You’re familiar with the story, boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Girl gets kidnapped. Boy seeks to rescue girl. It’s all fairly standard stuff, which games have arguably done to death over the years. Predictable plot aside, and with many, many other similar games out there, is JackQuest: The Tale of the Sword worth your valuable time and money?
Here we have a self confessed Metroidvania style 2D platformer which tells the age old tale of a damsel in distress. For those unfamiliar with the term “Metroidvania”, this is a cross between the gameplay styles of “Metroid” and “Castlevania”. This means you’ll be exploring one large dungeon where certain areas cannot be explored until you have unlocked a specific bit of kit of get you there. You play as the titular character Jack, and your love, Nara, is snatched away by the hand, quite literally, of the villainous Korg. Soon after you find a sword, which also houses the trapped spirit of Kuro, who agrees to help you on your quest as long as you agree to help free him from captivity. That’s the setup for Jack’s adventure, and all the story you’ll be getting here. Still, JackQuest is all about the gameplay so that’s not really an issue.
Jack’s abilities are fairly limited; if you hit A you’ll jump, but not very far. You’ll have to be careful, Jack is fairly weighty and it’s all too easy to come crashing down on some spikes. Luckily you can climb walls by hitting A repeatedly to wall jump and there’s no limit to how many times you can do this. X is used to swing your sword, as well as pull blocks which are used to activate pressure switches. You can collect gems by slicing them with your sword, and if you press B you’ll use a more powerful attack. You can also use this attack to defend yourself against damage and enemy projectiles. If you stand on the edge of a drop, the camera will pan down to reveal the dangers that lie below. It’s good to explore too, as there are plenty of seemingly dead ends that might be hiding more than you think…
As you navigate through the dungeon you’ll collect coins as you dispatch your enemies and break the many crates that are lying around. These can then be spent with the merchant to buy health and gems which aren’t cheap, so exploring and taking out as many enemies as you can is advised. The last items you can buy are torches, which allow you to save the game whenever you want. If you don’t have any, you can only save at the large grey stones dotted around the labyrinth. Thankfully, you can use these stones as often as you like, but the game will only automatically save for you the first time you pass them.
As progress is made you will pick up new weapons and items that will enable you to explore previously unreachable areas, such as underwater caverns. You can also find larger hearts and gems that will increase the maximum amount of each that can be carried. You’ll want to seek these out before taking on the later bosses. This is reminiscent of a certain Hyrulian Elf’s adventures, however it works fine, so why fix what’s not broken? In all honesty though, JackQuest isn’t exactly original; there are some skeleton baddies that collapse like Dry Bones from Super Mario Bros and spiky “thwomp” like blocks which drop onto you if you pass underneath them. None of these similarities suggest blatant copying, however it would have been nice to see some new ideas chucked into the mix. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that there’s probably nothing here in JackQuest: The Tale of the Sword on Xbox One you won’t have seen before. Still, the boss battles break the adventuring up and are generally enjoyable despite being the most difficult parts of the game.
Games of this type can tend to be very difficult to play and in JackQuest you’ll die fairly often. When you respawn at your last save, you remain on the same health you had previously; there’s no gratuitous replenishment just because you died. This means you’ll need to go out and find health all by yourself. It’s also well worth mentioning that when enemies are taken out, the coins will bounce out of them, and often into a spiky pit, spinning and taunting you, remaining there forever where you can’t get them… unless you decide to dive in and take damage. It’s a very minor, but frustrating occurrence.
The difficulty does however really start to ramp up when you meet the first boss, mainly due to its health bar. You’ll have to chip away, all whilst learning its attacks to survive. The battle can feel like a bit of a grind at times but thankfully, Jack’s special attack deals greater damage and stops the fight feeling like a never-ending slog.
To help alleviate this, you’ll also unlock a map to the dungeon later on, however you can’t look at the whole layout at once which keeps things from becoming too easy. All of this combines to see the experience feeling unforgiving at times, but it doesn’t have that “hard-as-nails” vibe which definitely works in its favour. It’s challenging, as you’d expect from a game of this type, but sadly it’s all over far too soon.
JackQuest sounds absolutely brilliant though, obviously faithful to the game’s style and helps set the mood perfectly. Things look good in JackQuest too, despite being pretty generic. As with many elements of the game, it’ll all be very familiar to fans of the genre.
Despite lacking in originality, and being very much on the short side, JackQuest: The Tale of the Sword is fun to play… at least whilst it lasts. At just £8.39 on the Xbox Store it’s well worth a look if you’ve got a 2D platforming itch to scratch.