JARS is a wonderfully addictive strategy game with a unique aesthetic.
Victor, the game’s equally befuddled and spooky looking protagonist, ventures into his family’s basement, only to find a plethora of nasty critters. Naturally, Victor is far braver than I am and sets out to deal with these bugs, in some sort of unlicensed bushtucker trial.
This premise sets out what you will be doing throughout the majority of the game: smashing jars. Sounds simple? It is – but how the developers manage to build on this rather simple mechanic is actually quite impressive.
Fast-paced, engaging gameplay:
JARS is very much a tower defense game. Each level involves you having to protect a sarcophagus, whilst trying to eliminate the nasties housed within the jars you break. You defeat the monsters by utilising items that you can find in jars, such as darts (which I found very satisfying to use) or through the use of ‘minions’ – monsters that will fight for you.
Certain jars will guarantee an item or an enemy, but each level also has random jars that add a much needed sense of variety to proceedings. If you fail a mission, by failing to protect the sarcophagus(s), you can jump straight back in. Level structure does change ever-so slightly when you fail, which maintains the challenge but at the same time allows the player to identify certain patterns.
Some missions also have additional objectives, such as protecting a set of magnets which will offer a big exp boost when you complete the mission.
As you complete more missions, you can also unlock new minions (who all have different stats), new perks (which you can equip to modify minion stats) and other items. You use in-game currency to do this, from the suitably named ‘Little Shop of Horrors’.
Unlocking new minions feels purposeful, as certain levels will only allow you to utilise certain types of minions, and their different stats will be better equipped at dealing with certain map layouts and enemy types.
There is also Hero mode which you can unlock as you progress through the game. This mode switches the gameplay up by allowing you to directly control one of the ‘minions’ and navigate the stage.
Overall, the bite-sized missions and different mechanics contribute to creating a gameplay loop that is addictive and simple but with enough permutations to keep the player interested.
Tim Burton esque:
Complementing the delightfully engaging gameplay is JAR’S ‘creepy’ visual design that is clearly a homage to Tim Burton’s work.
The drab-grey colour palette adds a spooky tone, whilst the overall art direction strikes a careful balance between creepy and childlike (for your minions). Tonally, JARS feels relatively light-hearted, and I especially liked the hand-drawn designs for all the ‘minions’ which are full of personality.
The cutscenes that you get when you complete levels are also a nice reward for making progress, and whilst they don’t tell too much from a narrative standpoint, they are well directed and contribute to the spooky tone. I also appreciated how humorous some of the scenes were.
A couple nitpicks:
Pun absolutely – shamelessly – intended.
JARS is definitely a game that surprised me. I didn’t expect to get so hooked to the gameplay loop. That being said, there are a couple gripes I had.
Firstly, navigating the selection menu between missions (where you select your minions and their perks) is incredibly awkward. This made carefully considering my selection of monsters and perks in later levels much more of a chore than it needed to be. I ended up rushing through this process to save myself from getting frustrated.
Also, whilst I love the overall visual design, the backgrounds for each stage did start to feel a bit repetitive and could have been a bit more creative (or as creative as basement shelves can be, I guess).
The former issue is one that I genuinely found quite bothersome. I just wish that the UI for the menu section had been revised a bit better as the game genuinely has potential for some interesting tactical considerations.
Nevertheless, JARS’s excellent visual design and substantial, addictive gameplay offering are major positives that make this title one well worth checking out.
… Also the game has a really fun encyclopedia, with great little descriptions for each of the monsters. I rate that.