Even in the busiest of seasons, smaller games deserve some attention. In that spirit, welcome to Month of Coverage Club. Come back each day in November for a full-length impressions piece based on a hidden gem you've probably never heard of.
It is a shame that many folks in the gaming community thumb their noses towards casual games. While they are far from the AAA experience, even the most hardcore players out there need to find a way to unwind between big gaming sessions. Video games have always provided a multitude of experience through gameplay, and sometimes something more relaxing is the perfect palette cleanser for a player.
Take, for example, the indie title Jack B. Nimble by developer Sean Noonan. You have two controls in the game- a jump and a whip. Your goal is to chase a high score, whipping as many candles as possible while you jump to avoid pitfalls or obstacles in your way. It is a game made for a casual experience, and that alone should pretty much tell you whether you'll enjoy it or not.
Why I enjoyed it had little to do with the simplicity of the controls or the retro sights and sounds of the Game Boy graphics. Jack B. Nimble is the quintessential time waster; the type of game comfortably mingling with the likes of Candy Crush or Angry Birds. It is a game you pop in for a few minutes at a time. A game that rarely overstays its welcome and feels perfect for waiting rooms or train rides. It is also a game for bragging rights; harking back to golden days of high scores across an arcade cabinet scroll.
Simply put, it is the type of game that hits the sweet spot. Like any good casual game, it's addicting but fun, providing a good amount of challenge while remaining easy to pick up and play. It is the perfect time-waster between bigger games, as it's able to be memorable despite being so simple.
I didn't expect to enjoy Jack B. Nimble when I first played it. Leaning heavily on its nostalgic influences, Jack B. Nimble was primed to be just another retro-style game, one in a sea of thousands in the indie scene. Of course, the game does lean heavily on the nostalgia, but Jack B. Nimble uses it to great effect to enhance the experience. The Game Boy styled graphics are faithfully recreated, right down the different two-tone color schemes that were available when popping a Game Boy cartridge into a Game Boy Color. Sound design is pitch perfect, recreating the beeps and blips of the system perfectly, and all of this is accompanied by an impressive retro soundtrack by composer Barry Topping.
It is little touches like that which help sell the nostalgia, but what makes it work is how it's just a backdrop to the game itself. It feels fresh simply by virtue of being a passion project by a single developer. You get the little nods and in-jokes to gaming history. Odd touches such as the "cursed reality" level - a seemingly random event that changes the color filter to a Virtual Boy lens - show that passion in spades.
To put it another way, the nostalgia works because it's not going through the motions. Recently I had to review Mega Man 11, and while on all accounts it was a technically well-made game, it was a weathered experience because at its heart it is the same game released 30 years prior. Jack B. Nimble, in comparison, is a more memorable experience because of the combination of elements it employs to carve itself a niche.
True, there is less to it than Mega Man, but what makes Jack B. Nimble worth my time over Mega Man is that sense of freshness. At its heart, the game is a simple score chaser. Even so, it knows it is in that role and doesn't try to compete with other titles. The nostalgic look of the game pulls players in, but the game itself keeps them coming back for more. One more chance for a high score. One more run for achievements. Just one more push to unlock a new level, or character, or color scheme. Mega Man coasted on its marquee value and delivered a boilerplate experience; Jack B. Nimble combined a number of elements to make it stand out.
What Jack B. Nimble does that many indie games fail to do is play to their strengths. It doesn't try to innovate for the sake of innovation; it just tries to be fun. As much fun as jumping and whipping candles can be.
TechRaptor covered Jack B. Nimble on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer.