Jasper’s Journeys: Finishing Up

When I was trying to google for information on how many levels Jarsper’s Journeys contains, one of the false leads I kept turning up was a review that talked about having difficulty with the final boss. The person who wrote it wanted to buy a triple-shot potion from the inn to make it easier, but found to his dismay that he was just a few coins short of being able to afford it. If I wasn’t already hoarding my coins, this sad story would have convinced me to start. However, my experience turned out completely different: by the end, I had thousands of coins and nothing to spend them on. It was as pure an example of the hoarding problem as you could hope to witness. In the earliest levels, I was reluctant to buy potions because they were expensive and I didn’t know if I’d need the cash later. I did start buying stuff toward the end, but the fact is, the game never really gets all that hard. Particularly if you’re exploring: many of the tougher fights can be skipped if you find the right secret passages.

I can’t say I got every treasure in the game, because there are places where this is just plain impossible. Sometimes you have a choice of path from A to B, and you can’t go back to get the treasures on both paths. This doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. Also, there’s a significant amount of cash emitted by slain monsters, little golden coins and stars that bounce away in random directions and then vanish, like rings in Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s rare that I manage to get all the coins from even a middling enemy. When you kill a boss, it explodes into a cascade of coins, and there’s no way you can get them all before they disappear. All you can do is try to be in the thickest part of the storm.

Not every level has a boss, by the way. Maybe half do, and a couple of them are among those tough-but-skippable fights I mentioned. The first couple of bosses, the anthropomorphic Armored Pig and the Fire-Breathing Ogre, show up as non-bosses in later levels, which is a little strange, because usually when that happens in games, it’s a sign of your escalating power, and there’s no escalation of power here. There’s just escalation of difficulty.

You do get increased firepower from a couple of potions, but it only lasts to the end of the level. Of course, you get the opportunity for maximal firepower when facing the end boss, which means not just the aforementioned triple-shot, but the butterfly as well. The butterfly is like the drones or multiples in various spaceship-themed shooters: it floats above your head (sometimes lagging behind you a little) and shoots along with you. Not only does this increase the area covered by your shots, there are places where it lets you shoot from positions of complete safety, hitting a monster on the floor above you.

Arroint thee, witch!The end boss is of course the witch who stole your cat, who flies around on a broomstick, forcing you to keep jumping to shoot at her. She’s very much in the classical vein for a shooter boss, with multiple attack routines that saturate the screen with projectiles of various sorts: expanding rings of magic missiles, curving clusters of fireballs, bubbles that release frogs or bats. All of these missiles can be destroyed with your own shots, and you pretty much have to take advantage of this just to carve out a safe place to stand. More firepower will be expended on neutralizing danger than will actually hit the witch, particularly since the witch tends to vanish briefly whenever a shot connects. Anyway, it was nice getting a fight with some variety in it, because all of the prior bosses were relatively simple in their behavior, with only one attack routine each.

Overall, the game is faux SNES-era in both its graphics and its moment-to-moment gameplay, but it gives me an impression that it’s probably better than most of the games it imitates — that it’s designed to capture the way we like to remember platformers of that vintage, rather than the way they actually were.

Jasper’s Journeys: A couple of things

I’m up to the middle of level 10 out of what turns out to be 15. I had thought for a while that there were only 10 levels, because I was having trouble finding any definite information online, and the closest thing I had seen to a walkthrough was some hints that only went up to level 9. But 15 is the truth, according to the game’s official website. Feeling like I was close to the end motivated me to keep going; suddenly finding out that I’m farther than I thought motivates me to play something else for a little while.

It’s actually a bit of a relief to be able to devote multiple posts to a game right after the IF Comp, where I felt like I had to summarize everything interesting about each game in a single post. So let me just note a couple more points of interest about Jasper’s Journeys. Like the music. It’s very synthetic sounding, in a faux-Soundblaster way, but the interesting thing is in how sparingly it’s used. This actually seems to be a constant throughout the Lexaloffle games: there’s no music most of the time. So when it does come up, you know something special is happening. The opening menu has a sort of wonder-and-mystery theme behind it, which is sometimes triggered in the game when you venture into a hidden passage. Some particular types of monsters have their own leitmotifs. For example, wizards, which are the first abnormally-difficult enemy you encounter, taking four hits to kill and throwing magic missiles that home in on you, have an echoey wizard tune — at least, until you reach the point where wizards no longer seem special, at which point the leitmotif is dropped.

Another, unrelated point of interest: missile trajectory. You can fire projectiles left and right, and there are a few enemies that can do the same. Surprisingly, such missiles fall. There’s a trick I’ve seen used a couple of times wherein a frangible block is placed on the floor. Since you can’t shoot straight downward, the only way to break it and open up whatever passageway it blocks is to stand at a sufficient distance (about five tiles) that your shots will hit the ground at that spot. Another constant throughout the levels is “sproing flowers” (as the in-game docs name them): blue flowers that propel you upward at speed when you jump on them. They also have the same effect on downward-moving projectiles. I have yet to see a puzzle that relies on this, but it seems like the sort of thing this game would do.

Jasper’s Journeys: Inns

Like a gas station in the middle of the desert, he can charge whatever he wants. It's not like he's going to lose regular customers.If there’s one game element that defines the Jasper’s Journeys experience more than any other, it’s got to be the inns. Every level has at least one, although it might be difficult to find or reach. At the inns, you can exchange all the treasure you’ve been accumulating for practical stuff, like fruit (increases your ammo supply) or shields (effectively, hit points; you can carry up to three, which means you’ll be able to withstand damage three times without dying), or even, occasionally, potions. Potions are powerups of various sorts that last for the rest of the level, and are sometimes absolutely necessary for looting the level completely. They’re reasonably rare.

