JackQuest: The Tale of the Sword is akin to the pint-sized kid looking to gain entry to the public swimming pool already filled to capacity on a hot summer day. The swimming pool is, of course, the Metroidvania genre, and the other swimmers are the myriad of titles from developers of all shapes and sizes already within the Nintendo Switch’s library.
At this stage, it’s crucial for developers to distance themselves from the competition by bringing something wholly original and unique to the table. With that being said, JackQuest had a mammoth-sized task in simply being noticed.
The Jack in this box is a rather dull boy
As with most retro-inspired side-scrolling platformers, the depth of the narrative is relatively shallow. However, the premise of JackQuest is painfully cliche for the genre that was born decades ago. Simply put, Jack must rescue a damsel in distress from a monster in a labyrinthine cave. In fact, there’s really no way to puff that up either. That’s the crux of what we’re dealing with. Mario has had that turf covered for over thirty years.
Other games within the genre like Dead Cells or Battle Princess Madelyn have endeavored to craft worlds and heroes we haven’t necessarily seen before. And while the idea of a talking sword as a companion offers a tinge of intrigue, this element may have had more impact if I hadn’t just played Transistor where the dialogue and thematic elements surrounding the sword were superbly executed.Don’t get me wrong, I’m not besmirching the idea of a knight in shining armor gallantly rescuing his/her love-interest. It’s a tale as old as time. But we’re also living in an age of creativity and wonder where characters no longer have to fit into classical molds. And speaking of attempting something more unique, the scenery in this game could really use some variety. The cave that you spend the entire adventure in carries the same aesthetic throughout. From the characters and story to the level design, JackQuest simply has no pizzazz or flair.
Jack of all trades, master of none
The same idea can be applied to the mechanics. Movement controls are fluid and handle nicely. But they don’t extend much farther than run, attack, and jump/double jump. Jack can also vault off of walls. While these moves are necessary for traversal, the lack of other functions or features beyond these core controls left much to be desired. Jack will also acquire a bow for ranged attacks. But aside from a few variations, such as a spinning attack with Jack’s sword, the ranged and melee attacks are standard fare. Nothing stands out here.
Games like (again) Transistor, put a lot of stake in the varying functions of the blade. Alwa’s Awakening, another 2D platformer from last year, made use of three unique magic powers that shaped the way the player accessed different areas of the world. JackQuest‘s controls and gameplay aren’t hampered in any way. They’re just boring.
Jack be nimble, Jack be quick
The only real difficulty I ran into with JackQuest was when I died, Jack wouldn’t start from the last checkpoint with full health. Finding health potions in the wild doesn’t happen as frequently as it should. And merchants located throughout the game are so sporadic.
At one point, I found myself at a checkpoint just before a gate that had two locks. I only had a half of a heart left in the tank and had to wade back into the labyrinth to find the key to the second lock. I died countless times trying to evade enemies and not run into unseen dangers. Many times, enemy projectiles would originate from enemies offscreen and damage me out of the blue. Speaking of blue, irritating blue slimes would hurl balls of slime and hit me nearly every time when I couldn’t see them coming. Constantly running low on health from previous checkpoints was something I grew accustomed to, and I learned that I simply had to be nimble and quick — just like the old nursery rhyme.
JackQuest: The Tale of the Sword is a mediocre effort in the 2D platformer genre. While this review was mostly critical, I should clarify that the game isn’t bad – it just isn’t good either.
In a world where we have our pick of the Metroidvania lot, JackQuest simply does nothing to stand out in the crowd. As a result, we’re left with something entirely basic in both design and function.
A review code was provided by the publisher.