App Reviewed on: iPhone XR
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There’s a three-by-three grid presenting nine different travel nodes. You control a geometric avatar who’s sole purpose is to move between these nodes to collect gems before finding an exit. All the while, increasingly complex and abstract machinery moves through space trying to disrupt your plans as a thumping electronic soundtrack propels the action forward. This is Jumpgrid, a tough-as-nails arcade game that feels ideally suited for mobile, though its difficulty and set level progression can be irksome.
Jumpgrid is the latest title from Ian MacLarty, the mind behind minimalistic puzzler Dissembler. Although Jumpgrid is a much more action-focused game, there’s a traceable lineage here. Both are deceptively simple games that feel like they’re unearthing a game concept that’s always been lurking just beneath the surface of popular games of yore.
This is to say that Jumpgrid’s action feels akin to Pac-Man, but only if it took place in the world of Super Hexagon. The little… thing you control warps around between nodes as quickly as you can swipe your finger, and every level is a micro-game consisting of rapid movements and pattern-recognition as you frantically collect everything possible and get out before the level can stop you.
Jumpgrid moves at a break-neck pace, but it’s surprisingly easy to manage on a small screen. The controls are simple, levels are easy to read at a glance, and—most importantly—the game automatically restarts levels for you when you inevitably fail at them.
Failure is inevitable in Jumpgrid because its an extremely unforgiving game. Almost immediately, timing windows for levels get super small, and the movements of obstacles through your grid get increasingly erratic and disruptive. The game is really good at teaching you little tricks to make your way through these dastardly levels, but even then, actually executing on what you’re learning is much easier said than done.
There’s a lot of things I like about Jumpgrid. The super-tight controls, the sense of accomplishment from perfectly completing a level in a few seconds, and the game’s abstract-future-space aesthetic come to mind in particular. That said, I’m a little less enthused by Jumpgrid’s game mode offerings, as there’s only one that I find particularly compelling.
Jumpgrid’s set level progression in both its main “campaign” (if you can call it that) and Speedrun modes are a bit dull compared to the game’s Infinite mode, which is a score-chaser where you can warp around endlessly as procedurally-generated collectibles and obstacles spawn. Wherein the other two modes, I can find myself frustratedly bashing my head against the same problems over and over again, Infinite is always there to offer up something new every time I play it.
The bottom line
Jumpgrid is definitely not for anyone who gets frustrated easily. Even though it instantly restarts levels when you fail, it can be demoralizing to keep being thwarted by the same things over and over again. The Infinite mode offers some respite in the sense that it’s always serving up new ways to fail, but even that can wear thin after a while. Still though, there’s no denying that Jumpgrid is an extremely well made game that can satisfy, provided you have enough patience to stick with it.