Review: Dynamite Jack – get sneaky in this indie top-down action title

Developer Summary:

Dynamite Jack must blast his way to freedom! Jack, a brave space marine, armed with only bombs and a flashlight, must escape the Anathema Mines! Use stealth to sneak past guards and bombs to obliterate enemies in this intense top-down action-adventure.

What We Think:

This one surprised me. I was expecting a top-down stealth game that feels like Monaco lite. But for one, Dynamite Jack was released well before Monaco (and granted, it is a sinlge player game where Monaco is a highly complex multiplayer heist game with four supporting player classes), and second, what I thought might be a simple line-of-sight stealth game quickly turned into hours of exciting gameplay with some nice twists.

Perhaps why Dynamite Jack succeeds so well is because it cuts away all the fat – there are no tedious cutscenes, the entire backstory is summarized in four quick and easy to read panels at the start of the game, controls are simple and intuitive and any objects you can use or interact with display their function every time in an unobtrusive but large, easy to read manner when you mouseover or approach them. This is how (these types at least) of games should run – fast, efficient, easy to pick up, and all about pace, action, challenges and excitement. And that is what Dynamite Jack offers.

At the most basic level the game mechanic is thus: you maneuver through a series of mazes, most of which are obscured by darkness that you can light up with a cone of light from a flashlight that you usually find near the starting point for a given level. Your job is to avoid patrolling guards who also shine cones of light, find colored key passes to unlock rooms where you find other required elements, blow things up and make your way to the exit.

dynamite jack game - bomb-detonating-screenshot
KABLOOEY

Once you find a detonator, you have unlimited bombs, though you can only set one at a time. Pressing spacebar sets the bomb, and pressing it again detonates it. Easy as can be. A detonated bomb will alert local guards who will break away from their regular patrol path to see what the commotion is about. You can then ambush them with another carefully laid bomb. But be careful, if you so much as graze their area of detection (the cone of light) you are shot dead. No health bar. You simply return to your latest save point which is created by stepping on the appropriate blue boxes scattered around any given level.

Bringing up the map becomes a habit as it displays all the goodies and baddies for the current room. In a way this almost makes it too easy, but an interesting effect is that it also reveals potential hidden pathways and chambers to which you can excavate your way for further exploration by virtue of the destructible rock surrounding you. Sometimes these are wild goose chases and eat up time that could be saved for extra points upon completion of the level, but they sometimes do yield bonus items like crystals or one of three computer chips that if found as a set can unlock extra rooms later on.

Dynamite Jack game - screenshot - patrolling guards

If the game gets points docked for anything, it is the overly-simple AI. In a stealth game, enemy AI is paramount. Here, it is not too difficult to simply walk behind a patrolling guard so long as you do not enter their detection zone. Scientists, who will zap you with a lazer if you are standing in certain pools of light, won’t even notice you if you stand in front of them outside of that detection area. It breaks the suspension of disbelief, but ultimately is allowable if one takes this more as a puzzle game than an action title.

Everything about Dynamite Jack is deceptively well thought out. Every time I thought – this is just too basic, I would be surprised by a new challenge that set my heart racing as I scrambled to find a safe hiding spot. As I mentioned above you also earn bonus point and multipliers for clearing levels quickly, using less bombs, dying less, and so on.

A remarkably well-crafted ambient score that sounds like it was stolen from Tangerine Dream or Vangelis permeates the various levels and more than a few times made me write a note to find out where I could download the soundtrack. It all works together beautifully and I have had a really fun ride with it.

Some may question its replayability, but the proof is in the pudding and I found myself clicking the Play button on this one out of my huge list of choices on Steam, several days in a row. Maybe I just got worn out by overstuffed storylines and load times in other titles. It is interesting to note that the developer Hassey Enterprises, Inc. are also behind the remake of Galcon Fusion, one of our top picks for 2010, so clearly they know something about making good games.

It is kind of amazing how immersive just another top-down action game with simple graphics can be. It’s all about the implementation my friends, not the set-decoration and second rate storytelling. In keeping simple, Dynamite Jack gets this right.

Get Dynamite Jack on Steam

(Reviewed version)

Get Dynamite Jack for iPad at the iTunes App Store

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

One thought on “Review: Dynamite Jack – get sneaky in this indie top-down action title

  1. If you’re one of those that does indeed “question its replayability”, then there’s nothing to fear. Dynamite Jack comes with a Map Editor and there’s already hundreds of community maps to play. And if you’re left wondering which of those maps are the best, head on over to http://dynamitemaps.com for weekly reviews, videos, and map-making contests.

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