Apple Jacked at 8 A.M.

Game review of Apple Jack 2 by My Owl Software. Available now on XBOX Live Indie Games Marketplace.

The day is September 24th. The year is 2007.

I’m standing at the back of a Wal-Mart with my friend near the electronics section.  It’s nearly midnight. We’re somewhere in the middle of a line that stretches around the corner of the garden section and beyond the reaches of the automotive aisle. All of these people – including us – awaiting the release of Halo 3 on XBOX 360.

I remember this night very well, because after securing a copy of the most anticipated game of its time, my friend and I promptly spent the next nine hours playing co-op campaign on legendary difficulty, awaiting each brute and grunt with eager anticipation. Around each corner we expected to see a new vehicle, a new opponent, and a new challenge waiting. The rise of the sun didn’t stop our thumbs from conquering the game and concluding one of the greatest video game trilogies (or so we thought at the time).

It was awesome.

Now, you’re probably wondering why I’m bringing this up. After all, if you are reading this, you probably got here because you were expecting a review of Apple Jack 2 by My Owl Software.

I’m getting to that.

The point I was trying to make is that I had a similar experience with this little ole’ XBOX Live indie game. No, I didn’t have to go stand in line with a throng of questionably insane and fashion-challenged geekoids at a Wal-Mart. But just like that fateful night in ’07, I did get to see the sunrise outside my window with a 360 controller in my hands.

Why? Because Apple Jack 2 is just too damn fun to put down.

I’m not joking either. It was nearly 8 A.M. when I finally forced myself to go to sleep. I was planning on playing only a couple stages to get myself tired. I downloaded Apple Jack 2 earlier in the day after seeing mikeb review it on Indie for Breakfast, but I hadn’t yet played it. Heck, it’s only a buck.

Yeah, you heard me right. One Washington.

I immediately got entranced by the unique graphic style and clever puzzles. Each stage provided a fresh new challenge blending platformer-style gameplay with simple (yet challenging) puzzles.

However, the most entrancing thing about the game is that its glass is overflowing with charm and character. You can’t help but to fall in love with the environments and characters, accented perfectly by a folksy soundtrack composed by This Eden. I won’t go too much into detail here, because Martin Robinson of eurogamer.net sums it up perfectly already.

There are a ton of gameplay elements on the table at once, and the way in which they mesh together to create some of the stages is far beyond my imagination. The creativity and invention of the movement through the stages left me believing that creator Tim Sycamore should be bouncing particles off each other at the sub-atomic level, and not making games on the XBOX Live Indie Marketplace (okay…I might be exaggerating a little).

Each baddie has a unique movement style, which alone isn’t new for a platformer. But, in many stages, you have to actually utilize this movement to force baddies to hit switches for you or take you through the stage, traversing you across spikes or carrying you up to places you can’t normally reach. There’s also no shortage of satisfaction by exterminating baddies at a rate that sends confetti and random fruit flying all over the place.

Most of the time, the puzzles are generally straightforward. This doesn’t mean they are easy though. Player performance needs to be top notch to get through most of them. The most striking challenge for me came from the stages that require precise timing and perfect handling to avoid getting stabbed by moving spikes, run over, or squished.

At many times through the game, I was reminded of the Rat Race and Gargantua Ducts stages from the original Battletoads. If you don’t know exactly what you are doing and when you are doing it, you’re likely to send Apple Jack’s head and limbs bouncing all over the place in a gruesome death.

The only knock on the game I could provide is that the stages vary in difficulty quite erratically, and at times this can be frustrating to get stuck on a stage for fifteen or twenty minutes, when you completed the last four or five in the same amount of time.

The other minor complaint is that on the stages where you can get the multiplier up to x512 or x1024 (which, as I mentioned, is highly satisfying), the amount of fruit on the screen severely lags the game and results in many frustrating, agonizing, and uncontrollable deaths. Personally, I had more than my fair share of Boris Grishenko moments.

Overall though, the list of positives from this game make it a no-brainer download for anyone who enjoys a platformer. If you do indeed decide to check it out (which you should – duh), make sure you finish the game. The end credits are well worth your frustration. Just trust me on this one.

Simply put, it’s the best dollar I’ve ever spent on a game, and this time I’m not exaggerating.

Pros:
Oozing with lovable charm.
Satisfies your secret fetish for turning pandas and washing machines into confetti.
Puzzles that both Lolo and Link could solve.
Pretty much a digital narcotic.

Cons:
Erratic difficulty makes Gary Busey seem normal.
No multiplayer mode…I mean, I have friends.

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