphora and her crew reeling. Choosing to save the people she has left, Euphora makes a jump and starts her crew on a journey toward the only symbol of hope they have left: the Forever Star. But of course... the Zutopans are not too far behind them. And so begins our story.

As the kids say: it's giving She-Ra, it's giving Star Blazers, it's giving Macross. There are monologues about hope, a perfectly timed tear drop that twinkles as it drops, an overworked and concerned leader carrying the burden of her people on her shoulders, and tons of wide shots of the crew making heroic poses on the deck of the ship.

It's a space soap opera full of all the cheese and charm you'd expect and League of Geeks isn't skimping on the style.

When you get into the game, rooms and crew members are color-coordinated in bright primary colors, charming pop-up video calls allow you to get a closer look at the incredible character models that replicate that early anime style, and even when you mess with your typical speed control buttons (that allow you to speed up the action or pause it completely), you'll hear the familiar click and whirr of a VCR.

The best signal as to the kind of story and adventure you're in for? It's up front and center at all times: a giant pink meter that tracks your crew's overall feelings of hope.

League of Geeks clearly has a lot of love for classic anime and the overall aesthetic and energy of the era when some of us got our hands on these relics for the first time. Playing Jumplight Odyssey gave me the feeling of being huddled around a tiny 4:3 screen in someone's dark bedroom, watching passed-down VHS tapes of some hilariously dubbed anime with friends and family. It won't be familiar to everyone, but it definitely hit some long-dormant part of my brain and warmed my heart.

An overview screenshot of one of the player's starship floors in the middle of a combat sequence. A fire breaks out in one batch of rooms while various crewmembers and invading Zutopans exchange colorful laser fire. A few crew members are passed out or dead and one even runs while on fire.

Jumplight Odyssey brings that nostalgic feeling to the forefront in its gameplay loop, too. The demo's specific storyline picks up immediately after Euphora jumps away from the Zutopans, so you learn the ins and outs of Jumplight's management styles while putting out literal fires and re-establishing a sense of calm in an otherwise scattered crew.

You'll learn everything about what makes the SDF Catalina tick and manage nearly every element of your crew's lives. You'll have to make repairs, attempt to reach self-sustenance by building out greenhouses, and pick out the perfect crew members for away missions to gather resources and hope-restoring survivors out in space.

All the while, the Zutopans give chase, keeping the pressure on to force the princess and her crew to constantly make jumps across the galaxy as they head for the Forever Star.

Jumplight's core systems stand at the nexus of the silly management styles of something like Two Point Hospital (or Campus) and the randomized system-jumping push of indie sci-fi classic FTL: Faster Than Light. The demo is quick and breezy, allowing you only three system jumps before it ends and never quite showcasing the game's most exciting twist on the genre: the deep relationship system and the effects it has on your crew's day-to-day.

GIF: A fast-forwarded timelapse showcases one of the starship's rooms getting planned out in a blueprint mode. Items in the room are placed one by one until it is full and then the GIF loops.

If you go poking around, you'll be able to find each crew member's relationship tree,

including their relatives, friends, lovers, and rivals. Each character's specific traits factor in deeply to these relationships in interesting ways. In one case, I found myself with a dead crewmate who had a "lover" relationship with another crewmate. I clicked over to find them mourning and was surprised to see their relationship was listed as friends on their side, until I clicked over into the traits tab to see they were aromantic.

Just imagining the complex webs that could be spun across this spacefaring adventure already has my brain buzzing. Putting a trio together on away missions only for them to end up in a love triangle, or better yet, a polyamorous relationship. Watching my Chief Science Officer develop a rivalry with one of his underlings, only to eventually promote that underling over him when a Zutopan raid goes sideways.

These emergent stories and relationships, with all the '70s anime dressing around them, feel like they could rival some of the wild stories I hear out of games like Dwarf Fortress and Rimworld. Knowing that these stories could so drastically change the look and feel of any player's journey to the Forever Star is exciting, too, and layers in some appealing replayability.

The full game promises a ton of interesting potential, with the chapter selection screen filled with intriguing silhouettes for future storylines and even a still-in-development "Custom Story" option that certainly perks up my ears.

An in-game screenshot of Jumplight Odyssey that depicts the bridge of the player's starship. Various crew members work at their stations and a giant holographic representation of the starship emerges from a giant table in the middle of the room. Just out the main window, you can see the vast expanse of space and some of the ship's weaponry. Various HUD elements outline the screen, including a Hope meter and the ship's core leadership group identified in simple portraits at the bottom.

Jumplight Odyssey is by far one of my most anticipated games out of this "Not-E3"/Steam Next Fest time period. A game so nice we had to write about it twice.

If Jumplight has caught your eye, give it a wishlist, try the demo for yourself, and just buckle up and wait, because League of Geeks is gearing up for an Early Access launch on PC later this year.

Key art for Jumplight Odyssey. It shows the various crew members of the starship standing in very particular poses. Each crew member is dressed in color-coordinated jump suits and at the front of the pack is Princess Euphora, complete with a berry colored royal captain's suit and gold crown with a jewel embedded within it. Various members can be seen mid-kiss, in various states of exhaustion, celebrating, or with their arms slung around eachother in friendship. A tiny robot throws his hands up and a tiny pig sits at its side. Above them all, a beautiful starship floats in space.


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