This article is based entirely on the first ~30 minutes of gameplay from Apple Jack (not Apple Jack 2). The score at the end is likewise only for these ~30 minutes and not for the game as a whole.
Apple Jack was one of the very few games from Xbox Live Indie Games (XBLIG) to gain any sort of positive popularity back in the day and, now that it’s available for PC’s, I finally decided to check it out. It initially comes across as a generic, though well-made, platformer, but there’s more to it than I expected. Your apple-headed protagonist is out to rescue his dog and that seems to be the entirety of the plot; the game doesn’t take itself remotely seriously. You can run around, perform some rather small wall jumps, and duck by ditching your body to roll and hop along the ground as an apple. Levels are short and some have checkpoints, which is good because you die in one hit from anything. Even though this all sounds like rather standard platformer stuff so far, that’s about to change.
Apple Jack substantially mixes things up when it comes to enemy interactions. Instead of needing to simply get to the end, the goal for each level is to kill every enemy. However, Apple Jack isn’t capable of just stomping on enemies to kill them like many platformer protagonists. Instead, he must land on top of them, pick them up, and toss them at other enemies like in Super Mario Bros. 2. You are free to just toss enemies around at the press of a button, though you also have access to an aim button for throwing them at specific angles. Furthermore, many of the enemies have a red, green, blue, or yellow barrier around them; tossing enemies at ones of a matching color will kill them both and they’re otherwise only be stunned. Thankfully, there’s a handy counter at the top of the screen to let you know exactly how many enemies of each color remain.
This is as much a puzzle game as it is an action platformer. You often need to find clever ways to transport enemies to each other. At times enemies need to be used as stepping stones to reach higher ground or as makeshift moving platforms to carry you across spikes. On one occasion I even had to use yellow enemies as projectiles to bounce otherwise unreachable blue enemies into each other. Speaking of bouncing, enemies bounce around quite a bit whenever they’re thrown in any direction other than straight down, so you can’t always rely entirely upon the aiming arrow for longer throws. During my time with the game I saw astronauts, hostile washing machines, dancing pigs, and more; there’s certainly a healthy amount of silly enemy types in Apple Jack and each of them has a unique behavior pattern.
In terms of polish there were a few nice things and a few things which felt like they could have used some work. Enemies explode into coins when they are killed and they start a multiplier countdown; kill another set of enemies before the multiple doubles from 2x to 4x to 8x and so on, seemingly endlessly. Seeing the screen fill up with dozens, if not hundreds, of flying coins when you get up to a 32x multiplier and beyond is fantastic even if the coins themselves seem to have no use beyond adding to your score. I also like the aesthetics in general, the graphics are crisp and the soundtrack creates a relaxing and pleasant atmosphere, though I think the levels could have used a bit more in the way of graphical variety. The biggest issue in the game is the lack of a colorblind mode; color matching is a crucial part of the gameplay and with no distinctions between the four types of barriers other than their colors this game is likely going to border on impossible to play for those affected by many types of colorblindness. On less severe notes, the game registers key inputs even when the window is not in focus and checkpoints, flavor text, and tutorial messages all share the same icon (a light bulb).
Apple Jack left me with a much stronger first impression than I was expecting from it. Not only is it a solid platformer with a great atmosphere, it’s a game which perfectly implements an uncommon way of interacting with enemies to create some really clever puzzles.
First Impression Verdict: Great! 5/5