I’ll start by saying this, JackQuest is instantly captivating. The moment I jumped in, I found it hard to put down the pad. The game’s story isn’t much to write home about, though, much like Shovel Knight, retro-platformers like this can get away with that, so long as the gameplay holds up. Gladly, I can tell you that it does. The game revolves around the titular Jack, who, along with the beautiful Nara, takes a walk through the woods. Before long, Nara is kidnapped by the evil orc Korg, and as such, Jack heads to Korg’s labyrinth to save her.
Korg’s labyrinth is underground, and serves itself as a decent size. Unlike Hollow Knight, the environmental structure is loose and a bit more lax, ultimately making for a more focused, simplistic adventure. Jack soon stumbles upon a huge blade known as Kuro, a blade that claims that it can help Jack if Jack breaks its curse. With your trusty new sword in tow, you’re all set and ready to tackle the trek that lies ahead. Like I said, it’s your bog-standard story affair, at best, but it’s one that does indeed feel quite suited to the game nevertheless.
JackQuest is remarkably accessible, allowing even genre newcomers to fit right in without feeling at all overwhelmed. The game does a great job at feeding you into the basics of play; how to attack, how to jump, how to bounce from wall to wall, and so forth. Everything is neatly laid out to ensure that it remains clear and concise. The general crux of play sees you moving through Korg’s lair as you battle monsters, solve light puzzles, acquire new power-ups and weapons, and so on. Now, for me, I love myself a game that employs simplicity.
I’m not at all suggesting that the game is easy to work through, far from it, in fact, I had my ass handed to me on a silver platter more times than I cared to count. However, one has to appreciate how well the game’s somewhat bare foundation has been built upon to relay constant excitement over depth. Once the game feeds you into its basics, it’s adventuring business as usual. JackQuest immediately introduces you to its grunt enemies; blobs of slime, bats, and spiders to begin with. These are relatively easy to overcome and defeat.
Just a few whacks with your gigantic sword will usually see you through. Though, before long, the game starts taking its difficulty to the next level. New variations of the aforementioned enemies, along with brand new enemy types, will keep you dancing on a fine line. Slime blobs that once merely followed a linear path, will now spew projectile slime at you. Spiders that once did little more than hang from the ceiling, will not spit webs at you if you get too close. It’s all well paced, allowing for a smooth, yet sturdy difficulty curve.
When you start out the game, you’ll only have two heart cells and (once you obtain the sword) four special attack cells. These can be advanced through seeking out and collecting new heart and gem containers, respectively. The more of the former you have, the more of a bashing you can take before you bit the dust. The more of the latter you have, the more you’ll be able to utilize your special attacks. Believe me, it comes in handy to explore as much of the environment as possible, seeing as many of these are found in hidden areas.
Thankfully, death simply means going back to your last checkpoint. Checkpoints, which are stone slabs here, are plastered all around Korg’s lair, allowing you to save your progress as many times as you like whenever you come across one. You can also purchase torches from the in-game vendors and use these to save your game wherever, and whenever you like. This especially comes in useful when you stumble upon a boss room and want to make a swift save point before the battle. You can purchase items from the vendor using coins.
Coins will be awarded whenever you kill an enemy or smash a crate, with the income varying from basis to basis. These coins can be spent on limited, but useful wares. You’ll also find some health and gem replenishment through the previously alluded to crates, which helps to maintain a better chance against tougher platforming sections and harsh enemies. Eventually, you’ll unlock new abilities and weaponry, such as the double-jump and the bow. Double jumping enables you to reach areas of the map that you couldn’t previously access.
The bow, on the other hand, allows you to tackle foes from a greater distance. Independent to the bow, this also comes with a unique special ability that allows you to bypass sections you couldn’t previously proceed through. The sword’s special ability is a devastating 360 degree attack, which makes easy work of even tougher grunt enemies. The bow’s special attack is a super charge that sees you darting across the screen behind a force of energy; handy for getting through deadly spikes unscathed. It helps that the feedback is precise.
The controls for JackQuest are both fluid and responsive, giving you tight and reliable feedback throughout. I quite enjoyed the amount of freedom that JackQuest offers. You never feel completely confined, despite its (very light) metroidvania-like concept. I do have some gripes, mind. I would have liked to have seem more enemy variation and some distinction when it comes to the design of the environments. Sure, there’s a sizable map to traverse, but due to it not really altering all that much, it all comes over very samey-samey.
I can say the same about the game’s enemies. Whilst it’s nice to see the usual band of enemies that you typically see in a dungeon diver – bats, skeletons, slims blobs – it would have done the game a huge justice if it stepped off the beaten path in this regard. Outside of that, there’s little else to groan about. JackQuest is a well developed game that achieves much of what it set out to accomplish. It’s just hard to shake the feeling that it could have been much more than what it is, had the developer spent more time injecting diversity.
The boss battles are the best battle encounters, and although boss movements and attack patterns are painfully easy to adapt to, they prove to be formidable nonetheless. That being said, JackQuest sports quite an interesting damage system. Whenever you hit an enemy, they’ll lose health. However, if you chain your attacks together, you’ll take more health per-whack from your enemy. So, with that in mind, it pays off to strike your foes as many times as you can in rapid succession, rather than hitting, moving, hitting, moving, and so forth.
Touching up on the platforming and puzzles, I found these to be challenging and exciting. The jumping can be floaty, and the puzzles can be a bit on the easy side, but when all is said and done, it takes a lot of skill and precision to work through Korg’s base. Several times I found myself holding my breath as I tried to maneuver through narrow passages that were filled with guillotine, desperately trying to wall jump and then platform to safety. There’s no denying that it can be frustrating, but the generous checkpoints alleviate much of that.
Puzzles typically consist of moving blocks onto switches, or something akin to that, but you’re never really told what switch opens what path, leaving you to suss out the rest through general traversal. The bottom line in all of this is that JackQuest, especially if you’re a fan of the formula, and despite its few issues, is well worth your time. It’s an adventure in which progress is achieved through perseverance, daring, and perception. Though, that said, it’s a journey that doesn’t at all alienate the newcomer or the lesser skilled player.
It helps, through all of that, that the game’s balance is so well struck. There’s just the right amount of combat, just the right amount of necessary item acquisition, and just the right amount of metroidvania-like design points, to uphold and see the game through. I’ll commend the game’s audio and visual design too. JackQuest sports its retro vibe decently, with well detailed enemies and environments to soak up from start to end, despite the lack of diversity on both fronts. This is tied to a very fitting soundtrack that truly sets the mood.
JackQuest’s sizable interconnected world, together with its immediately fluid and precise gameplay, collectively go hand in glove to set an instantly captivating stage. There’s a good blend of combat, puzzles, and platforming throughout, making for a worthwhile adventure that rarely loses traction. The only real downside here is that it lacks diversity across all of those aspects, pulling it just shy of greatness as a result.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.