Format: Xbox Live Indie Games
Approximate Time Spent playing at time of writing: 36 hours
Modes of play: Single Player
Apple Jack is a fantastic platform game with great puzzle elements. It’s emphasis varies greatly from level to level, however it’s generally more on the platforming ‘execution’ side than the puzzle solving, but both feel significant. As a gameplay blend and as a challenge, this is a really fantastic title that hits a real sweet spot for me, very close to ‘Splosion Man in fact. I found it to be really fun throughout and features some amazingly inventive, almost ingenious, level designs. Challenge linearity is similarly varied from level to level, although many only have one real solution or path to follow (like something like VVVVVV) some offer the player a lot more flexibility & there’s always some room for ‘error correction’ skills, like in most platformers (unlike VVVVVV).
The excellent level design illustrates more than any other aspect that Apple Jack is clearly such a labour of love by the sole writer; I get the impression this is a game he’s wanted to make for much of his life and it really shows, as other reviews have said, it’s a game with real charm and ‘heart and soul‘. It is really quite punishing in places though, so you have to be extremely patient to be able to get the most out of it – not to mention skilled with pixel perfect positioning and jumps, as the game is amazingly finickety. Almost every manoeuvre on the later levels has to be timed or positioned with incredible precision – it is almost too much to cope with at times as the slightest pixel wrong and you’ll end up as a de-bodied apple and you’ll be restarting from either the beginning of the level, or if you are lucky, on the sole checkpoint per stage. That said, the stages are small enough that it never feels impossible or out of your grasp, but it skirts so dangerously close to the challenge vs punishment line for me – it really is one APPLEY little b*st*rd! But since each level (or checkpoint to checkpoint gap) is generally pretty short that despite a few rough edges of over-punishment it pitches itself pretty well for my skill level at this kind of game, there was plenty of adversity and fiero as a result.
There are a few reasons I can’t score this the full 5 stars though. One is because it’s a completely solitary experience (other than discussing with friends how to beat a particular level) and really sadly there’s no way to even compare scores or achievements with friends, as XBLIG doesn’t allow them. I really wish there was some way to mark my accomplishment outside of the game – not for the extrinic reward as such, but just to be able to record & display it somewhere. There’s also the aforementioned rough edges where things feel just a little too punishing and precise. Two things contribute to this mainly. 1: The hitbox for the sprite of Jack the Apple goes almost right up to it’s actual visible edges. Now whilst this is always technically ‘correct’ & the game never feels unfair, it is jarring for anyone used to having an actual much smaller hitbox than the visible sprite – as is the case in almost every other platform game, or even almost every other sprite-based game! This takes quite a bit of adjustment to get used to, you feel sometimes like you’ve been cheated, even though you haven’t. I emoted this feeling by complaining out loud about his ‘appley little head!’ everytime I died due to a mistake I made from his surprising large hitbox 2: The timing of the wall-jump mechanic feels slightly too tight – You have to hit a wall while holding towards the wall, then press jump & away from the wall (if you also need to gain distance in the other direction at least) with really precise timing to activate a full wall jump correctly – the level of precision on the timing seems too tight, it comes down the the milliseconds that register before and after the button & direction press, in a similar manner to the way the dragon punch motion feels too ‘tight’ and too difficult to do in the original Street Fighter (1) over later iterations.
Apart from these niggles though, Apple Jack is incredibly solid mechanically & the motion of Jack and his jumps and throws feel great to me, unlike many other platform games I will be mentioning in future. It’s also the best game I’ve found on the XBLIG channel, and so it warrants your attention even if this isn’t your main taste in games. Despite it’s high challenge level, even if you can only make it through a 1/4 of the game you’ll already have had a lot of fun.
It’s truly quite saddening to me that most of today’s dumb “gamers” spend their ‘spare’ MS points on useless Avatar items and rip-off gamer icons and costumes for games when they could be experiencing magical games like this instead for a miniscule amount of MS points.
I have high hopes that the planned PC release of this without the XBLIG restrictions will be even better in some manner, but even as a replica re-release to a wider audience it would still be highly recommended.
HOW ‘BOUT THEM APPLES!
Competitive Gaming Design Review: N/A
Competitive Game Review: N/A
Interactive Story: This title openly mocks the idea of needing to have much of a story, which I liked. Yet through the graphics, sound, stage names and the limited text there is, it somehow it still manages to be almost touching emotionally. Take that narrative driven games with buckets of boring text and exposition!
Toy/Experience: It’s too challenging to be much of a toy, but the experience is greatly enhanced by the pretty, if basic graphics, and even moreso by the memorable relaxing folk music. This creates a fantastic juxtaposition against the stressful agonistic nature of the game vs the chill out music.
Whilst this kind of ‘easy listening’ is a long long way from my usual taste in music, it fits so well with this game & now creates such good associations for me, that I took the time to track down the game’s music online and download it, & more, by the band that did it. I can’t recommend it more than that really!
Grind: None whatsoever. An appley time for all.
Simulation: Appley Head!