Metroidvanias, especially Metroidvanias with a retro aesthetic, are a dime a dozen these days. With games like Axiom Verge and Dead Cells contributing to an increasingly-crowded genre, a game truly needs to stand out from the pack. JackQuest: The Tale of the Sword, from Blowfish Studios, doesn’t stray too much from the formula for the most part, though it does attempts to do some new things with the genre, introducing some intriguing mechanics while offering its own twist on some Metroidvania staples.
Unfortunately, there are some issues prevalent that prevent JackQuest from reaching the top of the Metroidvania crowd. It’s a short adventure that has its charms, but there are too many stumbles along the way. Control issues, some confounding design choices, and a bland environment sadly mar the JackQuest experience.
It’s Dangerous to Go Alone
JackQuest: Tale of the Sword centers around titular hero Jack, whose girlfriend Nara is (surprise, surprise) kidnapped. Venturing into the underground lair of the evil orc Korg to save her, he runs into a talking sword that’s bigger than he is. (So, we have both the “Jack” and the “sword” of it all.) Together, the two venture deeper underground to stop Korg and save Nara.
Like any good Metroidvania, JackQuest features a sprawling map that opens as you get your hands on more abilities and tools. Unlike some similar games, the environment of JackQuest doesn’t change wildly throughout your adventure. Better like various shades of gray and stalagmites, since that’s all you’ll see. It’s understandable why JackQuest features such a contained map, as this is a relatively short adventure. You’ll see your destination on the map you eventually get your hands on (more on that later). However, while there was variety in the obstacles you faced, a little more variety in the environments would’ve been appreciated too.
However, that’s not to knock on JackQuest’s visuals. The sprite of Jack is pretty dang great, full of color, and distinctly standing out in this world. The other sprites are good too, though the designs are a bit too generic. So, while the backgrounds are nothing to get excited over, the character design is remarkable.
Run the Walls
One of the central mechanics in JackQuest is the wall-jumping. While it may not seem like a major change, this almost turns JackQuest into a Super Meat Boy-esque adventure, save for the unrelenting difficulty. It also gives it more verticality and exploration options right off the bat, which really helped get things going. Unfortunately, controlling Jack is a bit of a struggle.
Movements feel ever so off here. It felt at times I ran into some spikes or into an enemy without meaning to. Jack also seems to fall to the ground like a brick, which can lead to some unfortunate circumstances. It doesn’t help that these mechanics are integral to many of the JackQuest boss battles, either. In Metroidvanias, movement is everything, which is why it is disappointing to see the movement feel so off the mark.
That said, it was enjoyable to test out the different gear you get your hands on. Of course, different items work best in different scenarios, so there is some variety to be had here. I just wish everything felt that much tighter.
Gaze into the Crystal Ball
A key component in any Metroidvania is the map. With such an open field to explore, you need something to know where you are supposed to be going. JackQuest has one, though it does involve some questionable mechanics. When all’s said and done, using the map in JackQuest seemed more like a chore than it ought to.
To use the map, you have to first open it (of course), but the crystal ball that houses the map only shows you the immediate area surrounding you. To get the full picture (and to figure out any points of interest), you have to manually maneuver the map, almost as if there’s a second exploration game within JackQuest. It’s easy to lose track of everything while navigating the map, making the experience overly-cumbersome. The game’s map may be fairly contained, but the actual map leaves a lot to be desired.
With the map being so integral to the Metroidvania experience, it is disappointing to see it handled in such a unintuitive way. It doesn’t have an impact on the actual exploration bit, but whenever you need to figure out where to go, there’s always a slight hesitation involved in pulling up the map.
What About My Health?
What would any good Metroidvania be without obstacles threatening your way? There are plenty of obstacles threatening your progress in JackQuest, both within the game. There are the garden-variety obstacles, like monsters and traps, to threaten you. However, sometimes it feels like the game is working with Korg to prevent you from moving forward.
The camera can sometimes be your worst enemy here. It offers you some mercy, as it pans down if you hang near the ledge, but there were too many times where I got damaged by something I had no way of seeing. It doesn’t help that each obstacle takes half of a heart (you can find hearts throughout the map to increase your health, like in The Legend of Zelda), and each potion refills half as much. So, yeah, you need to be extra-careful while traversing Korg’s lair.
Down we Go
Overall, JackQuest: The Tale of the Sword isn’t bad. It has its bright spots for sure, and there is plenty to like (or maybe even love) about it. Unfortunately, these bright spots are marred by some unfortunate design choices. While it offers a unique take on the Metroidvania in some cases, in others it doesn’t do anything to differentiate itself. That’s fine, and looking at the unique things JackQuest does, maybe it would be better off sticking more to the formula.
The biggest offender is no doubt the map. Clunky and far from user-friendly, it has to potential to make players more confused, not less. And there are control and camera issues present that can truly be the cause of the end. Sadly, with a genre that has as many gems as the Metroidvania, it appears that only those who have played every other game of its ilk will turn their attention to JackQuest.
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- THE GOOD
- Crisp, bright sprites
- Short playtime
- THE BAD
- Bland environments
- Clunky camera
- Confusing map
JackQuest: The Tale of the Sword doesn’t deviate much from the standard Metroidvania formula, but when it does, it unfortunately misses the mark.