Jack N’ Jill DX

Auto-runners aren’t exactly my thing. Once upon a time, it was cool when developers figured out the solution to getting platformers on buttonless mobile phones without the use of a fake controller on the screen. “Why don’t we just have the game move for you, and the player can tap the screen to do all the jumping?” And this worked well enough. But then everyone was getting in on the auto-runner fad. Even Mario did, though that should be a surprise to nobody. Mario being the most insecure of all gaming heroes, OF COURSE he would do an auto-runner if that’s what’s popular. He has no shame. He’s golfed, he’s go-karted, he’s raced Sonic The Hedgehog at the actual Olympic games, he became a drug pusher, a baseball player, a street fighter, a typing tutor, etc, etc. If games where you performed back-alley abortions became a popular genre, I promise you within twelve months you’d see Nintendo fans lining up to play Super Mario Coat Hanger and talking about how Nintendo would finally show these newbs how to do a proper unlicensed pregnancy termination game.

What point was I trying to make again?

Oh, that I’m over auto-runners. Well that sort of went off the rails a bit.

It’s my policy to know as little about a game as possible when I go to play it. That rule has bit me in the ass more times than bed bugs and it struck again here. When I bought Jack N’ Jill DX, I didn’t know it was an auto-runner. I didn’t know anything about it besides the fact that it was black-and-white and the screenshots gave off a Game Boy Kirbyish vibe. Then I fired it up and discovered it was an auto-runner with one AND ONLY ONE action button that was almost certainly going to be another lazy console port of a mobile game. Then I went through the level-select screen to see how many stages there were, counted 140, wept for the next twenty minutes, then bit my lip and sat down to play.

Probably the best thing I can say about the graphics is that if I had to guess who made this, without any prior knowledge, I’d guess Nintendo. Isn’t it strange how so many people hate me for assuming I hate Nintendo when the best compliment I can give a game is that it could be mistaken for a Nintendo-developed title? But hey, I occasionally notice when Nintendo does something sucky or lazy and actually say that out-loud instead of doing logic-yoga to bend my way of thinking so much that shit like naming their 3DS follow-up “NEW 3DS” seems like a good idea. Clearly I must hate Nintendo, right? Anyway, Jack N’ Jill DX is Nintendoish, and that’s a good thing.

And honestly, I don’t know what I was worried about. Jack N’ Jill DX ain’t bad at all. I’m prepared to go so far as saying it’s the best auto-runner to make its way to consoles ever. And why wouldn’t it be? It’s like a “best-of” compilation of the genre, all wrapped up in one package and then polished to a mirror-shine. Responsive controls. Forgiving collision-detection. Very forgiving. There were times I should have died when jumping onto clouds but didn’t because the game gave me a pity hug and said “that’s okay, you really should have stuck that landing like a champ, so look, there you are. You made it! You’re a winner!” when really I shorted it by a good foot or two. And Jack N’ Jill DX keeps adding new mechanics from start to finish to keep things fresh even after 100 levels have come and gone. Actual effort was put into this one. It’s a keeper.

Especially the level design, which often left me saying “well that was clever.” Jack N’ Jill is really fond of making a player hit a wall to reverse their direction, and often utilizes the entire length of a map to go back-and-forth as you make your way to the goal. Of course, when you get down to it, you’re really only pressing the A button and doing nothing else, which means you’re playing a game that’s barely more interactive than a Sega CD FMV game with command prompts of when to press the button to make the actors do something replaced with the appearance of being a platformer but HEY SHUT UP it’s better than one of those. A lot less Corey Haim among other things.

Oh, it’s not perfect. And actually, this is one of the strangest complaints I’ve had to say about any game, but Jack N’ Jill DX has too many levels, and most of them just repeat the same concepts. It gets to the point where sections of it feel cut-and-pasted to the point of skimming the line of being dull. Ideas repeat themselves so much and players get so much practice at perfecting them that Jack N’ Jill’s first 110 levels are far too easy. I never once needed more than three tries to beat any of those stages. Hell, the tension was removed entirely when, about halfway through the game, I said “you know what? I wish this game had checkpoints just because I wouldn’t have to sweat every jump that way.”

And then suddenly the game had checkpoints starting the very next level after I said that. I’m not even kidding. This is not a joke I came up with for comic effect. I wished for checkpoints and suddenly there were checkpoints. Then I realized the Golden State Warriors have become a championship dynasty and Brian’s penis miraculous grew four inches overnight and I realized that I probably had acquired three wishes at some point over the last five years without knowing it and had just used up the last one. Damn. I swear everyone, if I had known, I would have used that third wish on ending world hunger. But hey, for those of you starving out there, take comfort in knowing that halfway through Jack N’ Jill DX you won’t have to start from the beginning of levels if you mistime a jump.

