When you close your eyes at night, do you dream of space travel? What about space travel in a giant mech using rocket launchers and giant crab claws to crush puffer fish, squid kings, and raging cacti, all while speeding down the inside of a tube-like highway? Jack does, and it’s beautiful. This tunnel runner/shmup mash-up is amongst the best in both genres.
Sleepy Jack pulls from tunnel runner games the idea of speeding down the inside of what amounts to a 360-degree tube and avoiding dangerous obstacles as you fly by. From shmups, it borrows hordes of enemies and bullets coming your way. You must use an arsenal of wacky weaponry and barrel rolling to avoid and destroy baddies. On top of this, there are jumps, speed-boost rings, ‘Z’s to catch and massive boss battles. The action never lets up and the game is all the better for it.
As you fly across space, the Wild West, underwater, and a bastardization of the three, you’ll uncover lots of new enemies, weapons and obstacles. Something new is introduced nearly every other level up until the final boss fight. Level pacing is designed in such a way that you won’t want to put down the game until you’ve beaten it all the way through, a feat that takes around three hours. The game’s greatest moment is when you unlock the mech after completing world three; this Transformer-inspired suit can be activated once during a level and offers invincibility and unlimited rockets for 30 seconds.
In order to further mix up the pacing, some levels are completely about dodging obstacles and others about shooting enemies at an overhead angle, much like a by-the-books shmup. There are also a handful of special musical levels where Jack equips his radio-powered jetpack and must keep collecting musical notes in order to fuel it. These levels are particularly fun, especially since they integrate with the soundtrack.
Each of the 40 levels has three medals to earn: one for completing the level, another for collecting a certain number of Zs, and a last for completing the stage under a given time. Obtaining all of these on the hardest difficulty setting adds a ton of replay value and– trust us– this is a game you’ll want to keep playing once it ends. On top of that, there are leaderboards to top and achievements to collect.
Read between the lines.
Sleepy Jack’s level design is simply brilliant. There are secrets hidden around every corner and multiple paths to take based on what medal you are aiming to get. You’re always kept on your feet, as at the end of any speed-booster may be a barrier. Even at top speeds, it’s always possible to blow it at the last second so the responsibility to perform is on you. The difficulty level is curved well between easy, normal and hard, so situations like the one above won’t be forced upon you if you aren’t ready.
Controlling Jack is extremely fluid thanks to some of the best touch-based controls we’ve experienced on iOS. The classic angled slide bar served us best, although you can also choose from a full-screen slider and accelerometer. We never once experienced anything but perfect response when playing and there’s just the right amount of weight to make any maneuver possible.
Clear, distinguishable visuals are extremely important to both shmups and tunnel runners. Sleepy Jack does this while still flooding the screen with beautiful colors and crisp 3D models. The attention to detail in every enemy, zone, and even Jack’s animation is superb. Plus, almost every level has unique graphical assets that set it apart.
There is one major downside to Sleepy Jack: the lack of a survival mode. This is a staple of the tunnel running genre, and we feel that it would make a great update to this already incredible game. We would happily pay extra in-game to have randomly generated tunnels to play while standing in line or commuting. The level of craftsmanship in just about every other aspect of the game makes this omission less noticeable, however.
Sleepy Jack is an iOS game you shouldn’t miss. It’s of such a high caliber that it would feel right at home as a downloadable title on home consoles. Don’t think twice about buying this one; it’s a true Must Have.