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APPsolutely Review - JTPCK

Mark Marianelli

A few weeks ago, this little ditty showed up in the App Store and I felt compelled to bust out the digital change purse and make it rain... As I've mentioned, I have a sweet tooth when it comes to retro gaming. Pixels, pixels and more pixels! The blockier the better.

Well, I think I found the blockiest most pixelated game in the app store... jtpck.

That's right. A game so simple it couldn't even be bothered to spell out the entire name or use capitalization in its abbreviation. And to this I say, bravo. Jtpck was developed by and Indie Game developer named Zack Banack, and trust me when I say, this guy knows old-school, just check out his website if you don't believe me. The term "Simple" is going to come up a lot in this review, because this game brings you back to your early 80's arcade roots. Back when games weren't about levels, bosses, cutscenes and stories, they were about one thing: High Scores.

So how do we get a high score in jtpck? Let's go over the gameplay. Anybody who's ever played "Jetpack Joyride" is going to have a pretty good understanding of how this game works. It's an infinite game (I believe the term is a "runner"?) with one basic control, tap the screen to activate the jetpack, er, jtpck. I feel like I should write more things like, "omg" or "lol" or "brb plyng jtpck on ma phn". I won't go there. As your little jetpack guy flies through the air, you keep him moving up or down to go through gates and dodge obstacles along the way. Pretty easy to get the hang of your first time playing. But it's a little more complicated than that...

You start out with a time limit, x seconds. The timer starts counting down the moment the game starts. When you pass through a gate, you get your time back, if you miss a gate, you lose 5 seconds of time. If that timer runs out, you die. If you hit an obstacle, you die. The gates vary in height, some are easier to go through, some require a little more maneuverability to get through. Some of those gates aren't even gates at all, they're spike gates. If you go through those ones, you'll die, if you dodge it, it's no different than passing through a regular gate and you get your time back. After you go through about 10 gates, the game will display "Level Up" and you'll go through a strand of gates (looks like DNA) and proceed to the next level of gates where the game speeds up. These Level Up areas are great because they won't affect your time if you miss any and you'll just rack up points while you go through them.

Just being able to survive the game won't get you a high score (well, you're playing by yourself, so you're always going to have the high score I imagine), between each gate are a string of coins which will guide you to where the next gate will be on the screen, collecting these also gives you points. I feel like every game has some kind of coin system. Why isn't there a game where you're collecting litter? Why not help the environment a little while you're playing your little game? Much more rewarding.

... Coins. Psh.

In any case, those coins can also be used to purchase power-ups which can help you like protective bubbles or longer Level-Up Strands. Keep in mind though, if you purchase one, it only applies to the next game you play, so don't die!

Actually, let's discuss the power-up system in this game. I have never played a game more determined to make you fail than this one. There's about 22 power-ups and I can only think of about 7 that are helpful and 3 that aren't helpful ENOUGH to make a difference. The rest will inevitably kill you. Some make the gates hard to see, others make you heaver... And one completely reverses gravity. I swear, if you EVER get this one, just quit. You will die. Up becomes down, down becomes up there's almost no time to adjust and even if you do, once it runs out you'll have to readjust to the original gameplay and just die then. It should just be called "Slow Death".

Honestly, every one of these icons should be phallic-shaped because their mission is to screw you. If you see something shiny while you're playing, just avoid it. Even the ones that are helpful will mess you up because you'll try so hard to get them that odds are you'll hit a spike gate instead.

Speaking of, aside from the power-downs, the accuracy this game requires of you is pretty challenging. Most games give you a little leeway, like maybe you don't touch an object to get it but if it's in your personal bubble, why not. Jtpck, however, demands that you be spot on with the hit-areas. And this is difficult considering your character is about the size of a hangnail. Typically, this would be annoying except that it can also work to your advantage; I should have died a lot more in this game from spike-gate collisions, but somehow I've managed to survive because I missed it by a distance unseen by the visible eye. The game gives and takes, what can I say? It's like an abusive boyfriend who buys you nice things. #winning

Let us discuss some nice things, shall we? With a lot of older score-based games, you can get bored pretty quickly because who cares about a number, I want something in return for my hard work. Well fortunately, jtpck rewards the talented with extra levels and skins for your character. If you get X amount of points, a new level gets unlocked. They range from green-lands, to deserts, to outer-space, to factories, etc... Plus, each level has it's own unique play to it like UFO's or falling volcanic rocks. The good thing is, it doesn't matter which level you play to unlock later levels, so if you need 2,500,000 points to unlock the final level, you can just play on the easiest one and get your points without all the stress.

