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Jumanji: The Curse Returns review - "The threats are digital but the pressure is real"

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Jumanji: The Curse Returns review - "The threats are digital but the pressure is real"

"Don't be fooled, it isn't thunder; staying put would be a blunder."

I rolled the dice and watched with bated breath as the words materialized in the centre of the board. I almost expected a stampede of elephants to come rampaging through my bedroom door at any moment, but thankfully, Jumanji: The Curse Returns is just a digital board game - although that's not to say that the pressure isn't on.

Table of contents

The story of Jumanji: The Curse Returns

For anyone who's ever seen the OG Jumanji movie, the story of the game follows exactly that. In Jumanji: The Curse Returns, you stumble upon the mysterious board game and start playing without knowing the consequences of doing so. Each turn unleashes unspeakable horrors that slowly bring the peaceful town of Brantford to ruin, and it's up to you to reach the centre of the board game, finish Jumanji, and restore your town back to what it once was.

Jumanji win screen

The characters from the 1995 movie make a comeback here in a fresh cartoony format, along with the same riddles that appeared in the film. The dreaded hunter Van Pelt also makes an unwelcome appearance, complete with the tension-filled drums ringing in the background as you play through the game.

Jumanji: The Curse Returns gameplay

The board game's mechanics are simple - players take turns rolling the dice and moving their Tokens forward until they reach the centre of the board. Once any player does so, the game ends, and Brantford is saved.

Of course, things aren't that simple in Jumanji, as every turn generates a random riddle that appears in the centre of the board. Here, you'll likely encounter bats, piranhas, and other nasty beasties, which, when triggered, will teleport you to a battle sequence.

Jumanji the Curse Returns riddle

As the obstacles appear before you, you'll have to hit them with certain items that appear on your combat screen by dragging them towards the enemy. Tapping on the item cycles it around for the next item to pop up. Enemies can only be defeated by certain items, so you can't just chuck a ladder at a crocodile willy-nilly in hopes that it'll go away.

Perhaps more crucial here is the Team-Up mechanic, which, when activated, unleashes a powerful AOE team attack on all foes on the screen. To fill up this gauge, you'll have to help out your teammates with items they might need, power-ups via Magic Flasks, or shields that protect them when they're debuffed by vines.

Every so often, you can also end up rolling for jewel power-ups, which provide useful buffs like increasing your Token's power or giving you extra Team Up points when you help out a team member.

What's the appeal?

For a seemingly simple board game, Jumanji: The Curse Returns' integrated battle mode is actually pretty genius. I was impressed with how such a combat system was seamlessly woven into the gameplay, but here's the thing: while the visuals of the game may make it seem like it's a casual title for all ages, the difficulty level begs to differ.

Jumanji Brantford city map

You'll only have a short amount of time - usually a little less than thirty seconds - to defeat every challenge that comes your way. Eliminating an enemy gives you bonus time, but more often than not, it never feels enough. Running out of time makes you lose a particular part of Brantford, and you only have five of those to move around in, which means you can only lose five times until it's game over.

You can play the game all by your lonesome with three AI teammates, but because of the game's level of difficulty, I didn't feel like the AI was up to the task. Playing with others via online multiplayer definitely makes the game easier, but still hard enough that it's not always a guaranteed win. You'll really have to have quick reflexes to beat the timer and know how to take advantage of the team-up bonuses when you can.

One of the things, however, that I really found refreshing here is that you can't breeze through the game just relying on yourself. Oftentimes, the items and power-ups you get are better left gifted to your other teammates to either increase your time or add to your Team-Up gauge. You'll really have to play for the good of everyone and not just for yourself.

Powerup

In fact, it's the first game I've ever played where I actually WANTED my teammates to roll more and reach the centre even if they're ahead of me, all because I wanted us to win the game and save the town as soon as possible. Does that even make sense?

Overall, Jumanji: The Curse Returns is a thrilling version of the classic film that stays true to its elements while updating it for the digital world. A round can be over in about twenty minutes or so but be warned: you'll really have to go all-in or you'll lose Brantford for good.

Jumanji: The Curse Returns review - "The threats are digital but the pressure is real"

Jumanji: The Curse Returns may be a digital version of the OG movie board game, but the stakes are still as high as ever. The difficulty level is in contrast with the game's bright and welcoming visuals, so be sure everyone's ready to devote their attention and finger-swiping prowess with every playthrough.
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