Release Date: March 18, 2020
E 10+ (Everyone 10 and up)
Platforms: Steam, Nintendo Switch, PS4
A code for the PS4 version of this game was provided by Pigeon.Dev
What's It About?
Explosive Jake is another retro-inspired arcade game from Pigeon.Dev, the people behind Bucket Knight, a game I loved and reviewed for this site. This time around, instead of a run-and-gun as a knight who's trying to pay his home loan, you play as Explosive Jake, the title character who has a penchant for bombs and seeing things go boom. The game has 40 levels, and all pretty much follow this basic pattern: avoid traps, blow up enemies, and destroy boxes in order to reveal a key and then a door. Run out the door, and you've beaten the level. It's a deceptively simple process that is actually quite challenging, especially when you take into account the various traps and enemies that are awaiting you inside each dungeon.
Once again, the retro art style (similar to Bucket Knight‘s) is a highlight for me. I love the nostalgic feeling of these levels, and the tiles and enemy models seem straight out of the NES era. To help, Pigeon.Dev have once again given us groovy retro tunes to help us through the levels. There's also an option to emulate an old school arcade screen, which I love. All of this melds together to make a pretty fun, nostalgic experience. But how's the gameplay?
Turns out, the gameplay is great. It took me a while to get used to the controls and I died a ton, but once I got used to the layouts of the levels, I found the game a bit easier. Still, expect to die a lot in Explosive Jake. Maybe you step on the wrong trap, maybe a fireball hits you, maybe a skeleton or knight kills you, or maybe (and this happened a lot) you accidentally blow yourself up. It can sometimes get frustrating how often you die, but I still couldn't help but laugh at my own stupidity every time I'd accidentally misjudge my distance and blow myself up with my own bomb.
One of my main complaints with Bucket Knight was that it was too short. Explosive Jake fixes that problem by offering 40 levels of puzzles, traps, and explosions. It's a fun time, and a good number of levels to work through.
The game doesn't offer much help in explaining mechanics to you. You start off in Level 0 with no explanation of how to place bombs, what to really do, or how to do it. It took me a while to nail down the gameplay. While I don't think the game needed an extensive tutorial, it could've benefited from offering a little help at the beginning. At level 20, I was still finding power-ups and was unsure of what exactly they did. Experimentation isn't always a bad thing, but it still took away from my overall enjoyment of Explosive Jake. After getting over the initial bumps, however, I found the power-ups a welcome addition and the gameplay to be addicting.
The part of Explosive Jake that bothers me most is the lack of variety in its level design. While I enjoyed the fact that there were 40 levels allowing me to run around and blow things up, the levels felt too similar after a while. There are only a handful of enemies (robots, knights, skulls that shoot fireballs, etc.). While the enemies are cool, there doesn't feel like enough variety. And the tiles and colors used in the levels start to blur together after a bit. There were lots of times that I'd start a level and think I'd already been there before.
There's also the box configurations to consider. After a few levels, it was pretty easy to tell which box layouts to blow up. Keys and dungeon doors were often hidden behind the same kind of box configurations, which meant I could blow through some of the levels after getting used to the pattern. They shook this formula up sometimes, but it didn't feel like nearly often enough.
Despite levels feeling the same, and a the lack of design variety, I still thoroughly enjoyed Explosive Jake. I mean, it's fun to blow stuff up (even when that “stuff” is sometimes yourself). Anyone looking for a nostalgic, retro-inspired game should check out Explosive Jake. You'll have a good time with it, whether you're playing for an afternoon or tackling it over a weekend with a friend or family member. Between Explosive Jake and Bucket Knight, I can honestly say I've become a huge fan of Pigeon.Dev's work.