Hey… wait a minute. I know you, don’t I? Sure I do. Little green guy, apple for a head? Yeah, you’re Apple Jack! No, no you wouldn’t remember me. See, I’ve haven’t played you before, but I heard about you, buddy. One side says they love you, the other claims you’re a pain in the ass punishformer, foe to— What’s that, Jack? I got you all wrong? You’re a whole new man, er… whole new fruit? Oh, so you’re Apple Jack 2 (80 MSP), and you’re here to erase some of those ill feelings left behind by your predecessor?
Alright, I’ll bite. The sequel has Jack ditching his clothes / office job and setting off for the beach, jumping, rolling, and wall-kicking his way through colorful locales collecting coin and fruit, and dispatching the eclectic enemy cast. Jack squares off against pandas, pigs in tutus, floating eyeballs, laser-shooting owls, and washing machines… Moving on. In keeping with the ‘popular plumber’ motif, you are able to mount, capture, and toss foes a la Super Mario 2.
The controls are dandy, there’s a high amount of polish to the game, and plenty of clever puzzles / solutions. Here’s the but. It’s still hard as hell, and wears its punishformer badge prominently. AJ2’s saving grace this go around is its ‘rewind time’ feature, which redeems your last six seconds in the event of a mistake, preventing many a disaster while causing a few more. It’s not foolproof; you can easily rewind out of trouble and into new trouble, and it does need to recharge after each use. That said, I was grateful for it more often than not.
Big Pandas need loving too.
Nine times out of ten you’ll be threading the needle. You will die, like, a whole lot, though your frustration level versus the Coldplay-esque soundtrack surprisingly offsets some of that anger. It also helps that the objectives (and challenge) change with each level. Sometimes you’ll only need to reach the exit, while other stages require you to terminate all enemies, occasionally adding color-coded smashing that requires a bit more finesse. The constant switching allows your nerves to reset before being tested again.
Punishformers are an evolution of the old guard, cartridge platformers that didn’t have the benefit of a spacious blu-ray or DLC, that relied on difficulty to increase playtime / money’s worth. Games like Apple Jack 2 have their supporters (like this guy) and detractors the same as any other genre. What’s not one man’s cup of tea is another’s gravy train… or something like that. I’m not usually a fan, but I have no objections to its style of play. Seeing 30 of its 60+ stages, I enjoyed my time with AJ2, and it’s competent enough that I’d recommend it, latter half unseen. If you’re going to throw near-impossible platforming bits at your audience, where repetition and skill will eventually win the day, you’re going to need controls and level designs that are fair and (mostly) above reproach. Apple Jack‘s are.