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06 September 2015 @ 08:41 pm
Game Review: Jack N' Jill  
I first downloaded this back before I went on my trip to Oregon and I played through most of it then, but I didn't quite beat it, and it wasn't until I went to satinalien's wedding this weekend that I had more offline time where I fired it up again. It was described as "one-button platformer," so I assumed it was going to be mindless distraction that I could button-mash on the plane to pass the time. And I suppose there was a lot of button-mashing, but calling it "mindless" would be doing it a disservice. There's actually a lot of thought put into Jack N' Jill's systems within the constraints of its design paradigm.


They're very fluffy.

Jack is a cute fluffball who has to navigate through hazard-filled levels after Jill because reasons. Barring powerups, he moves at a uniform speed in a single direction, changing only when he hits a wall, and tapping the screen lets you jump. That is the extent of your control over the game. The boot powerup lets you run faster, and the wings powerup means that you tab the screen to ascend, but nothing changes this basic control scheme. Tap to jump, keep moving, and dodge the incredible amounts of spikes and blobby enemies the levels throw at you.

The level design is what makes the game worth playing, though. The benefit of always moving at a certain speed in a specific direction means that the designer always knows where you're going to be at any given moment, so the levels have, if not quite Super Meat Boy levels of timing, something close. And like Super Meat Boy, you never have to repeat more than a particular section. Some levels are large, but partway through the game checkpoints are introduced, and I think the longest any individual segment gets is about forty seconds, and that only in one of the last levels.

Still, I can't say that that wasn't just a bit too long. There were some levels where I spent probably five or six minutes on each of four or five thirty-second segments. This wouldn't be that bad if they were separate levels, but since checkpoints don't persist through play sessions and I didn't entirely trust the app to save my exact spot if I left it in the background for too long, I just ground away at it until I finished, which soured the experience slightly.


Welcome to spike world.

This was compounded a bit by the basic mechanic. Tapping anywhere on the screen to jump is a great way to deal with how uniformly horrible on-screen D-pads are for anything that's not turn-based, but I still would have rather played Jack N' Jill with a controller even if that controller was just a giant red button. The problem is that no matter where I tap the screen, I'm obscuring part of it, and some of the levels involve multiple quickly-timed jumps or long flying sections where there wasn't a place to tap that was both comfortable and convenient. It does the best it can with its interface, but it's not perfect.

There were also sometimes when it seemed like it didn't register a tap, though I don't know if this is because I failed to tap properly, if my iPad is losing some screen sensitivity around the bottom-right edge where I did most of the tapping, or if it's a problem in the game's programming. There's really no way to tell, and at least a missed jump never set me too far back.


The first, but not the last, powerup.

The game does a pretty good job of slowly scaling the complexity. In the beginning it's just you, jumping, and a few pits. Then there are spikes, (stationary) enemies, moving "cloudie puffs" platforms, disappearing platforms, cannons, moving wall sections, and ladders. By the end, you're making precision jumps across huge gaps to catch ladders, then leaping over spikes, wall-jumping up a chimney, and timing your jumps across disappearing platforms, all with a single input method. There's an impressive array of challenges packed in here, with the constraint that your only method of dealing with them is "jump."


This part was a bit hectic.

The game's biggest downfall is that the scoring system is accumulative across the entire game rather than being set per-level. There's no individual scores saved by level and redoing a level just adds even more points to your total score, so there's no way to have any kind of distinct score to compare with anyone else. And the game doesn't have any time trials either, so I'm not sure why there was any GameCenter integration at all. It's just filled with people who have 9,999,999 points, which requires an unimaginable amount of time grinding. As an example of what I mean, when I beat the game, my final score was around 85K. If there had been any way to compare scores, I probably would have spent some time retrying sections for high scores like I did in Mark of the Ninja. But with the way scoring is set up it's pointless, so I didn't bother.

I did like the graphics, though. I'm not sure what it says that both of the games I've finished on iOS have had a GameBoy aesthetic, the other being Tiny Dangerous Dungeons. Maybe that my family owned a Game Gear instead.


The happy couple.

Since this took me two months to finish the last one-and-a-half worlds, I can't say it's a great game that you should play. But in a mobile world of terrible freemium games designed to drain your wallet as fast as possible, being not actively horrible is actually a pretty big accomplishment. If you're going to be stuck on a plane for hours and don't have any books you want to read, give Jack N' Jill a chance.
 
 
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