XBLIndie review: Apple Jack 2

Apple Jack 2’s core gameplay is mostly unremarkable. Owing its mechanical foundation to Super Mario Bros. 2, Apple Jack 2 is all about jumping on enemies, picking them up, then throwing them about.

It’s a fairly limited focus compared to most puzzle platformers. Apple Jack can aim before he throws enemies, arcing them towards other enemies and switches. Similarly colored baddies pop when they collide, dropping collectable fruits and vegetables.

Pretty standard stuff, until you start comboing. Whenever you pop two enemies, you have a short grace period to pop two more. Every pop doubles your multiplier – and the amount of fruit you earn. That first x64 multiplier is absolutely glorious, but things go bananas if you keep popping.

In a staggering display of bravado, Apple Jack 2 puts more fruit onscreen than it can actually handle, and the game begins to stutter and jerk from strain. Thousands of pieces of fruit explode into being in one sublime moment where the game acknowledges that you are the greatest gamer ever.

And then it basically kills you, because you’re too cool. The slowdown is so intense that the game stops responding to inputs, leaving Jack helpless against enemies. But it’s completely worth it. That moment makes Apple Jack 2 wonderful.

The soundtrack, though, is what makes it special. This Eden’s instrumental folk accompaniment defines the game, bathing it in acoustic calm. No other music could fit so perfectly in a world populated by newly-nudist apples, ballet-dancing pigs, and overzealous washing machines. The game is ridiculous. The music says don’t worry about it.

In fact, don’t worry about anything. Apple Jack frequently reveals happy insights about the world around him, and his easygoing personality is infectious. He’s quit his desk job to go on an adventure, bringing the player along with him. He’s accepting, uncynical. We all need a break from our desk job. We all need a small adventure, a little fun. Apple Jack knows this.

So it’s unfortunate that the last third of the game manages to be so stressful. Puzzles can become unsolvable, forcing restarts. They vary in quality: The switch puzzles are okay, but there are a lot of block pushing puzzles, something we’ve moved past in the last 10 years.

At one point, I considered giving up. The game had overstayed its welcome, and I was growing tired of the finicky puzzles. Maybe this adventure wasn’t worth it.

But Apple Jack kept me playing. The character, I mean. We were friends by that point, confidants escaping the drudgery of deskwork. So we helped each other out. We finished our everyday adventure.

I’m glad we did.

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