REVIEW: Jack Move's comfortably compact cyber-RPG experience proves less is more
I might just be some LED-obsessed keyboard jockey, but frag me if I don't feel skezzed when I load up some preem cyberpunk games on my deck.
I'm sorry but 1) yes I had to look up some glossaries to put that together and 2) I love this genre and its delightfully cheesy lexicon. Cyberpunk has always been a mainstay in the gaming space with its tech-focused vision of the future but has seen a major surge in recent years.
And while cyberpunk games are a dime a dozen these days, there still are a few that stand out to us amidst the sea of neon-saturated corporation-hating releases.
With its stunning pixel art animation and the promise of a more straightforward RPG experience, Jack Move was one such game.
Just the Facts
Developer: So Romantic
Publisher: Hypetrain Digital
Platform(s): PC*, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch *platform reviewed on
Release Date: Sept. 8, 2022 on PC, Sept. 20, 2022 on PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Review copy provided by publisher.
So Romantic is a "micro development team" started by Edd Parris, an industry veteran who earned his keep at Mediatonic before stepping out on his own. Since then, So Romantic has assisted on other indie projects (like Zut's I Love Hue Too) and released a few smaller party games (including a fascinating looking piñata brawler).
Jack Move seems to be the studio's first big release, but it still keeps things modest. This sleek cyberpunk RPG promises a story-driven 9-10 hour experience, streamlined and focused. There's one party member, a handful of side quests, and almost none of the bloat you'd expect from modern RPGs.
At the center is Noa Solares, an independent hacker-for-hire who runs black market gigs for cash with her good friend Ryder. All is well in her world as the duo scams corporations and deals with the fallout of living in this dangerous, gritty world. But everything changes when Noa gets a message from her estranged father, Abner Solares.
He warns of a coming danger and mysteriously vanishes, presumably kidnapped, soon after. Noa is hesitant to look into it, but as soon as she does, she finds herself wrapped up in a battle against one of the world's biggest corporations, Monomind. They're after some forbidden tech that Abner started developing while he worked for them, and they'll do anything to get it.
The story is common cyberpunk fare. Corporations are after some morally ambiguous tech to use for seemingly nefarious means. A simple hacker duo gets wrapped up in something bigger than both of them and must stop something horrible from happening. You'll run around the entire city, run into scumbags both in the alleyways of the slums and in sterile office environments, and eventually find yourself playing with corporate fire with the odds stacked against you. Story beats were predictable and you could almost see the end from the beginning.
While it's been done before, the writing carries things here, with a surprising amount of whimsy reminiscent of the '90s imagination of the far future. It's cheesy, full of weird phrases like "WELL ZORK, BYTE ME, THAT CHROMEDOME REALLY GONKED ME," and it all plays better than you'd expect. (That is NOT an actual quote from the game, but you get the idea.)
In fact, the earnest cheese and the story-driven, no-frills approach reminds me of Megaman Battle Network. With mentions of "jacking into" systems and surfing cyberspace to achieve their goals, my brain was regularly pulled back to being a kid curled up with my Game Boy Advance and the latest Battle Network release. It was so comfortable. Tie that to the game's fairly contained experience, with small maps and random encounters, and you've got a nostalgic GBA-era RPG.
My only issue with the narrative flow comes in the game's scope and length. While I appreciated its tight runtime, the in-between moments dragged at times. There were side quests that helped fill the space, but they mostly amounted to fetch quest chains or finding hidden item drops.
From beginning to end, the story never felt like it really got going. Just as I felt things really starting to rev up, that story "chapter" would be over. The most exciting moments come in the game's closing. The story I wanted to see most was what happened after the credits rolled, leaving Jack Move feeling more like an Episode 0 than a full-fledged entry in what feels like it could be an exciting new universe.
But, back on the chrome side of things — that's cyberpunk for good, I've decided — Jack Move has some fantastic pixel artwork to go along with an already enjoyable cyberpunk aesthetic.
Employing a "hi-bit" pixel art style (a term coined by Owlboy developers D-Pad Studio), the style of pixel art you might be most familiar with in modern indie titles like Owlboy itself, Hyper Light Drifter, and Iconoclasts. Essentially, they utilize all of the extra pixels that high resolutions offer them to create some dense, fluid, and detailed bits of pixel art that otherwise were impossible in older eras of gaming.
Jack Move features impressive pixel work, accentuated by detailed landscapes and surprisingly emotive character animations. But it's the full-screen animations for Noa's eponymous jack moves — the game's ultimate abilities — that are true pieces of art. Each one unlocked was a true delight and Jack Move's artists deserve all the praise.
And they use all those beautiful pixels to sell some truly grimy vibes. Most of the game's action takes place in the darkened alleyways of the city, where the poor collaborate to survive and scrap back at the corporations that keep them down. Fights take place on a giant digital grid in perpetual motion, helping sell the idea that you're operating both in meatspace and cyberspace. Bring in the chippy electric drum and bass soundtrack work from Fracture and you've got a game full of grit and grime that just feels so cozy to sit in.
Not unlike my time with Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator, this blend of elements brought me back to the vibes of old-school crack software and pirated installers, something I found to be validated when the entire credit sequence served as an homage to that aesthetic.
I just wanted to share that because that rips.
But okay. Enough about vibes and narrative. Getting behind the chair and jacking into a computer to take down corporations. What's that like?
Well, as I've said, Jack Move's a straightforward RPG adventure. Combat is exactly what you'd expect from your normal JRPG. You've got hacks (physical attacks) and software (spells/abilities) with one of three "elemental" ties (cyberware, wetware, electroware) that have their own little wheel of rock-paper-scissors weaknesses and strengths.
It's everything you'd expect, just dressed up in all that cyberpunk grok.
Jack Move attempts to mix things up by streamlining the play experience with a solitary party member from beginning to end. When you're not juggling the strengths and weaknesses of a party of three or more, it makes it a lot simpler to build a strategy.
Another minor twist that changed my usual JRPG mindset was its de-prioritization of items. Other games give you piles of potions, ethers, and revives, but in Jack Move your money is better spent on new "software," or the game's equivalent to equipment, "hardware." Everything is unlocked in the game's stores from the start — it's just about making enough money to buy them, putting the power in my hands to power up my hero.
An issue I've always had with RPGs is just as present as ever here. Jack Move is easy. Keep to the main path, do a few side quests, but otherwise avoid unnecessary battles and you'll be more than leveled up enough to handle anything the game tosses at you. Grind even a little bit and you'll simply steamroll enemies on your way to the finish line. The grind is up to you, too, as the game allows you to tune random encounters up and down as you see fit, which is a welcome quality-of-life fix that any modern game with random encounters should use.
But other than that... Jack Move is exactly what you'd expect. Maybe too much so, bordering on generic at times. Other than a same-y but enjoyable narrative, a few fun battles, and some light puzzle work, there are no exciting twists to pull you in. But you don't always need that. Not all RPGs need to be 40-60 hour epics and Jack Move proves there's a place for the shorter contained experiences too. It proves that some great aesthetics and some fun writing can be more than enough to anchor otherwise generic RPG action.
And most importantly, Jack Move proves that...
video games are good and Jack Move is . . . GOOD. (7/10)
+ incredibly fluid pixel art animation, a tight compact RPG story, a straightforward comfortable experience
- does nothing that new, can feel a bit too easy at times, feels like a prequel to more exciting things just out of reach
Thanks for reading this video games are good review. If you're interested in learning more about our review rubric, click here! Wanna join our Discord, where you can discuss reviews and get early views at upcoming articles? Click here! Thank you for supporting video games are good.