Publisher: My Owl Software / Developer: My Owl Software / Platform: XBLIG

[Disclosure: The box art for Apple Jack 2 was illustrated by A Critical Hit’s Kate Willaert, though she was not in any way involved with the creation of the actual game.]

Having just beaten Apple Jack 2, the sequel to the incredible Xbox Live Indie platformer Apple Jack, I can’t help but feel a little sad.  Not due to disappointment, but because such a fantastic and original game had to end.

If you’ve never played the original Apple Jack (and if you haven’t, what are you doing?  It’s a dollar!), you can expect the same sort of surreal love letter to classic gaming in the sequel.  Not to say Apple Jack 2 is just the first game with different levels, it’s more a Super Mario World to Apple Jack‘s Super Mario 3.  It still feels the same, but there’s enough different to make it feel like a real sequel.

One of the most obvious changes to Apple Jack’s formula is the addition of new objectives to the game, rather than simply eliminating each enemy in a level.  Some levels you’ll just need to get to the end, others you’ll be chased by giant monsters, or stuck in a tiny, spiked cage.  Another new addition to the game is a well-implemented difficulty system.  On easy and normal you have the ability to rewind time, up to six seconds, allowing you to redo a mistake you have made.  On normal you are limited to one rewind per checkpoint, and easy gives the player an infinite number of rewinds.  “Hard Core” mode is more like the previous game, forcing you to rely solely on checkpoints.  This adds a bit of forgiveness to the game without making things too easy, which is a nice addition in my opinion.

Developer Tim Sycamore really stepped outside the boundaries of the first game, which breathes new life into the world of Apple Jack 2.  The art seems a bit more detailed as well.  Backgrounds are rich and detailed, and even the animations seem more fluid.

One of my favorite parts of AJ1 was the soundtrack, and during our interview Tim mentioned a new band, This Eden, would be composing the soundtrack to AJ2.  Personally, I was initially worried at this, believing that nothing could top the addictive yet calming guitar strums and folky tunes of the first game, but the new soundtrack blew me away within the first few minutes of playing.  AJ2’s soundtrack manages to have the same feel as the first game, described by Tim as “like there was someone sitting in the room with you, gently strumming on their guitar…” with all new music along with a few tracks from the first game sprinkled in.

One unfortunate thing about AJ2 is the fact that it is a bit shorter than the first game.  Clocking in at 62 levels in all, AJ2 may not be as long as the first game, but it manages to retain about the same level of difficulty without reaching the point of making you want to pull your hair out.  One level in particular had me stuck for a long time, but I found out later it was something I was missing due to my own stupidity rather than bad level design.  AJ2’s levels are completely unique to one another, constantly surprising and playing with subtle gameplay mechanics.

Apply Jack 2 is a fantastic game.  It improves upon the previous game in almost every way, and still feels like a loving indie title.  While it is over all too soon, the game as a whole is absolutely worthwhile.