Jack in the Box
This is Jack. This is Jack's spring. This is Jack's amusing hat. This is Jack's box. Jack wishes he were in his box. Jack needs you to guide him to the box. This is Jack's friend. Jack's friend also has an amusing hat. Jack's friend will follow Jack's movements. This is the additional element of strategy added to Jack's puzzle-platforming game. In short, this is Jack in the Box, made by Jack's creator, Ali Bati. And if you think it won't be more fun than chasing a weasel round a mulberry bush... brother, you don't know Jack.
Jack in the Box is played with the [arrow] keys to move and jump. In each level, your goal is to transport the right number of Jacks to the box. There are several different types, but since you're a Jack of All Trades, you control them simultaneously. First there is the standard Jack, which moves like the standard platform-hero that he is, pushing boxes, jumping like a jackrabbit, and jack-hammering down on enemies by your command. Then, there is the Rebel Jack who, while following the same jumping-jack rules, resents your attempts to hi-jack his movements, and will travel the opposite direction of your input. Then there is the Propeller-Jack, whose weight slows his movement but can fly by holding the [up] key. Finally, there is Old Jack, who will not awake until the [down] key is pressed. Watch out for the jack-knifing spikes, the robots that'll jack you up with electricity, and the flames that require you to be quite the Jack-Be-Nimble to avoid. Complete all 30 levels and the jackpot is yours!
Analysis: Jack in the Box is quite a good time, even apart from the ease with which it inspires puns for the erstwhile reviewer. The mechanics recall such earlier releases as Tealy and Orangey, and the FireBoy and WaterGirl series, with its complexity falling in-between its predecessors. For me, at least, the controlling-multiple-characters at once gimmick is still novel enough to be quite intriguing. We as players have the expectation that one input = one character, and games like these throw said expectation for a loop. The multitasking at its base means that careful movement strategy, often taken for granted in platform games, becomes of the highest importance. I love seeing how different authors have explored the twist... especially if they are of Jack in the Box's quality.
Beyond the conceptual level, Jack in the Box gets a lot of the little things right. The animations are bouncy, the controls are responsive, and overall, the production has quite the professional sheen to it. I particularly liked the goofiness of the character designs, with their stick-figure heads and springy bodies... even if I do keep seeing Jack's collar as a circular necklace of teeth. Or are they supposed to be teeth? Eh.
The main strike against Jack in the Box is that it sometimes tries to combine too many elements, leaving the most appealing ones fighting for room. The best levels in the game are the ones that focus on the specific interplay of Jack and Rebel Jack. This leaves Propeller-Jack and Old Jack just seeming a little superfluous. The game is made no worse for their inclusion, but they felt like a distraction from the core concept. Also, I would say that Jack in the Box tries a little too hard to give itself an attitude: the creepy music and snarky comments seem a little forced in the face of the cuteness of its graphics. Yeah, I cracked a smile at some of them, but really I think it limits its appeal to a younger audience more than it will open it to an older one.
What should appeal to all audiences is Jack in the Box's solid puzzle design. In most levels, I got the feeling that a specific solution was expected, but the engine gives enough freedom that you never feel forced into linearity. The level-editor looks quite promising. While I haven't had a chance to play many user-created levels, I can very much imagine Jack in the Box being a game that would benefit from the perspectives of multiple designers. In short, Jack in the Box's levels exploits its premise in all the right ways, and I think it will be very cool to see how the causal gaming community does the same. Get to it, ya jackanapes!