You know, for someone who can barely run half a mile without feeling like my lungs are dropping down into my large intestines, I sure do play a lot of endless running games. Gear Jack, by Forest Moon Games, happens to belong to the genre and is just another title dropped into the race of infinite runners. Or is it?
There's something about Gear Jack that just drew me to it. Maybe it's the slick, 2D animation and backgrounds. Perhaps it's the player-controlled robot and its resemblance to Marvin, the "manically-depressed robot" from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I've scrambled my way around temples while being chased by demonic monkeys. I've punched through zombies to protect people on rooftops in an attempt to Save Them All. So why not try to escape a spaceship bound for a black hole while avoiding traps and rocking out some chiptunes/metal music?
You play as Jack, a robot with a big head and even bigger problems. The ship on which he serves, the W-Hale, traveled way too close to a black hole and was hit by an EMP. Miraculously, Jack didn't shut down and now he needs to try and save the vessel. The bad news is that this ship, for whatever reason, has an incredible amount of traps and seems to be designed to kill robots on the run.
Run, jump, and roll is the name of the game in Gear Jack. As soon as you hit the "play" button at the start of a stage, Jack will take off running. You'll have to jump over obstacles or roll under them to successfully navigate the ship. If Jack jumps into a wall or even stands up from the rolling position while in a tunnel, he'll explode and cause a vein to throb wildly around your temples.
When he first starts out, Jack Has very little ability when it comes to running, rolling, and jumping. He'll barely make it over giant razor blades, subjecting you to mini heart attacks each time. But he fortunately has a few tricks up his sleeves to traverse the perilous space between points A and B.
For starters, Jack can roll. Just like Samus Aran, he can take on the form of a compact ball and roll around in order to get into tight spots or under path-blocking razors. From a rolling position, Jack can then gain an extra boost while jumping, helping him clear very long gaps and avoiding certain doom in acid pits.
You can also have the robo-runner perform tricks during some jumps by pressing the corresponding buttons over the trick circles; this will give him the necessary boost to jump over gaps. The animations for these maneuvers are impressive and make me wish there were more trick sequences scattered throughout the game. But Jack's most important skill is the ability to slow down time. Knowing when to use this power is crucial, because a lot of the obstacles and jumps require expert timing. The platforming in Gear Jack is as demanding in skill as some of retro gaming's best.
You'll earn points every few levels to dump into Jack's skills in the Garage. Players will have to be careful about how much to spend on the Running skill, because it might make navigating levels that much harder, especially when it comes to parts that need player input. Every so often there will be a door or trap that requires a button press to open/deactivate, so you'll miss them and end up crashing if Jack's running way too fast. Floating sentries and falling gears can be destroyed with taps for extra points as well.
Gear Jack is a tough game. Anyone looking for challenge will be satisfied with the pleasant, yet hair-pullingly frustrating experience that the game offers. Death is an inevitability and you'll rarely go through a new level without dying and having to start at the beginning again. The good thing is that the soundtrack is amazing, so you'll still feel like a total badass even as you fail. The mix of chiptuney 8-bit sounds and driving metal hearken back to the days of old-school platforming games, like Megaman or Sonic the Hedgehog, and keeps you going. It's not a bad deal for $0.99 and will have you playing over and over again. Just take care not to get too frustrated and turn into a manic depressive robot yourself.