Jack N Hat is an old-school platformer that heavily borrows from its retro inspiration.
Being the best or the greatest is not always what’s important. There’s real happiness in the ability to accept one’s limitations and a comforting joy in knowing that it’s okay to be a jack of all trades yet master of none. You never know when the bravery of an average person with no super power could be all it takes to save the world from destruction. With the help of his extraordinary hat, repairman Jack could be skilled enough to save the day.
Jack N Hat by cross game studio is a delightful 2D pixel art platformer that follows Jack and his trusty Hat in an action packed adventure. All was once peaceful in the nation of Ririland. The technological advancements of Dr.Expo Zician brought prosperity to the modernized kingdom. The evil Dr.Voo Doom however, sees life in Ririland as a farce and challenges the king by kidnapping his daughter and holding her for ransom on the moon. Fortunately Dr. Expo has a plan to rescue the princess by powering up his warper using rare crystals scattered throughout the land. The only person capable of helping Dr.Expo end this catastrophe is the same person who did a wonderful job laying tile in his garage a while back, none other than our exceptionally average hero Jack.
Dr. Expo doesn’t just dispatch Jack without offering any assistance. Expo provides Jack with his latest invention, the Expohat, to help with the journey ahead. The Expohat is a boomerang type weapon that will return if thrown and can also catch objects. With progress, more advanced Hat upgrades will grant Jack new abilities like a sliding dash and even short range teleportation.
The opening cutscene is a relatable introduction to the game’s plot and main characters that establishes the games vintage appeal.
Jack begins his journey from Dr.Expo warper lab and level select area. Each section of the lab features teleporters that send Jack to various locations around the globe where crystals can be gathered. After clearing levels on a given floor a new floor will unlock with more teleporter locations, but both before one one of Dr.Voo Doom’s henchmen attacks in the form of an epic boss battle.
There are plenty of enemies to face in the form of once helpful robots that have been frenzied by Dr.Voo Doom. Foes can be beaten by throwing the Expohat or by landing correctly on their heads, while some enemies will wear armor, spikes, or shoot projectiles to top Jack’s attacks. Smiling Enemies may not look threatening but are made extra durable because each enemy requires two or even three attacks to defeat. The learning curve is gentle at first but the difficulty picks up greatly during boss fights and after new abilities are acquired.
Jack himself feels weighted enough to have inertia when accelerating. While he can jump pretty high his acceleration can start to feel sluggish as the game shows more of its old school difficulty. Learning your way around levels requires well timed executions but aren’t so demanding as to become frustrating in the early stages. The boss fights amplify the difficulty ramp as memorizing their patterns and looking for attack opportunities is a trial and error affair.
Inspiration from classic games is evident in the sound and visuals. Piixel artwork featured in the storytelling is beautiful and the opening cutscene feels straight out of a classic Nintendo or Sega console. The stylish and driving chiptune soundtrack is also an absolute gem, fully worth listening to on its own merit.
Jack N Hat is more than cosmetically old school as Jack’s progress comes with an appropriately steep difficulty ramp. When starting a new game you’re given the option to choose between playing in retro or modern mode, a choice that determines whether lives are limited. Modern mode will always return you to the latest checkpoint after dying, but retro mode will return you to the level select lab where you’ll have to start the stage from the beginning if you run out of lives. Similar to many side scrolling platformers, Jack can earn extra lives by collecting one hundred gold coins scattered throughout each level. It may not be noticeable in the first set of four levels, but modern mode is certain to save players a lot of time when trying to complete the game, and you’re not allowed to change modes after starting a new game.
Jack and his hat are not without shortcomings, as there are some mechanical hiccups that when combined can grow to become a neuscance. There are instances when collision detections can miss, or otherwise not act as you would expect. Hitboxes, especially around the fast & armored enemies or on slippery surfaces, feel somewhat unstable and the timing of your success or failure may often lead to an unpredictable outcome. With a steep ramp in retro difficulty after defeating the first boss, Jack’s acceleration begins to feel sluggish as pressure to move quickly increases with later levels. Players will also need to master Jack’s new abilities quickly, but the controls, especially when utilized for speed, become less than Intuitive and may frustrate those who aren’t up to the Megaman level of difficulty. The placement of certain items and enemies evolve into death traps that will come off as cheap if you’re struggling to time your jumps and dashes and losing all your extra lives. The level design gets to be pretty tricky as gameplay becomes competitive and the required timing and executions grow more complex.
As a complete package Jack ‘N Hat is fun to enjoy but is more appropriate for players who appreciate a challenging platformer. While it may be a bumpy road getting to the end, the characters, story, music, and visuals are all memorable. Gamers with practice and Patience will find unlockables rewarding and will want to find their way to the moon to defeat Dr.Voo Doom. Nuances from throwback games garnish Jack with a style that feels like you’re rediscovering a past favorite. In the right hands Jack and his magnificent Expohat may yet save the Princess of Ririland and prove even without extraordinary superpowers that possibilities are always endless.
Great pixel art storytelling and characters
Awesome chiptune soundtrack with many songs
Unlockable rewards for challenging gameplay
Unstable collision mishaps
Clunky ability controls
Enemy and obstacle traps can become repetitive or frustrating
Acceleration and speed feels unbalanced
Difficulty ramp that feels sudden and steep