One of my favorite video game genres is the platformer as it has been one of my favorites ever since I was a kid. With the rise of indie studios, in some ways I would consider right now to be one of the best times for the genre as so many games are released for the genre every week. With so many games to choose from though, it is hard for a game to stand out. While I generally like most platformers, with so many games out there today I tend to gravitate towards games that try to bring something new to the genre. This brings me to Jack Axe which initially intrigued me with its unique axe mechanic that is a big part of the platforming gameplay. Jack Axe is an interesting and fun little 2D platformer that does suffer from a few issues.
In Jack Axe you play as a viking named Jack. When an evil force threatens her kingdom she takes control of a magical axe despite the objections of the god who protects it. Can Jack use the axe to defeat the evil threat and save her kingdom?
At its core Jack Axe is similar to your typical 2D platformer. You have your typical jump, dodge and wall jump. There are enemies around the world which you can defeat by jumping on their head or using your axe.
The one area where Jack Axe differentiates itself is through the axe itself. The game gives you the ability to throw your axe to defeat enemies or break barriers. The axe probably plays an even bigger role in the platforming though. When you throw your axe it will attach to some objects or float in the air for a short period of time. If you press the corresponding button again after you throw it your character will dash towards the location of the axe. This usually allows you to move further than your traditional jump. In many situations you have to combine your normal jump with the axe in order to make it over gaps or around obstacles.
The gameplay of Jack Axe is broken down into two main elements. The game consists of I believe six worlds for you to explore. Each of these have an overworld area with a dungeon or two to explore. While exploring you will find gemstones hidden in the environment or in locations after completing a platforming challenge. Each world requires you to collect a certain number of these gemstones in order to open up the portal to the next world. Before leaving each world you have a boss fight that you must complete. After you beat the boss and acquire enough gemstones you can move onto the next world.
In a lot of ways Jack Axe reminded me a lot of your typical 2D platformer. This is not meant to be an insult as I am a big fan of the genre and Jack Axe is a good game in the genre. Much of the gameplay is similar to a lot of other 2D platformers though. The game in a lot of ways reminded me of classic 2D platformers such as the Mario and Donkey Kong Country series. Your opinion of the game will likely align pretty closely to your feelings towards the genre in general.
The one thing that differentiates Jack Axe from a lot of the other games from the genre is how you can use the axe. The axe throwing becomes a critical mechanic in the game as you aren’t going to get very far in the game without it. The axe gives you a ranged weapon to hit enemies with, but the platforming is its most important role. I will admit that it does take some time to get used to the mechanic which will lead to some deaths. Outside of the learning curve though, I really liked it. Once you start to master how to use it, you will start flying through the stages with it where it feels second nature. In some ways it acts like a dash but it gives you more nuance as how you jump and where you throw it can impact the trajectory of your dash. The game does a good job setting up platforming challenges which make you feel a sense of accomplishment when you can use it correctly. The movement usually feels pretty smooth once you get used to it. While the mechanic might not be totally different from mechanics used in other platformers, it still felt like its own thing. The axe platforming is the standout mechanic of the game allowing it to differentiate itself among a bunch of other indie games.
While the controls and movement are generally pretty smooth, there are occasionally a few issues where they don’t work quite as well as you would like. There are times where you will throw the axe and try to dash towards it and the game doesn’t recognize your input. This just wastes a little time when you are on the ground as you can just throw the axe again, but sometimes you will have to jump first before throwing your axe. When this happens you will fall to your death. I am wondering if this happens if you press the button a second time too quickly where it doesn’t register the second press. I wouldn’t say it happens a ton, but I do contribute a number of my deaths to it. This can lead to some frustrating moments where you will die and it doesn’t feel like it is your fault.
In addition to the satisfying gameplay, I also found the level design of Jack Axe to be pretty good. Each world has its own theme and unique elements that you have to contend with. Most of the worlds require you to complete some objective in addition to finding the gemstones and beating the boss. These usually only involve interacting with something you find while exploring, but they do a good job making each world feel different. The game generally does a good job mixing things up with these new mechanics to keep things fresh and interesting. I will say though that I was not a fan of the swimming mechanic. This was mostly because it was hard to get used to as your character swims forward automatically which makes it hard to avoid some obstacles.
As for Jack Axe’s difficulty I would say that it can be kind of up and down. There are parts of the game that can be quite difficult while others can be pretty easy. Most of the time I would say that the game is moderately difficult. The game only gives you one hit point so if you should hit any obstacles, enemies, or fall down a pit you will immediately die. I generally am not a huge fan of games with one hit kills, but death is usually not a big deal in the game. When you die you just lose some coins and get sent back to your last checkpoint or the beginning of the screen you just entered. Checkpoints/new screens come up pretty regularly in the game so you never lose too much progress when you die. There are a few parts of the game which can be a little frustrating where you will keep dying until you figure out the best approach. The last world and last two bosses in particular can be quite difficult. Then there are other parts of the game that I breezed through. Usually I would say that the difficulty is good where the game is challenging but not so much that the game becomes frustrating.
As for the game’s overall theme I had some mixed feelings about Jack Axe. In general I liked the overall look of the game. The game uses a pixel style that works well for the game. Each world has its own unique look which looks nice. The game has an interesting world to explore. The biggest problem with the theming is just the fact that the story is barely there. You basically just go on an adventure to stop the evil threat. On your journey you will help some of the inhabitants of each world with their problems. There is nothing wrong with the story. It just doesn’t play a big role in the game. If you are interested in the game for its story, you likely will be disappointed.
As for Jack Axe’s length, I would say that the game is on the shorter side. The length will somewhat depend on how you play the game. If you just do the minimum to finish the game you will likely beat the game quite a bit quicker than someone who explores and searches for more gemstones than are needed to progress to the next world. Exploring the world and trying to find all of the gemstones will add time to the game. Your skill at platformers will also likely have an impact on the game’s length. Platforming experts are going to be able to progress through the game considerably better than those who aren’t nearly as good at the genre. The last two bosses and last world can take quite a bit of time to complete if you have trouble beating sections of them. The game has I believe six worlds and I would say each world will take around 30-45 minutes as you have to find around 10-15 gemstones, complete some objective, and beat the world’s boss. In total I would say that the game will take most players around 4-6 hours to complete. This might be a little longer if you have some troubles getting past certain sections of the game. I was really enjoying the game and thus was a little disappointed that the game was on the shorter side.
While it might not be perfect, I actually enjoyed Jack Axe quite a bit. The game does share a lot in common with your typical 2D platformer. What distinguishes the game from others in the genre though is the ability to throw your axe. This helps in combat, but is mostly used in the platforming. Basically you throw the axe and can then use a dash ability to quickly move to the current location of the axe. This takes some time to get used to, but it can be quite satisfying once you get used to it as you zip across gaps and obstacles. The game also does a good job with the level design giving you unique worlds to explore and new challenges to deal with. The game’s difficulty can be a little up and down though as sometimes it is too easy and other times it can be too difficult. The controls are usually quite good, but there are occasions where it doesn’t recognize your input properly. The experience may be kind of short, but I enjoyed playing Jack Axe.
My recommendation for Jack Axe basically comes down to your thoughts on the premise and 2D platformers in general. If you aren’t a fan of the genre or aren’t that interested by the axe mechanic, I don’t know if Jack Axe will be for you. Fans of platformers that think the premise sounds interesting though should enjoy Jack Axe and consider picking it up.
Buy Jack Axe online: Nintendo Switch, PC
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank Keybol Games, Neon Doctrine, and Another Indie for the review copy of Jack Axe used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.