Apple Jack 2

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by My Owl Software for PC and Xbox 360, originally released in 2012.
In the original Apple Jack, the titular hero – a guy with an apple for a head – treks across the UK in search of his missing dog, contending with numerous pandas and agitated washing machines along the way. But since his grand cross-country adventure, Jack’s life has become a bit droll. He works in a sterile little office at a plastics company, sitting bored at his computer and missing the days of adventure that seem well behind him. But then, inspiration strikes. He walks into the middle of the office, strips naked (minus his tie, shoes, and socks), crashes through the window, and runs out into the rolling hills beyond. And so the new adventure begins with a nearly naked Apple Jack heading off to enjoy a day at the beach.

Hardcore apple-man nudity aside, much of the game will be very familiar to fans of the original. Apple Jack has a 2x variable height jump, a wall slide, and a wall jump. He also has a slow midair direction change similar to our favorite platforming plumber from Super Mario Bros., and the ability to duck down and roll through small spaces (rolling just his apple head) similar our favorite bounty hunter heroine’s morph ball from the Metroid series.

And, as before, the primary gameplay mechanic is the ability to pick up and toss enemies. If this reminds you a bit of Super Mario Bros. 2, it should. The Apple Jack 2 box art is even a mockup of Mario’s famous sequel.

Any standard enemy can be picked up, held upside-down over your head, and tossed another enemy to kill them both. But there’s a bit more strategy involved here than in SMB2. In many of the game’s levels, you’re required to kill every enemy in order to proceed. This means thinking strategically about how enemies are placed and how to line up throws to take advantage of the level layouts. As in the original game, these levels feature an even number of enemies, with each enemy being used against another, effectively cancelling each other out. The player is free to toss enemies while on the run, or stand still and use a targeting arrow to toss them to almost any unobstructed point on the screen.

Later levels introduce color-coded enemies in red, blue, green, and yellow, and these enemies can only be killed by using an enemy of the corresponding color (elsewise they are only stunned). A counter at the top of the screen shows how many enemies of each type remain in the level. There are also “shadow kin” enemies that are silhouettes of the game’s standard set of foes, but these are far more deadly. With any of the standard enemies, you are free to jump on them and pick them up, or ride around on them (more on that in a bit), but shadow kin enemies will kill you instantly if you touch them. The only way to kill them is to throw a standard enemy at them… or to crush them with a stone block.

In Apple Jack 2, not every level requires that all enemies be destroyed. Many of the levels instead have a finish line that must be reached by any means necessary, which is typically accomplished by platforming, killing enemies, and solving environmental puzzles. The use of stone blocks adds quite a bit of strategy to the overall experience. Stone blocks of any size can be pushed along flat surfaces, dropped down through holes, stacked on top of one another, and slid onto moving platforms.

Some of the more complex block puzzle solutions require you to line up blocks to push enemies around, ride them over spike pits, and arrange them to reach higher platforms. Due to the complexity of some of these puzzles, it is distinctly possible to get yourself in a situation where you cannot progress, which will force you to restart. You have the option to restart from the beginning of the level or at the most recent checkpoint. Checkpoints are spaced moderately, so a failed puzzle may require a fair amount of repeated gameplay.

The one new concession granted to assist players is the addition of a rewind function. At any point, the player may rewind up to 6 seconds of gameplay, undoing his horrible mistakes – and even reversing death if he manages to hit the REWIND button quickly enough. The use of the rewind feature is determined by the difficulty level. On the Soft Core difficulty, the player may rewind as much as he likes, with the penalty of a 50% reduced score. On Regular Core, the player may only rewind once per checkpoint, and on Hard Core, the player cannot rewind at all but also gains a 50% score increase.

So essentially, on the normal difficulty level, you’re allowed one screw-up per checkpoint, as long as that screw-up isn’t more than 6 seconds prior. On many of the block-pushing puzzles, this will not be enough to reverse a mistake, but it certainly helps when you misstep and are killed by an enemy. This also reduces the amount of repeated gameplay you might have to endure by being sent back to the most recent checkpoint. However, using the rewind function will interrupt your point multiplier.

