[Videogame Review] Jack Move [demo]

Despite its generic name, Jack Move is closer to EarthBound than any other game I’ve played in recent years. Jack Move, currently in a closed PC beta scheduled for release in 2021 that I played during PAX 2020, takes place in gritty slums that our character, Noa, wanders through in order to complete the demo’s story objective. She wields a complex moveset of attacks, but underneath that is smooth gameplay, flashy graphics, and a promisingly well-written story.

Rating: ★★★★★ [5/5]
Spoilers: none related to storyline

Meandering through the slums feels nice.

The version of the demo I played, which was only available during PAX 2020, seemed unbalanced. The combat system is initially overwhelming because it bombards the player with an almost excessive ruleset, the baddies in the first screen are almost too difficult, and RPG standards like attacks and items are renamed. I would imagine that later builds and the final iteration might include a gentler introduction to battling baddies. Once I got comfortable with things, the combat system felt good.

I played the demo for 85 minutes.

There was even a baddie that would radio in for backup, offering unlimited gameplay, which reminded me of EarthBound. The game developers don’t cite it as an inspiration, instead citing “Final Fantasy 710, Grandia and Golden Sun[1].” It’s interesting to me that a videogame without any direct inspiration could have layers of subtle inspiration. The realistic settings, with sincere yet witty dialogue that isn’t sardonic, and the smooth battle gameplay reminds me the most of EarthBound. Other games, like [the Funko Pop of videogames,] Undertale, and Lisa: The Painful, might be more directly inspired by the Mother series but might not have its spirit of fun adventure.

Maybe the aforementioned inspirations were EarthBound inspired?

Running around the overworld is fun with some acclimation. It’s a little easy to get lost behind some environmental areas, but I imagine that that’ll be ironed out before its final release. The overworld to gameplay transition reminds me of Shadow Madness, which gave you audio clues that you would enter a battle; here, there’s a meter in the upper right corner that gives you a visual clue that you’re approaching an area where you could encounter a battle.

Once you’re in a battle, as mentioned earlier, the combat feels smooth.

Rather than the traditional ‘limit break’ of games like FF7, when a sufficient number of baddies attack our character, our titular “Jack Move” meter fills up, which lets us execute a special attack against enemies. The demo makes it easy to fill the Jack Move, it feels satisfying to execute, and after finding a counter-attack item early into the demo, I was easily able to game the system to farm baddies for their experience. I hadn’t even thought much about where the time went, which might not have happened had I played the game in-person at their booth, but I, conversely, could have asked any of the game developers present if EarthBound was an inspiration.

I might have asked if the Lackey was inspired by EarthBound’s Skate Punk

I could reach out to them via email, but there’s much less immediacy to that.

When I’ve gone to PAX expos over the years, or other places as well and tried out videogame demos, or even when I’ve been behind the booth and demoed games myself, there’s a special excitement that happens when you latch onto a game. There are plenty of things to see at any expo. Even if you focus your time around a specific area, like the indie games, it’s difficult balancing waiting in line to play a game, playing the game, and deciding one’s own opinion of the game itself.

PAX 2020 offered a unique sort of approach to demos.

The game developer probably made a PAX demo, which was the one I played, but will I be able to revisit it after PAX is over? It would be nice, since I could theoretically show others in-person what the game is like before its release. It does reduce its specialness in an overall sense, and more closely matches the sense of playing a demo at an expo, but the benefit of playing the game in-person is that you do get to meet people that might have been involved with an area of the game you’re interested in, and, I’ve bought merchandise or early-access Steam codes from games that particularly struck me.

I would do the same here for Jack Move.

Although it’s still an in-progress demo, I am excited to play its final release.

As a good vertical slice demo, I got to experience how the combat system works along with running around the slums. The running speed was fast enough that I didn’t feel the need to press a button to go faster. There was a small town available in the demo. I imagine it’s incomplete since it was a bit confusing to navigate. I would have liked to have explored the insides of the hotel and other buildings whose doors weren’t boarded off, but I understand, too, that this was a demo to show off the overall game.

If I were to concisely provide constructive criticism, it would be this:

The combat system is good, but it needs a more proper introduction. A simple battle to kick things off would go a long way toward giving players a proper tutorial, but this is an example of something where there is no right answer. I don’t have any major criticisms about the graphics or writing; both are great as-is, and I imagine will be even better in the final product. This is a subjective critique: I think the game needs a better subtitle. I think “Jack Move: A Steampunk RPG” is too generic, so it might get missed by the random people that meander by games to play, but if people like me highlight the game, its name probably doesn’t matter so much. These are mild thoughts, however.

I’m looking forward to playing the final product and I know it’ll be fantastic.

Endtable
Quotes[1] So Romantic’s promo page for Jack Move.
Sources: My gameplay experiences.
Inspirations: My original thought for my casual PAX coverage would be to write about the event more broadly and then write a 50-word summary of the specifics. I liked the game so much that I wanted to write more. I don’t often write reviews, so this isn’t a formal review, but I’d rather write something more casual like this than spend hours trying to make it polished. I also joined the Discord for the game, so I figure this review might serve more to give awareness to the game, and worked to help me practice writing a partially formal review. I did ask my question about whether EarthBound was an inspiration: it was not.
Related: Other Videogame Reviews and Media Meandry essays.
Screenshots: From the demo.
Written On: 2020 September 18 [6:40pm to “EarthBound’s Skate Punk…” at 7:18pm then from 9:18pm to 9:35pm]
Last Edited: 2020 November 09 [I made significant changes to the writing in this second draft. I’ve saved the first draft but I’ve archived it for my own records.]

 

My big goal is writing. My most important goal is writing "The Story." All other goals should work toward that central goal. My proudest moment is the most recent time I overcame some fear, which should have been today. I'm a better zombie than I was yesterday. I'm not better than you and you're not better than me. Let's strive to be better every day.