Play Explosive Jake for five minutes and it becomes quickly apparent that the game is a clear Bomberman clone. You control a small skeleton who must use bombs to clear out a whole maze full of boxes and bad guys. Blast through enough and you’ll eventually uncover the door to the next level. It’s a simple concept that has proven successful in the past. That’s not the case here. As with most imitations, Explosive Jake is nowhere near as good as the original.
The clear lack of development is the most pressing issue at hand. Explosive Jake has 40 levels, and they all follow the exact same formula. Each level is no different from the last, with every one taking place on the same square board with only minor edits to the layout. You’ll be placing the same bombs and killing the same enemies over and over and over again.
There’s just nothing to look forward to with Explosive Jake. No exciting new enemies or boss fights, no new mechanics, no new bomb types. Those power-ups that you can find are only temporary and don’t carry over between levels. The only bone that the game throws your way is a permanent upgrade to the amount of bombs you can place every five levels or so. And that’s hardly enough to keep you hooked in now, is it?
A few questionable gameplay choices also mean Explosive Jake quickly ends up becoming a chore to play. The fact you can only place one bomb at a time and have to wait around for it to explode before you can place another is particularly brutal, especially with the sheer amount of boxes you’ll need to blast to find the exit door and the key that unlocks it. It slows the game right down to a plodding pace. Giving the player more bombs as they go along makes things slightly better, but it’s not enough to stop Explosive Jake from becoming a drag.
An unintended consequence of all the waiting around is that death is overly punishing. There are no checkpoints, and you’re only given one life per level. If you die, you’re going to have to destroy all those boxes again. I lost count of the amount of times this happened to me. It’s discouraging at best, and rage-inducing at worst. Strangely, you’re never rewarded with permanent health upgrades in the same way that you are given more bombs. It’s a questionable but ultimately unsurprising design choice given Explosive Jake’s overall lack of development.
Still, as with any game published by Sometimes You, Explosive Jake comes with a fairly easy achievement list. For the full 1000 Gamerscore, you’ll simply need to finish the game. Any serious hunter should consider picking this up and stomaching the couple of hours needed to fully complete this one.
Aside from that, the only real bright spark of Explosive Jake is its presentation. As with the previous release of Bucket Knight, PigeonDev has totally nailed the retro feel that they were aiming for. Every level looks great, even if they don’t play particularly well. The enemies that stand in your way also have a certain charm to them. The sound design is just as good: thematic chiptunes accompany Jake on his adventure, and they are diverse enough that they never become repetitive as is often the case with games like this.
The only issue is that there aren’t enough distinct level designs. Explosive Jake has a very small number – three or so – and it’s simply not enough for the 40 levels that the game has. They end up being used over and over to the point that the game begins to blend together into one giant level. Two or three more designs (or fewer stages overall) would have gone a long way here.
It’s clear that Explosive Jake on Xbox One is a game that is stuck in first gear. Rather than building upon its concept, it seems content to stay simple and forgo any sense of development. This wouldn’t have been so bad had things been kept short and sweet, a la PigeonDev’s previous release Bucket Knight. But Explosive Jake clocks in at 40 levels. It’s simply far too much for the pedestrian gameplay that is on offer and the game quickly becomes a slog to get through. Ultimately, Explosive Jake is more likely to frustrate than entertain and players should be looking elsewhere for their retro fix.