JackQuest: The Tale of the Sword Review :: A Bit Too Formulaic

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Metroidvania platformers are the superhero films of the video game industry these days. They have come a long way since its inception and sells like hot cake across all platforms. Thanks to Indie hits like Hollow Knight, Ori, The Messenger and Guacamelee!, new mechanics and fresh ideas keep flowing into the genre. Thus, in order to gain a prominent foothold in the cool club and to stand out, it’s important for up and coming titles to offer competent content and refreshing/tied and true but solid gameplay mechanics. JackQuest: The Tale of The Sword is the latest in line to compete for this tight spot and thus awaits judgement from none other than your favorite Indian Noob!

*Uncomfortable silence*

JackQuest: The Tale of the Sword is a fast-paced fantasy action platformer with metroidvania elements developed by NX Games and published by Crescent Moon Games. The title was released for  Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows PC via Steam on 24 January 2019. The following review is based on the PC version.

Story

JackQuest: The Tale of the Sword treads on the tried and true trope where the chosen one sets out to rescue the damsel of distress from the big bad. The beautiful maiden Nara is kidnapped in front of her childhood friend Jack by the evil orc Korg as he was about to confess his undying love to. Jack sets out to find Korg and free Nara with the help of a talking blade named Kuro who holds equal amounts of hate for Korg. The duo sets out to explore and defeat Korg’s minions in his labyrinthian underground lair.  Honestly, there isn’t much to the story other than having a beginning and an end and it’s perfectly fine for a game such as JackQuest. What matters here is the gameplay.

Gameplay & Mechanics

JackQuest is a methodical old-school platformer through and through- from the pixellated art style to the way Jack moves and controls. You move around a big dungeon filled with traps, enemies, obstacles and the odd, cleverly hidden secret pickups. Anyone who has played at least a single classic 2D platformer in their life will feel right at home here. Jack is able to jump, perform a standard attack and a special attack which requires mana to use. Since the game takes inspirations from metroidvanias, there is a bit of backtracking involved and unlocking shortcuts to previously discovered areas become essential.

Some sections or items in the game are guarded behind the standard boss fights. While they may not be innovative or break new ground, they’re not frustrating either. Players can collect coins dropped by the enemies and containers to buy healing pots, mobile save points and crystals for special attacks. Thankfully, the game is pretty generous with save points and there is no cause for concern.  Aside from Kuro, Jack can also find a bow to aid in his journey. As far as progression goes, Jack’s health and mana can be upgraded by finding hearts and crystals hidden in the map. Frankly, this leaves a lot to be desired. But there are several key story related upgrades such as double jumping and the ability to breath underwater, which are essential to progress and backtrack in the dungeon.

However, not everything is sunshine and rainbows. For a platformer, the most basic aspect that should be nailed down and perfected is the movement and controls. While simple, JackQuest suffers in this department mainly due to a weird gravitational pull while performing a jump. There is an odd sense of gravity to Jack that somehow drags you down to the ground at the apex of a jump. Depending on the level layout, you may not end up where you intend to and this can make precision platforming sections (of which, there are many) artificially more difficult.

The level design can also come off as a bit too simplistic at times and the different areas of the dungeon fail to visually distinguish themselves from one another, which add to the character feeling lost at times, even after you unlock a not-so-good map. In order to look down on the floor below, you have to wait at the edge of a platform for several seconds which breaks the flow of exploration. Why not bind the ability to look down to a button like many modern platformers?  Even though the combat is pretty simple and easy to get the hang of, it’s driven to mediocrity by the lack of enemy variety and design. You’ll be fighting the same two or three enemies for the majority of the game and their movement and attack pattern are painfully simple or too similar to each other. But thankfully, the game doesn’t overstay its welcome and can be completed in a handful of hours.

Visuals, Performance & Sound

JackQuest features the same pixellated, retro art style that every other indie game features these days. It doesn’t do much to stand apart from the crowd but it’s at least pretty to look at. There are no graphical options other than a windowed/fullscreen option. I did notice the game going under 60 fps at times, but the animations are rendered at very low frames per second that it hardly becomes a concern. I did encounter a bug where the game automatically deleted all the game files and no amount of reinstall would fix it, only for it to get resolved automatically in a few days.

The game was tested on the following specs:

  • Intel Core i5 7500 3.40Ghz
  • GTX 1070 8 GB
  • 8×2 GB  2400Mhz DDR4 Ram
  • Windows 10 Pro 64 Bit

JackQuest really drops the ball when it comes to the sound design. Environment, weapon and monster sounds are serviceable but the music is really lacklustre. The game keeps looping the same soundtrack over and over and it obviously becomes very tiring. The only exception is the boss fights which feature its own music.

VERDICT

JackQuest: The Tale of the Sword is a formulaic, old-school platformer which offers a short and mildly enjoyable experience, held back by some flawed design choices. There are obviously better choices out there, but the main attraction of JackQuest remains its reasonable pricing. If you have ₹ 349 or $ 9.99 lying around and are ready to go in without many expectations, there could be some entertainment to be had here. If not, wait for a sale.

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