The mini-games all feel like they were mechanics that were considered for inclusion in the main game but didn’t make it past the drawing board. All of them suck, but thankfully they’re optional. And I didn’t even realize you could unlock new costumes or colors playing them. The game doesn’t call attention to the presence of a shop. You access it through the mini-game menu, with a teeny-tiny little icon in the bottom right corner that looks like a shopping bag that has “X” next to it being the only thing to alert you of its existence. It’s weird.

The biggest issue with Jack N’ Jill DX is the sameness starts to wear thin and by time I was five worlds into the game, I was sort of ready for it to be over with. And then, with thirty levels left to go, something weird happened. The level design, which was already more than acceptable (if insanely repetitive), dialed up a few more notches and was suddenly an enthralling experience. Some stages even took on a puzzle-game feel, where you had to figure out a way to hit buttons to change the position of cannons (functionally the same as barrels in Donkey Kong Country) in order to reach the next area of a stage. Funny enough, Jack N’ Jill DX started life as a mobile game (hence the DX part) and these longer levels would not be suitable for the type of “knock a level or two out while in-line at the supermarket” style that the best mobile action games tend to have. But that’s fine, because Jack suddenly grew teeth, required concentration, and went from an acceptable time waster to a genuinely good game. Of course, this consequently made every level that came before it feel like a glorified tutorial. 110 levels of tutorial. Yeesh.

That’s what makes it so hard to quantify the value of Jack N’ Jill DX. Its biggest problem is poor pacing, but never in a way that’s a deal breaker. The first twenty levels are a bit of a bore, but not painfully so. The final thirty levels were my favorites in any auto-runner ever, easily. Everything in-between is decent, but never great. And when the game finally goes for the throat, it still has to take the time to point out every single button you have to press, as if it has no faith in players to be able to figure out that if there’s a button on stage, it’s probably a good idea to figure out how to press it. And then it tucks you in at night and reads you a bedtime story. It’s really condescending like that.

Jack N’ Jill DX doesn’t really do anything original. Instead, it’s like it took every notable platform game mechanic, retooled it to work in a single-button game, and then polished it to make it play near flawlessly. It’s impressive. Really and truly.

There’s seven optional minigames that you can unlock by beating each world, though they cost 100 coins to play and range from terrible (the first minigame, where you must control the baddies as they jump, has unresponsive controls and was just awful) to bleh (like one that’s a near-copy of the bonus levels from Balloon Fight). Playing minigames earns tickets which let you customize Jack & Jill’s appearance or change the black-and-white graphics to some other pallet, similar to Super Game Boy. Hell, beating the game even unlocks a mirror mode, were you can play all 140 stages in reverse. $5 gets you a LOT of game. That’s why I had to sock it to VideoKid, which costs the same but has only one level and doesn’t work half the time. You’ll speed through the first 100 or so stages of Jack with minimum effort, then spend the same amount of time finishing the final two worlds. It paces like a marathon runner with narcolepsy.

Still, I have to give developer Rohan Narang credit. Jack N’ Jill DX is the best auto-runner ever made. Which is like saying Wonder Woman was the best DCEU movie, but still. It’s never fully boring, and when it finally starts to come to life, it’s actually a very fun game. Does it belong on platforms like Xbox One? Probably not. I’d recommend the Switch or Vita versions. I played on the Switch and spent about a week knocking it out. Even then, I probably played it wrong. Jack N’ Jill is meant to be played a couple of levels at a time. Maybe the sloginess would have been muted if I had played through the 140 stages over the course of a few months instead of just under one week. But hey, Indie Gamer Chick played a game wrong. Not exactly something you stop the presses over. And yea, I’m known for complaining that people shouldn’t have to tread water waiting for a game to “get to the really good stuff”, which Jack N’ Jill unquestionably does. But, at least everything here that comes before the really good stuff is still enjoyable. Maybe someone should buy a copy of this for David Cage so he can take notes.

Jack & Jill DX was developed by Rohan Narang
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Vita, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Steam

$4.99 rhymed:

Jack and Jill
Is hardly swill
To quench a fail spotter
Some levels let down
But I can’t go to town
Great ones follow thereafter

In the making of this review.

Jack N’ Jill DX is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

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About Indie Gamer Chick
Indie game reviews and editorials.

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