Let’s set the record straight from the beginning. If Gear Jack were a ski slope, it would be a black diamond. The casual player might give it a try, but he might end up with a few broken bones despite his optimism. It takes skill, experience, and wisdom to tackle a challenge like Gear Jack without throwing a device or two against the wall in frustration.
Gear Jack is a platformer, and a grueling platformer it is. It’s in the family or auto-runner games, like Canabalt, where your character moves forward without instruction from you. In this game, your robot friend Jack runs through an obstacle course of spinning blades, small tunnels, and random holes in the ground. It is your job to make Jack jump, tuck into a ball, and perform aerial acrobatics to survive. Unfortunately, Jack is a delicate robot, and even one touch of any surface or spinning blade will cause him to explode into a thousand pieces.
Run, robot, run.
Luckily, Jack, like any good piece of hardware, can be upgraded. By completing levels and collecting points along the way, you can purchase new skills and abilities in the Garage. You can upgrade Jack’s running, jumping, rolling, speed, and ‘bullet time’ ability. This means that you can customize your Jack to complement your lousy or exceptional platforming skills. It also means that Jack’s appearance changes as well, which is a cool feature. If you make it to the end, you and Jack will be sure to be the best of friends.
The game uses a simple onscreen button mechanic to control Jack. A thumb button on the left of the screen performs a roll, while a thumb button on the right causes Jack to jump. Some levels will require mid-air jumps, which create awesome aerial maneuvers to clear larger gaps. These acrobatics demand perfect timing, as does most of the game, or else Jack will face certain robot death.
You can also slow down time in a ‘bullet time’ fashion by pressing a smaller clock button above the right thumb button. This gives you more time to jump or roll past obstacles that might otherwise overwhelm you. You have limited access to this ability, though, so choose wisely.
Someone sneezed on the screen.
Perhaps even more impressive than the tight, simple controls and the upgrade system is the game’s environment. Jack is aboard a starship that, by the looks of it, has seen better days. Green ooze drips down the walls, and colossal pieces of machinery are visible in the background. It’s a simple aesthetic, done with a specific color palette, and it looks fantastic. It doesn’t distract from the intense gameplay, but it makes you want to pause the game and look around for a moment.
If Gear Jack has a downfall, it’s that it’s a game that gets difficult fast. Gamers used to games on the App Store may not be prepared for the level of challenge that Gear Jack presents. Traditionally, popular games on the App Store are suitable for players of all skills, but Gear Jack dares to be different. We don’t see this as a fault, per se, but it will limit the audience of Gear Jack fans.
Nevertheless, Gear Jack is an entertaining game. At times, you may be frustrated and want to submerge your device in whatever beverage you have on hand, and then toss it in the freezer for punishment. Most of the time, however, we found the challenge refreshing. Finally beating a level that’s been troubling you all afternoon can give you a great sense of accomplishment. That’s more than we can say for a lot of games.