Format: Xbox Live Indie Games
Approximate Time Spent playing at time of writing: 19 hours
Modes of play: Single Player
Apple Jack 2 is basically another 61 levels of Apple Jack. So there’s not too much to add to my previous review of that as it really is more of the same. Jack still comes with an immensely appley head, the levels are still incredibly varied and fun and the challenge levels are also very high once again.
The wall-jump mechanic does feel like it’s been tweaked to be more lenient, although at times it feels almost too lenient, as I found myself accidentally wall-jumping at times when I was not intending to do so. This shows how tricky it is to get this kind of thing just right and how much the ‘feel’ of controls matters. Apple Jack 2 still has great controls overall though. The levels are possibly even more varied than in Apple Jack 1, for example there are now some more physics based puzzles based around pushing blocks around. Some of these challenges are actually rather too punishing though and so become frustrating. The blocks quite literally have a physics all of their own that you have to learn how to deal with, and you cannot pull blocks, so often, one tiny push in the wrong direction will force you to have to restart the level or checkpoint, which in a weird way feels a lot worse than just dying to your own platforming error. There are also levels where completion is now a matter of just getting to the exit rather than DESTROYING all the enemies, and the game really makes the most of this change of pace in places.
Despite the interesting extra variety, the level design doesn’t seem quite as good or as inspired as in AJ1. Many of the new ideas in the levels just seem to cause more frustration, like the previously mentioned block puzzles. One level in particular is all about throwing enemies in very specific parabolas and it seems incredibly weird about how the physics of it works. I eventually did it, but I still have no idea why it didn’t work for me for the first 100 tries or so. It exhasberated me so much I even took to the internet to figure out if there was something wrong with the game – see my comments on the following video if you view on full-page youtube:
Other levels seem to be a lot easier, especially as there’s now a lot more checkpoints dotted around. In fact some of the levels with interesting new ideas I even found too easy, as there were many I breezed through on my first attempt which was a bit of a shame in a way.
Apple Jack 2 also now offers a difficulty setting which you can set on each level separately and it enables increasing amounts of a limited rewind feature. This is actually a very good way to lower the challenge and punishment of tricky platforming sections, and it’s especially nice design that you can use it solely for a level you are stuck on rather than having to impact the whole game – since each level is really it’s own individual gameplay challenge really anyway. You get to rewind the last few seconds before you died, however you then cannot use the rewind feature again for a time too before it ‘charges’ back up. This means that some sections can still be challenging and you can’t keep repeating a jump over and over with minute variations like you can in a ‘full rewind’ game like Braid. However this rewind feature makes little difference to the difficulty in many of the levels, because they aren’t all about pure platforming jumps etc at all; so it’s of inconsistent usefulness. Still, it’s an interesting solution to the problem of making a challenging platform game easier, and is one I also came up with when discussing this issue with regards to ‘Splosion Man. I didn’t actually make any use of the feature other than testing out what it did myself, as I insisted on doing it all on HardCore for the Maximum Apple experience!
One feature I didn’t touch on in my review of Apple Jack 1 was it’s scoring system. This is because without any real way to compete with friends or strangers on score, it felt very empty compared to contempory games or even old arcade games. Plus it’s not “zoney” enough that you’d want to constantly re-play levels for score. But in any case, the way it worked in AJ1 was that you’d be scored for collecting coins around the levels, and each enemy killed dropped some coins, and the more enemies you killed in quick succession earned you a multiplier so you got increasing amounts of coins dropping.
AJ2 has kept most of this system, but now the coins are only on the levels themselves, and enemies now drop fruit, again, with a multiplier for the amount of fruit for enemies killed in quick succession. Unfortunately this introduces the ‘massive amount of fruit’ problem to the game. With a big multiplier there would often be so much fruit spewing out all over the screen, that I could no longer see what was going on. Worse still there would be huge amounts of slow down followed by a rapid graphical rush where the game tried to update to where it felt it should be. It felt like playing in a massive lag spike, and was incredibly frustrating to die to this. There were a number of sections where I specifically tried to lose my multiplier on purpose to keep the amount of fruit on the screen screen so I could actually see what was going on and to stop it having a slow-down effect. Now, you could of course argue this is all a ‘feature’ to add to the challenge but it really doesn’t feel like a fair one and feels more like dealing with a minor bug.
Rather than a single score, AJ2 now scores you on various criteria for each level, top multiplier achieved, all coins collected etc – which again would all be a lot more interesting if there was any way to compare with other people or any Achievements you could record, but sadly, there still isn’t.
The graphics are still quite basic but when you put them right next to Apple Jack 1 you can notice there’s actually been a huge upgrade. In some stages there are even multiple layers of parallax scrolling that would probably make my friend MightyOtaking weep with joy were he to see them. The music’s got more tracks as well as some old favourites from Apple Jack 1 and is still in the same great relaxing style.
HOW ‘BOUT MORE OF THEM APPLES!
It’s shorter and easier overall than AJ1 (even on Hardcore mode) yet also more frustrating in many ways due to the issues above, so I do have to recommend Apple Jack 1 over this.
Competitive Gaming Design Review: N/A
Competitive Game Review: N/A
Interactive Story: There’s a bit more story added in Apple Jack 2, but it’s thankfully still pretty silly stuff. The ending is vastly improved and the game is much more satisfying to complete for this reason than Apple Jack 1.
Toy/Experience: It’s still too challenging to be much of a toy, although probably offers a bit more of that kind of play on the easier difficulties. As mentioned above, the graphics are improved and the music is still fantastic.
Simulation: It’s still Apley Head!
Still a highly recommended game overall, even if it doesn’t quite hit the heights of AJ1 for me, the overall package is strong enough to earn an extra star.
Here’s another good review of Apple Jack 2, although it does make a very stupid comment about diffculty being purely to increase playtime / value for money. 😦