That's so pluggin' chrome!
There is one trope in sci-fi that I still do not know how I feel about to this day, 30 years into my life: the introduction of “future slang” meant to make everybody sound more tech savvy or hip with the times. One game that makes heavy use of this trope is Jack Move, the bite-sized RPG developed by So Romantic and published by HypeTrain Digital, which was released on PC earlier this month. It may not have changed my mind about slang in sci-fi, but Jack Move still managed to impress me in several ways that I think definitely make it worth your time if you enjoy turn-based RPGs. Despite one or two missteps, there is a lot to love in this cyber brawling package.
In Jack Move, you play as Noa, a hacker vigilante working on the streets of Bright Town. Together with her partner, a fellow hacker named Ryder, she spends her time messing with the overreaching corporation Monomind. In Jack Move’s world, far in the past, the Earth was hit with a massive solar flare that knocked out all electronics worldwide in an event known as The Dark, and over the years as a result, corporations like Monomind have taken the place of the government, leading to the dissatisfaction of some. When Noa’s estranged father is kidnapped by Monomind, she must investigate their reasons for doing so while also working to save her father from the company’s dirty hands.
Gameplay in Jack Move is pretty much the usual fare when it comes to RPGs, with the ability to freely wander around the map, talking to NPCs and sometimes taking on sidequests for them. When in certain areas, battles are the result of random encounters, with a meter on the top right of the screen telling you how close you are to the next one. One of the best features of Jack Move is the ability to adjust encounter rates in both directions, making it so that you can turn them down or off if you want to explore more easily or turn them up if you’re looking for more of a challenge or just looking to grind. When in battle, a sort of rock-paper-scissors system goes into effect between Wetware, Electroware, and Cyberware attacks. Most enemies are weak to one of these types of software based on the type of software they use to attack. How much software you can have equipped at a time is based on your RAM, with each ability taking up a certain amount of space. The amount of RAM you have can be upgraded in shops throughout the game. You can also equip hardware, which bestow passive buffs and effects.
When in battle if you find yourself in need of software not currently equipped, you can actually use a turn to change your build, making the player have to strategize about attack types but not to the point where a fight might become undoable because you stumbled in with a bad build. Dealing or taking damage builds the Jack Move bar, which when full will allow you to use a super attack. The strength of this attack is decided by your performance in a short, rhythm game-esque challenge requiring you to press three directional inputs. I never found a single one of these to be difficult, especially when each Jack Move has a set sequence that will be the same every time you use it. Software and Jack Moves are leveled up by being used in battle, with a max level of four.
There is a lot to love about Jack Move, but it is not without a few flaws. Some might find themselves dissatisfied with the game’s length being incredibly short, especially for an RPG, with a runtime of around six hours. Personally for me, this helped the mechanics and story not overstay its welcome, providing a tighter experience than it otherwise would have. I also encountered a fair number of bugs, usually dialogue either repeating or showing up in the wrong place; the game did crash on two separate occasions during my playthrough as well. Fortunately the game’s autosave happens frequently enough that neither crash led to any lost progress, but it’s still always disappointing when a game crashes regardless. I also found the final dungeon’s gimmick to be incredibly frustrating, but at the very least it’s short and leads to a very satisfying and cool final boss sequence.
Overall, Jack Move is likely going to be one of my favorite games of the year, and I wish more bite-sized RPGs like it existed. Visually the game’s pixel art is a treat to look at, and this is only bolstered by the fantastic soundtrack that accompanies it. Bright Town feels alive and NPCs have their own side stories that happen as the main story progresses, encouraging me to talk to every NPC at every possible opportunity to learn about things like the woman dating a mafia runner or the two hacker sisters who are clearly on another level. If you enjoy the cyberpunk aesthetic and want a short RPG to spend a weekend on, Jack Move is absolutely the place to go for a good time.