Rapid-fire, scraped knees, cicadas chirping.
Jack provides nothing but a drawn image for the first minute of its demo: A cicada perched on a leaf. Suddenly the sound kicks in, a deafening barrage of insects as they scream through the speakers. The screen cuts to white, and a small child lies on the ground. Faceless and plagued by curiosity.
This is the debut title from Orangutan Matter, a small team consisting of Saif Jabur, his wife, and a child. Saif has been developing Jack in his spare time whilst committing to a family, a child, and a recently-turned full-time to part-time job as a pharmacist. After several different iterations and aesthetic switch-ups, the first playable demo was available at EGX Rezzed 2019.
My first experience with the demo was quite humorous, albeit understandably. Jack can traverse the landscape quite slowly, given that he looks like he barely learned how to walk, and tmoving with speed is difficult considering its rugged nature. The physics were also quite buggy, with the rope used to swing from jerking around while I attempted to climb it. I pushed a box to its intended destination, and learned that I wasn’t able to climb over it. With that, my first time with Jack came to an end.
However, I returned once Saif had patched it, and was treated to an entirely different experience. Everything played slightly smoother, I was able to vault over the ominous box that halted my first attempts, and the light puzzle-platforming mechanics were well-designed, given the nature of the physics. Once you understood how it played out, only then could you experience it.
Speaking to Saif after my playthrough, I was surprised to learn that he was an atheist, which was surprising due to the game’s ethereal and foreboding presence. Visually, it was reminiscent of The Mooseman, but with a more radiating and somewhat safe atmosphere. Beyond that, the visual experience that Jack is, implies that we’re in the presence of a higher power, but then again, it’s possibly because of the context, or rather, the lack of context.
Jack seeks to find reason. He wants purpose, he wants to explore and discover a true meaning behind the life he lives. Maybe that’s why it feels like you’re confronted by the sun as it pummels the dusty plant-life? Maybe that’s why the burning box within an eclipse feels less like a threat, and more like an opportunity? A door to what we truly need.
Jack may play out like a usual platformer in this vein, but the devil’s in the details, and the minute touches to this scarcely-painted world are commendable. It’s rare that you get a title like Jack that aims to be both a soothing hug, and a hand wrapped around your throat. What it means for you depends on how you see the world through Jack’s eye. Is it care or contempt?
Jack currently has no set release date, with the current approximation being Q4 2020.
Owner of the largest collection of indie games in the Western Hemisphere, and TimeSplitters’ biggest fanboy.