Saturday, June 5, 2010
Four Quarter Friday - Apple Jack
I normally hate not finishing a game before I review it, especially considering the review is either a personal recommendation or condemnation of someone's time and hard work. There's also a little bit of that gamer pride I sacrifice by not being able to put "completed" at the bottom of this review. This time I find myself around three hours into a game that started out amazing and is only getting better and better with each stage, and I'm barely halfway through the total stages. So, with that said, I'm here to tell you that Apple Jack, a game I'm not even finished with, is the best platformer I've played on XBLIG.
Apple Jack is a bit of a combination of Mario Bros. (the sewer one) and Super Mario 2/Doki Doki Panic. You guide the game's mascot, a dude with an apple for a head, through 100 levels of platforming puzzle fun in an effort to find his dog. The goal of each stage is to defeat enemies by jumping on them, picking them up, and then throwing them at each other. You can't die by falling, but you can die by spikes, by being hit by enemies, or being hit by their projectiles. Some stages are a little heavier on the puzzle aspect, requiring you to figure out what order to kill enemies in or how to use them to reach specific parts of the level AND THEN get rid of them. Other stages are a bit more on the action and dexterity side, requiring precise jumps and quick throwing. To add to all this, enemies will drop coins
It's been a while since a platformer made me smile in the ways Apple Jack does. The character is simple yet has enough character to keep you entertained (IT'S A DUDE WITH AN APPLE FOR A HEAD), and the world is a colorful reminder of the times you spent with the Mario series back in the late 80's and early 90's. The enemies are an odd lot, each with their own specific movement. Pandas won't walk off ledges while washing machines will (yes, you read that right). Pigs in tutus follow you to the best of their ability, astronauts jump like they're on the moon, teddy bears walk around and throw their stuffing at you, and so on and so forth. It has as much unique charm and humor as any professionally produced platformer out there. The only visual issue I experienced was watching the frame rate plummet when your combo meter hits triple digits and the screen is literally filled with coins. It's a somewhat odd issue to have with a game that has no high score board or unlock system, but it's still there. Luckily, it rarely affects gameplay, and feels more like a little birthmark on the cheek of an otherwise flawless beauty, reminding you that nothing's perfect.
Enough about the visuals. As great and fitting as they were, they didn't jump out at me near as much as the audio. True, the sound effects weren't anything special, though the announcer definitely grew on me. The thing that stood out to me was the music. As I said Thursday, Apple Jack has a soundtrack that is as appropriate as it is awesome. The acoustic guitar tunes in the background do a great job of assisting the feel of the game while keeping you focused, all without trying to compete for your attention. It feels like it presses you onward and calms you through your numerous trials and frustrations. Regardless of if it's an intentional design, it's genius.
The controls of the game are decent enough for a good platformer, but have a few quirks. Left and Right for movement, A to jump, X to pick up and also to throw forward. LT lets you aim your throws, willing that you're standing still, and holding Down will keep you in a Samus-style ball to roll and do mini hops. Most everything feels solid, except for two things. One, the smallest standing jump you can do still goes pretty high, which coupled with a somewhat tall character makes you feel a little too big and clumsy at times. And, two, rolling. You have to continue to hold down while trying to move. I would've much preferred a toggle option, letting you focus on timing rather than if your d-pad or left analog were in the exact spot needed. As it is, however, I don't feel like I have enough control over Jack while rolling.
Aside from the issue with rolling, which is something you just get used to, this is probably some of the best platforming I've seen in years. Like I said, I'm fifty levels in and I'm still seeing new enemies and ideas with a steady curve in difficulty. The mechanics are solid, the puzzles are smart, and, most importantly, the game is fun. If the game displayed a blank screen after I finished the stage I'm currently on, I wouldn't care. I've gotten more value and fun out of this one game that cost one dollar than I have out of nearly any other 80 MS Point game on the system, save maybe Breath of Death VII. It's for that reason that I feel comfortable recommending this game without finishing it, and for that reason why I think it's a must buy for anyone with a 360 and an internet connection.
Apple Jack from My Owl Software is available on XBox Live for 80 MS Points. Played through roughly fifty levels, can't wait to tackle the other fifty, and I may very well have to go admit that I committed a crime because getting it for a dollar is bloody theft.