What do you get when you combine Shrek with The Smurfs? Timbergrotes. At least, that's what I think. Booting up Chillingo and Belmac Interactive's Incredible Jack, I was introduced to these strange creatures for the first time. In the game's story, you play as Jack, a Timbergrote hero that must set out to rescue his large family from a Demon Prince who's kidnapped everyone. Gotta love those platformer storylines!
So back to Timbergrotes. Apparently they are a species of treasure seekers who specialize in digging underground. I mean, why else would he be wearing that coal miner's hat? But after Jack met his sweetheart Jeanie, they started having lots of children and spreading a better message than only that of seeking fortune. Naturally, this did not sit well with the demons watching over them. So they decided to capture all of Jack's family and that's where you come in.
Okay, so there's plenty of bizarreness going on here, indicated by the frequent mushrooms scattered about (speaking of The Smurfs and mushrooms, I fully subscribe to the theory that the show is really about an old man hallucinating in the woods). But what kind of game is this? Frankly, I wish the rest of Incredible Jack could live up to the wacky premise and setting.
Unfortunately, that is not the case. Instead of innovative gameplay along the lines of something like Earthworm Jim, which complimented its weird tone and environment, Incredible Jack offers a blash mishmash of several games you'll recognize at certain points.
Like I just mentioned, there's mushrooms about and for good reason. The first thing you'll notice is that there's plenty of gameplay in Incredible Jack that looks like it was lifted straight out of the Mushroom Kingdom, right down to stomp-able foes and hovering blocks filled with coins and power-ups. All in all, the levels are a smooshing together of elements of Mario Brothers, Donkey Kong Country and Sonic the Hedgehog.
Now, it would be one thing if the game skillfully combined all of these elements and presented them in a manner that seemed to work and fit together. But much of the gameplay here feels sluggish and uninspired. Jack moves around the world like he's stuck in rigor mortis, stiffly leaping from platform to platform.
One of the most noticeable things that's lacking is whenever Jack hits the water and manages to swim by basically standing still. One silver lining is that the buttons are fairly responsive, so you won't be stuck with delayed reactions or get caught in a corner, snagged on some pixels. But it stands in contrast to the lack of motion and animation.
While all that might make it seem like the game is a total cop out cash grab that's been rushed out, it's also clear that time went into designing other parts of the game. The look and the level design both show that it wasn't totally hacked together. And since this is a Chillingo title, there's a microtransaction element built in as well, with a store that gives you the option to purchase some power-ups that will help you rescue your family all the faster. Fortunately, these are not shoved in your face and you don't need them in order to progress.
Overall, this is a flawed platformer with some admirable qualities. I like how strange Incredible Jack is, combined with the heartfelt mission of a parent rescuing his kids (a plotline that's not featured in many games). But I can't get past some of the more egregious bumps in the road that serve to take the game down a few notches. There's still plenty to enjoy through the 37 levels that are available, but just know that you might have to look past some blemishes in order to do so.