Most importantly, inns are where you can save your progress. Yes, it’s a save point, that console-standard mechanism despised by PC gamers everywhere. Worse, even: like everything else you can do at an inn, it costs money. Not a lot of money, mind you. A save is the cheapest thing you can buy, and if you’re exploring every level thoroughly, you’re rolling in cash pretty quickly. (If you’re not, you’re pretty much missing the point of the game.) Nonetheless, the fact that it costs money at all makes me reluctant to use it more than necessary. It’s irrational, perhaps, but it’s a real and honest reaction.

Now, when I say that you can save your progress, understand that, despite its retro styling, this game is not so old-school as to respawn its monsters. If you kill something, it stays dead, and you can venture through the area it used to guard in relative safety. Given this, I think the inns actually have an overall positive effect on the experience. If you could save at will, you could make things easier by saving after each and every kill. If you could save any time you went back to the inn, but didn’t have to pay, you could do the same thing, just stretched out over a longer period and made boring because of it. But the way it is, the game essentially spurs me to complete some more significant activity before saving. Make a complete loop of a particular cave, for example, or go as far upward as I can through the clouds (which are solid enough to stand on). The inn becomes your home base, the safe place that you always return to for the sake of securing your gains, which is important, because the tasks I perform before returning are risky. Risky enough that I frequently fail and have to start over — for some definition of “fail”. Sometimes I start over just because I lost more health than I wanted to. At any rate, this cycle is essentially the same as the way you’d play the game if the inns didn’t exist: every time you die, you’d wind up at the start of the level and have to start again. The difference is that, for the most part, you get to choose just how granular it is, how much you want to not have to redo.

Lexaloffle Retro Minigames

I’m rather behind on my posting here, which interferes with my playing: I’m sworn to post per day for each game I play, which means that if I play a game and don’t post, I can’t play it again until I’ve posted. Usually this means I just don’t play anything from the Stack until I’ve written something, but something inspired me to play the three Lexaloffle mini-games I acquired from the most recent Humble Bundle in a row, one per day. I haven’t finished any of them, so let this be the introductory post for all three.

Already raked myself into a corner hereThe first one I tried was Zen Puzzle Garden. The goal here is to rake every grid-square of sand in a series of rock gardens, starting each stroke from the edge and using traditional videogame ice level movement mechanics, which is to say, you can’t change direction until you hit an obstacle, such as a rock or a tile you’ve already raked. I’ve completed somewhat over half the puzzles here, but the half I’ve completed is the easy half. It lets you play the puzzles in any order you want, choosing them from a grid between times, but if you play them in order, it takes a good long time to get at all difficult — so long that I began to wonder if there was going to be any real challenge to it at all. It’s certainly not obvious from the rules that there could be. Even in the later stages, I find some levels much easier than the ones around them. I think there may be some sort of parity issue, so that I sometimes luck into making moves with the right parity, but I haven’t analyzed it that deeply yet. If there is, then the levels with movable blocks presumably require you to move them to spots that make the parity come out right.

Jasper's JumpyThe second game I tried, Jasper’s Journey is a platformer about an elf rescuing a cat from a witch by throwing fruit at monsters. Or at least, picking up fruit replenishes your ammo. There’s a lot of collectibles scattered around, both fruit and treasure, the latter being spendable at the inns that appear once in each level. Now, I’ve only gotten three levels in, which is apparently still within the amount covered by the demo, so anything I say about the game’s general character may be dead wrong, but the parts I’ve seen have been made mostly of vast open spaces with lots of branching paths, including non-obvious ones that lead to more treasure and ammo. It reminds me of Sonic the Hedgehog in its expansiveness, but doesn’t emphasize speed or impose time limits. The emphasis is instead on exploration. When I found a passage leading to a large network of underground tunnels in level 2, I felt like I had made a discovery — even though it is in fact an unavoidable part of the main sequence through the level. Each level contains three golden orbs, their purpose unexplained by the in-game instructions. I think they unlock a bonus room between levels if you find them all, but their real purpose, their game-design purpose, is to give exploration a definite goal, and to let you know when you’ve explored enough. If you’ve got all three orbs, there probably isn’t anything left to find.

So, wait. You're feeding dark chocolate to the dog?Finally, there’s Chocolate Castle, which is a series of sliding block puzzles. The basic idea is that the fluffy animals on each level have to completely eat the enormous blocks of confectionery lying around. Each animal only eats blocks that match it in color, and only eats a single contiguous set of blocks before vanishing. In most levels, there’s only one animal of each color, so you have to put all the blocks of that color together before allowing it to feed. But you have to be careful about this, because once you put similarly-colored blocks together, they fuse permanently. This is a pretty rich ruleset, allowing for a great deal of variation in the practical goals. One level might be something like a traditional klotski; another might fill most of the playfield with blocks of just one kind of chocolate, with so little free space that your main challenge is to avoid fusing them prematurely; another might immobilize two pieces of chocolate with walls, and make you figure out how to bridge the gap between them. It makes for a much more appealing game than Zen Puzzle Garden, where the differences between levels are subtle and the goals are always the same.

All three games have a graphical style that reminds me a lot of early VGA games, from back in the days when the graphic artists suddenly had 256 colors instead of 16 and hadn’t figured out yet what to do with them. I don’t mean it’s clumsy or amateurish, exactly, but there’s something about the flatness of the palette. Chocolate Castle definitely makes the best use of it: the smooth sheen just makes the chocolate more delicious-looking.