Jumplight Odyssey isn’t yet a successful voyage in Early Access

Posted on August 22, 2023

Jumplight Odyssey is the sophomore effort from Melbourne studio League of Geeks. Following the success of Armello, a digital table-top RPG-esque experience, the team has taken those mechanics and systems-heavy strengths into this new foray in the form of a space colony sim. My experience with the game so far is cool and slick, but largely chaotic and hard to manage. Kind of like that scene in Community where Troy steps away from a party for two minutes only to find everything on fire and falling apart. It’s fine. I’m having a fine and fun time, I swear.

Jumplight Odyssey sees you controlling a colony on the spaceship SDF Catalina. Spearheading this growing civilisation is Princess Euphora, a captain whose design is Star Trek pilot meets protagonist in a magical girl anime. Your craft is in search of the Forever Star, a fabled mythical home far across the galaxy. Hot on your tail however is an evil alien fleet known as the Zutopans, led by the formidable Admiral Voltan. Quickly, your means of survival becomes not only aptly living off your limited supplies and amenities, but keeping those dastardly Zutopans at bay and inching your craft forward through space. This does make for an exciting cat-and-mouse concept for the genre, but it’s still got a ways to go before nailing that execution.

What hurts Jumplight Odyssey right out the gate is a tutorial that is pretty lacking and not always the most clear. Sometimes you’ll be assigned a task such as “deliver resources to x location or y object.” However, even though there’s a quest to do as such, the location or object in question may not be pinged or highlighted in the environment, leaving you to click about until you stumble upon it.

When the post-tutorial training wheels come off, you’re often clear of what the problem is and what you need to do, but not how to do it. Colony members that are in need of treatment for negative effects such as dehydration or exhaustion aren’t easy to identify unless you happen to click on the individual among the dozens found in the craft or scrawl through a long list of all passengers in the manifest. Players too can’t directly tell this passenger to go get water or drink. You have to set the world state’s ‘Alert Level,’ (a series of colours of black, magenta, red, yellow and green) to Green, which means the crew will rotate rosters and hopefully address their needs instead of working. There’s an appeal for some in this sense of realism, controlling a crew of workers and making them take turns in living their best life. Though it makes for frankly slow and un-fun gameplay, jumping through hoops in the hopes that a negative ongoing on the craft goes away.

These sorts of issues remind me of last year’s Floodland. Welcome fixes to both colony sims would’ve been clearer (or in Jumplight’s case any) on the fly tooltips about what an issue on the ship means and how to address it. I’m also of the opinion another simple but needed feature is that when a notification tells you how many people are afflicted with a negative status, you should be able to click on said notification and be told immediately who those people are.

What may be less of an issue for others but was certainly a roadblock for me was how brutally and constantly you will be lacking in supplies. Material, metal, plastic and composite determine what amenities can be built in a room while biomass (used for cultivating crops), produce, medigel, ammunition, power and water are equally important in operating day-to-day devices. It’s the first group of aforementioned resources that I found myself more frequently lacking in and in fact, running in the negatives. This is where the missions that crew members can take upon on nearby planets come into play, as you’ll scavenge for new supplies, survey for nearby enemies and even locate extra survivors for your crew. Eventually, you’ll run out of an available set of quests and this is when you’ll have to make the jump to another solar system.

Other aids include maximising your available amount of resources is playing the game on peaceful (something I highly recommend for familiarising yourself with the mechanics!) to remove the Zutopan pursuers and opting in for custom rulesets in a campaign, including starting the game with an ‘abundance’ of supplies. Even then, Jumplight Odyssey is an uphill battle in resource management. When you combine this with the constant negative effects on your crew, there’s never a moment of brevity. Your journey across space feels less like a fruitful sprint and more like a tumultuous limp, barely seeing ample progress worth celebrating. Everything is on fire. Everything is not ok.

What I will say about Jumplight Odyssey is that in spite of all this, it remains incredibly charming. The merge between worlds that feel classic sci-fi and 90s anime is tapped into immaculately. The colours are vibrant and beautiful and I could never stay too mad at my comedy of errors in-game because it too is funny in other ways. You can watch weird dynamics occur between your crew. There’s an adorable pig mascot that makes its way around the Catalina. Sometimes your cast of characters just has random and hilariously baffling status effects like when I once had Princess Euphora inexplicably damp for a while. You can’t make this up.

There are also occasional opportunities for fully rendered animated cutscenes too that are very picturesque, whether that’s the opening cinematic or watching the Catalina magnificently make the jump to lightspeed and transport into a new star system. Presentation is Jumplight Odyssey’s strong suit thus far and although a menu bug or two will sometimes take you out of the experience, it’s such a specific art style that we see scarcely in games. I’m thrilled to see it here in all its glory.

Jumplight Odyssey isn’t yet the fantastic voyage it deserves to (and likely will) be from the talented team at League of Geeks. However, it’s also incredibly early days with this Early Access release. There’s likely a diamond hiding in this quirky, confusing and even daunting colony sim. It just needs some more grounded time, worked away at until it’s flight ready.

Jumplight Odyssey is available now on PC via Steam as part of Early Access.