Updated: Dynamite Jack Review

Dynamite Jack has received an update that improves the onscreen D-pad and makes the game universal, bringing it to the iPhone in addition to the iPad. Everything else about this stealthy title remains the same, but that’s not a bad thing.

The control update is somewhat subtle, but helpful. Now, by default, a D-pad appears wherever you put your thumb, making it easier control Jack without looking at the screen. It still feels a little floaty, but it’s definitely an improvement. If you’re not into the D-pad thing, you can still control the game using a line-drawing mechanic or an iCade, but we’re glad to see our preferred input method improved.

Making Dynamite Jack universal was a no-brainer. This is a game whose levels sprawl so far in all directions that even the iPad’s screen can’t contain them, so there was no reason it should be withheld from iPhone and iPod Touch gamers. We’re pleased to report that the game plays just as well on the small screen as it does on the big one.

If you’re into stealthy games with an old-school feel and tons of achievements and collectibles, Dynamite Jack has you covered.

Dynamite Jack stars a soldier who’s been captured by the enemy and forced to work in a mine deep underground. The game starts as he realizes he’s not cut out for the whole forced labor thing, and decides to make his escape. Guards are on patrol everywhere (though curiously no one seems to be doing any actual mining), and they’ve got itchy trigger fingers. Each level represents one step closer to freedom for good old Jack.

Your goal in each level is to make it from point A to point B without being riddled with bullets. On the way, you can find a flashlight to help you see your way around, but it can just as easily alert guards to your presence. Every level also contains an unlimited supply of bombs that you can use to break open new pathways, or to obliterate guards. And apparently you have a severe case of butterfingers, because you lose your flashlight and bombs between each level.

Between a rock and a hard place.

Controls are pretty important in any stealth game, because precice movements are required to stay out of the enemy’s line of sight. Unfortunately this is an area where Dynamite Jack stumbles. You can control Jack using a line-drawing mechanic or a D-pad that can either float or stay put in the corner of the screen. We prefered the floating D-pad over the other methods, but it’s well, a little too floaty. Rather than staying rooted where you put your thumb down, it actually follows your thumb around, which makes things feel looser than we’d like. However, the repercussions for dying are usually minor, assuming you step on each checkpoint you pass.

In addition to a flashlight and bombs, some leves have colored key cards you have to pick up to reach the exit. Each level also has three cartridges to collect, and some have gems scattered around liberally. In short, there’s plenty to do in each level besids avoiding and exploding bad guys on your way to the exit. Each level also has three achievements: Reach the exit without dying, without killing any guards, and collect all three cartridges. That’s enough to give any OCD types a reason to go back and re-play levels several times, which we always like to see.

Don’t lose your head.

The game also contains a handy map that displays everything you’ve seen so far, while a standard “fog of war” covers everything else. The map is very helpful, especially later in the game when the levels start to getting bigger and more sprawling.

That’s about all there is to the game; but a few control issues aside, we had a lot of fun with it. The enemies are pleasantly predictable: they do nothing but walk their predetermined paths unless a bomb goes off nearby. If that happens, they come to investigate briefly, but they soon go back to pacing. If you’re looking for an iOS version of Metal Gear Solid, you might find this disappointing, but we appreciate the predictability. It makes the game more like a puzzle, plus it’s kind of funny to see. “You just killed my coworker? Dang. Oh well, back to work.”

Dynamite Jack is a totally solid stealth game, with lots of levels and lots of replayability. If they fix the controls in an update (and they’ve already made a small, insufficient attempt), we’ll have no qualms with the game. But even as is, there’s plenty to love here.

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