August 5, 2011 5 Comments
When I decided to include a top-10 feature on Indie Gamer Chick, I knew that doing so this early into my blog’s existence would cause a lot of crying foul. Relax, guys. I just got this place started, and I wanted to have a feature that would give developers something to aim for. I know there are many well-respected indie titles that have been around for a while and I’m late to the party. Guess what? I want to play them. I want every game, deserving or otherwise, to have a shot at making the leader board.
One game that kept coming up over and over was Apple Jack, a 2010 title by My Owl Software. Everyone assured me it would not only land a spot on my top ten, but would be a contender for the #1 spot. I consider the gauntlet laid down.
I booted up Apple Jack and was instantly amused when it told me that the story was a dude with an apple for a head out to rescue his dog. That’s it in its entirety. “Goody” I thought, “no bullshit cut scenes!” I was taken in by its colorful hand-drawn graphics and lighthearted music. I also loved the concept of a platformer with no level end-goals. Just kill all the enemies by throwing them into each other. It gave it an almost Bubble Bobble like feel.
I made my way through the first few levels. I felt the game was positively enchanting. And then I lightly bumped into a baddie and died. “Hmmm, no life bar. How weird” I thought. This was followed by a giant notice in big black letters that said “YOU ARE DEAD!” “That seems out-of-place for a game this whimsical and friendly.”
I pressed on and noticed that the levels were suddenly ramping up in difficulty By only fifteen boards in, I was actively cussing like a sailor who just slammed his hand in a car door. Then the penny dropped. “Wait a second.. THIS IS A PUNISHMENT PLATFORMER!” I blurted out to nobody in particular.
And boy, is it. It’s a well-developed one, but it still hates you and wants you to suffer. Ignore the whole “platformer” thing. At its heart, Apple Jack is a puzzle game. Figuring out how to make the most of the enemies you’re given to clear each stage is the true challenge of this game. They threw in some spikes just to be spiteful dicks, but this is still a title where intelligence and planning will lead you to the promised land. Getting there took me about seven hours of play time. There’s 100 levels, each one trying to push you closer to heart failure.
Going back to the graphics, they look really great. In fact, all the audio-visual stuff is among the best done of any game in the indie scene. The developers kept the look clean and distinctive, so that nothing can be confused with anything else. And the controls are really tight and accurate.
So I loved Apple Jack, right? Wrong. I fucking hated it. Hated it, hated it, hated it! It’s just too damn aggravating to be enjoyable. Like nearly any other punishment platformer, fun gives way to frustration long before the game is over. By level 20 I was nearly reduced to tears, literally collapsing to the ground after a bad jump led to me dying for the fiftieth time. And then came the owls. How I hated the fucking owls. They shoot lasers at you, turning this already dead-in-one-hit game into the bullethell from hell. I didn’t think it could get worse, and then came the eyeballs. You know what, fuck it. Just thinking about it brings me close to rage-quitting this review.
And honestly, although the level design can be very clever, it can also be extremely tedious and boring. Sometimes stages feel like they just drag on and on, sort of like this review is doing. I noticed about an hour in that I was having absolutely zero fun. I have no clue why this kept coming up among games that are supposed to be heads and shoulders above the rest of the indie pack. Maybe its graphics. Maybe its concept. But NOT its execution. My policy is to not read outside reviews of games before I finish them myself. I broke that rule for Apple Jack because I simply had to know what everyone else said. And I want to drop the giant bullshit card on most of those reviewers who threw this vile thing high scores. In my heart of hearts, I don’t believe more than ten percent of them actually finished the game.
Apple Jack seems like it’s going to be excellent when you first start. I fell into that trap. I told my boyfriend that it was going rank high on my top ten list. In case it’s not obvious by now, it will not rank at all. I firmly disliked 95% of my time with it. It’s not that I can’t enjoy a good challenge, but that challenge has to be tempered with some level of entertainment. Apple Jack simply proves so repetitive that it runs out of steam. It’s ironic that it shares its name with the breakfast cereal Apple Jacks. Because, like the cereal, Apple Jack is artificially sweetened and will leave you bleeding from your mouth.
80 Microsoft Points were part of a complete breakfast in the making of this review.