Jars is a sinister strategy game consisting of puzzles and a hint of tower defence. When young Victor ventures into the gloomy depths of his parent’s basement, he discovers a mysterious book left by his Father with several pages missing. Throughout his journey, Victor comes face-to-face with treacherous creatures, hell-bent on stopping him from uncovering the secrets buried beneath the house.
Smash ‘Em Up
Jars is made up of five distinct chapters, each containing a variety of levels which you progress through as you make your way across the dank basement. Each level is a shelf containing your Father’s discarded experiments. The aim of the game is simple: smash all the jars on the shelf and defend the sarcophagus.
Easy enough, right?
Wrong! Like all good things that come in jars – jam, pickles, Marmite (don’t @ me) – leave them long enough and they get a little nasty. Although, rather than furry mould and a suspect aroma, in this game you’ll find mutant rats, gangly spiders and bugs that blow shit up. These creatures, conveniently named ‘Nasties’, have a penchant for destroying your sarcophagus. In order to defend it, you must deploy your minions onto the shelf and launch your attack to send those Nasties back to nasty Hell (which I guess is just regular Hell, really).
Mash ‘Em Up
As well as an army of minions at your disposal, you’ll also find various power-ups hidden in jars that you can use to gain the upper hand. For example, you can use the Glue power-up to momentarily freeze your enemy, providing a great way out of a sticky situation. To begin with, the gameplay is fairly simple and doesn’t really require much strategical thinking. In fact, you can even beat some of the later levels just by mashing the buttons to spam the shelves with your minions. This trial-and-error approach will leave you wanting for more, but it’s still satisfying when you battle off the hoard and successfully defend your sarcophagus.
Gameplay is made a little more spicy with the addition of Victor’s lab which you can access between levels. Here, you can swap out your minions and add buffs to their inventory slots for when the going gets tough. You can find these buffs (or ‘perks’ as the game calls them) in random jars or for purchase in the shop (more on that later). Again, it’s perfectly possible for you to beat most levels with a scatter-gun approach, but the perks system is a welcome addition for those who are looking for something more strategical. Case in point, the Mosquito pupa minion has a powerful attack but is seriously slow, so adding a roller-skate perk lets you get to the action faster.
Pay In Blood
Aside from the obvious, the other reason you want to kill those Nasties is for life-blood. Life-blood is the in-game currency which you can use to purchase new minion classes or perks from the amusingly named Little Shop of Horrors. This seems like a great way to introduce a little more strategy into the game, but unfortunately that’s not the case. After reaching the third chapter, you’ll only be able to progress to the next level if you purchase a new class of minion. You might already own it but the chances are that you won’t as it’s one of the most expensive items available. So, you reach an impasse in which you can only move forward with the story if you go back and replay previous levels and basically grind for life-blood. It’s frustrating to say the least.
That being said, after the first couple of chapters you unlock ‘Hero Mode’ which is a rogue-lite version of the main story whose chief purpose seems to be earning that sweet life-blood. Rather than smashing jars yourself, you control a Hero minion who you can move around the shelf with the Joy-Con sticks. Instead of progressing through a chapter, you complete stages of a run; the difficulty ramping up each time.
With each stage of the run, you earn more life-blood but the stakes get higher. Do you cash out what you’ve got and end the run? Or keep going and risk losing most of it? In some ways, I was glad the game forced me to grind as the Hero Mode is much more engaging and pacier than the main story. With the prospect of losing all your hard earned life-blood dangling over you, the stakes are much higher and the gameplay better because of it.
In the Shadows
One of the best things about Jars is how it looks. The hand-drawn animation is excellent. Jagged pencil marks give the world a frenetic edge, while the dark pastel colour palette oozes with gloom like something straight out of a Tim Burton film. The game’s soundtrack isn’t particularly stand-out but it does a good job of underscoring the world with a sinister yet playful tone.
If you’re playing on the Switch like me, it feels like a good one to be playing handheld given the episodic nature of the quick-fire levels. It’s even optimised for touch screen which is a nice bonus. However, some text can be a little hard to read and the UI is clunky at times, particularly when entering the Lab menu.
Jars is a good option if you want to while away 15 minutes on your lunch break, but there’s nothing in the game that particularly grips you. It has the potential to be a real strategic head-scratcher but it’s all too easy to button-mash your way to the end. You definitely won’t regret the time you spend playing it, but it might not be that memorable either.