In a world of enormous 3D sandboxes, hundreds of players fighting it out in battle royales and daringly inventive indie games it’s almost strangely admirable how much JackQuest: The Tale of the Sword sticks to the ideals of a game from the ’80s. Almost. After a fifteen second cutscene wherein some unnamed generic evil force steals your love interest, protagonist Jack (of the aforementioned Quest) dives into a labyrinth to rescue his lady love. After meeting a magical bloodthirsty sword the player is now prepared to do… well, nothing terribly interesting, unfortunately.
It would be assumed that the game would play with genre conventions or even have a self-deprecating sense of humour regarding the generic set-up but there’s just a genuine creative void. From the overused indie fallback of faux 8-bit graphics to collecting coins and hearts, there is nothing for the player to attach to, no unique identity to remember the game by. Remember when a character would be playing the stock photo equivalent of a video game on a 90’s TV sitcom? That’s JackQuest: The Tale of the Sword.
Combat is standard fare slash and hack with a limited combo system to encourage aggressive play. The Meat Boy-esque wall jump platforming mechanics are by now so oversaturated in the genre as to be performed in your sleep. Irritating collision detection and a thoroughly wonky camera system provide a constant stream of annoyances to muscle through and the dull bosses provide little strategy other than learning attack patterns. Waiting for the camera to slowly track down to reveal enemies beneath you brings to mind waiting for an elevator: not quite the thrills you expect from a fantasy adventure. Playing this game I felt like a teacher who caught a student cheating in a test by copying everyone in the classroom but answered few questions correctly.
Metroidvania staples creep in as you unlock upgrades and explore more of the world. Unfortunately, these upgrades never reach the creative concepts and uses of the bizarre Giger inspired guns that made advancing in Axiom Verge such a pleasure. Using classic genre staples is all well and good but there must be some original ideas to spice things up. Only the adventurous soundtrack will prevent its audience from nodding off peacefully, though sweet dreams of Shovel Knight are a more fulfilling gameplay experience than what is provided.
In short, a serious lack of ambition hampers JackQuest: The Tale of the Sword from the very beginning. When there are so many incredible and fascinating indie experiences already available it’s hard to recommend, especially without any form of interesting hook to keep an audience engaged. It’s hard to hate this game but almost worse is the way it’s hard to feel much at all with it. How very existential! This combined with the steep retail price makes for a very unappealing package.