As I mentioned, jtpck is incredibly simple. The graphics are simple, the gameplay is simple and the hero is simple. But for such a small-sized character, the skins they created for this little guy are just... just awesome. This is by far my favorite aspect of the game. There's 19 skins you can find while playing. You unlock them by flying into them. Once you unlock one, at random the game will throw the next one into whatever level you're playing and you just need to grab it. Yeah, there's at least ONE thing you don't mind flying into when you play this. The characters they chose to dress you up as are really creative and fun. They range from Captain America to Master Chief to the Nyan Cat to freaking Salad Fingers (I thought it was Jazz Jackrabbit or The Hulk)! But there was one skin that blew my mind. It was so random yet so nostalgic: Plank. Who's plank you ask? He's Jonny 2x4's (from Ed, Edd, and Eddy) childhood toy... A wooden plank with a face drawn on it. At first I thought it was "Little Wooden Boy" from The Tick, which would have blew my mind as is, but then I read the game credits and sure enough, it was Plank. How obscure a reference is that?? Loving it, well played, jtpck.

So let's go over some highs and lows to jtpck. First the lows. While I love the retro graphics, I have to admit the levels themselves left me wanting. The fact that you have to earn points in the millions to unlock these levels, you almost want to be a little more rewarded than a color swap, which is about the most variation you get in most. There was an update which gave the levels a little more of a unique feel (cacti, volcanic rocks, Earth in the background, etc...), but even still, I wanted more. The last level you unlock is by far the most rewarding of the bunch, and rightfully so seeing as it took 2,500,000 points to earn. If that amount of innovation went in to the other levels, I would have been happier in this department.

The gameplay itself is certainly fun and pretty challenging, but it gets a little tiresome after a while. you go through gates, some have spikes and occasionally there's an obstacle. While some levels up the ante a little with UFO's or heat-seeking rockets, there isn't a whole lot to keep you entertained. Earning the 2.5 million points to unlock level 6 was ridiculously tedious because starting over just meant you had to do more of the same. I generally don't play this game for more than 10-15 minutes at a time but I spent a half an hour unlocking the last level because I refused to review the game until I did that much. But it felt more like a job than casual fun. There's different game modes which provide you with a slight variation, but it's not much, just tweaks on the rules. Arcade is the standard mode of play, Classic is Arcade without power-ups, and Perfection is exactly what it sounds like: you miss a gate, you lose. I'd suggest playing on Classic so you don't have to deal with those annoying power-ups. Good lord I hate those power-ups.

The Highs. It's a really fun casual game. Aside from the lack of variation in the levels, the graphics give you a really old-school feel. Really if this were an Atari game in the 80's, the backgrounds would probably be pretty mind-boggling. The amount of styling/skinning available for the jtpck hero is just awesome; you really want to play with every character. I seriously hope this game gets more updates with more character skins.

The music is midi-licuous and the sound fx will tickle your retro-fancy. If I wasn't worried about waking my restless baby all the time, I'd have this game playing on full blast. Each level has it's own unique music which fits the atmosphere of that stage perfectly. My favorite is the "Hot-Hot Heat" soundtrack.

So you have the highs, you have the lows... Where does this leave us? In the end, I really enjoy this game, it'll be in my iPhone library for a while. It's simple gameplay with enough challenge to get a few rounds out of you. It clearly has an appreciation for retro gaming with basic pixel graphics, midi soundtracks and a high score emphasis. However with a lack of variation in both gaming and visuals and a frustrating power-up system, this game probably won't steal your attention for more than 15 minutes at a time. Which makes it ideal for restroom breaks. Hence, I give it an APPsolute Rating of "BATHROOM BREAK BALLER"!