As in the first game, a point multiplier increases when killing multiple enemies in succession, only this time around the enemies drop fruits, vegetables, and mushrooms instead of coins. When you kill an enemy, a clock starts ticking down, and if you can kill the next enemy before it runs out, the multiplier doubles, as do the number of food items dropped. So, you’ll go from 1x to 2x to 4x to 8x and so on. Since the colorful foods burst outward and are affected by gravity, there is some additional challenge to running around and collecting them before they disappear, which increases your score. Things start to get pretty wild when you cross the 64x mark and fruit is flying everywhere. And yes, a 1024x multiplier is a possibility on several of the levels.

The player’s score is always present in the upper left of the screen (represented in pounds), and the player may view additional stats in the pause menu. There are coins to collect in each level, again adding to the overall score, and the pause menu shows how many you’ve collected versus the total present in the level. An additional score bonus is granted for collecting them all. The pause menu also shows the maximum achievable combo in the level and the number of player deaths, each of which is rewarded with points for a perfect run. Interestingly, whenever you finish a level, you have a few extra seconds to collect coins, and you are invincible during this time, so you can freely dash for the remainder before the next level loads.

Maximizing your score and surviving the levels often comes down to understanding your enemies’ movement patterns, each of which is somewhat different. Pandas walk back and forth but will not fall off of ledges, whereas vibrating washing machines will. Floating bubbles bounce slowly around, while the similar eyeball enemies will hover and dash toward your position when they take notice of you. Pigs in tutus will walk along the ground attempting to reach your point on the X axis and can even jump over small gaps.

Understanding these movement patterns means more than just an increased score or survival; it can also help you to navigate the level. Since enemies can’t be killed by spikes, you can ride an enemy across a row of spikes, or hop on a flying enemy to float around the environment. When riding an enemy that seeks your position, moving to the left or right will cause them to move in that direction, allowing you to steer them somewhat.

Certain areas have switches that can be activated by you, a stone block, or an enemy. Dropping a stationary enemy on a switch will leave it activated, while dropping a patrolling enemy will cause it to activate and deactivate periodically, potentially alternating disappearing-reappearing platforms and allowing you to reach a higher area. Using pigs to work switches is a bit difficult however, since they continue to seek your position no matter where you are in the level, so their switch activation tends to be unpredictable, especially once they have been scrolled off the screen. This is a problem when you’re attempting to ascend a series of platforms that require timed jumps and you don’t know for certain when the platform is going to disappear/reappear.

Gameplay changes up fairly frequently in Apple Jack 2, offering a bit more variety over the original game. Aside from alternating between “kill all enemies” and “get to the finish line” levels, you’ll also experience levels that focus on entirely new types of gameplay. For instance, you may find yourself using a moving platform to build a large stack of stone blocks, or become trapped in a spike-laden box that auto-scrolls through the environment, or even find yourself on the run from a giant unstoppable panda bear. The pacing can change greatly from one level to the next, with some levels requiring constant movement and others allowing for a more thought-out approach. Some rely heavily on your platforming and enemy killing skills while others are focused squarely on puzzle solving.

Some of the more chaotic levels can make it difficult to account for everything that’s going on. Since enemies continue patrolling whether they are on the screen or not, their movement could impact you without you being aware. Bottomless pits wrap back around to the top of the screen, which is great since it adds some depth and removes the typical platformer insta-death, but it also means that an enemy could unexpectedly drop down onto your head. You can look around the immediate area with the right analogue stick, but it’s not enough to see everything. In levels with loads of moving platforms, enemies dropping down from above, and multiple enemies following their different movement rules, solving levels sometimes comes down to simple trial and error. Manage to stay alive for a bit and knock out a few enemies, and the going gets easier when attempting to complete the rest of the level.

Apple Jack 2 was created entirely by UK-based developer Tim Sycamore, under the label My Owl Software. The studio focuses on high-definition 2D games. This is his second game after the original Apple Jack.