JARS Review - The Cutest Creepiest Tower Defense Experience

Dyllon Graham calls the game an opportunity to finally smash all those jars in your Mom’s creepy basement, but your mom is Tim Burton.



Didn’t most of us have creepy basements? Basements that we were convinced harbored otherworldly entities that knocked and groaned in the night. Perhaps the bravest of us mentally and emotionally fortified ourselves while sliding our trembling feet down the creaky slatted stairs, flashlights firmly gripped in our sweaty palms. We had to explore the unknown. No matter how hard we searched though, our basement fears were just that, fears and perhaps we should consider ourselves lucky. What I can absolutely assure you of, is that not a single one of our fears resulted in sarcophagi or Burton inspired vermin lurking in the depths of our homes. For all of our adrenaline induced fears, nothing ever quite got as weird for us as it does for Victor in JARS.


It’s a beautifully simple, tower defense inspired game dripping with a Tim Burton and Don’t Starve inspired aesthetic. You play as Victor, a young boy who must summon his own mad scientist-inspired legion of creepy crawlies to defend against an onslaught of enemies who appear to want to crack open the cursed sarcophagus. Levels present as two-dimensional shelves that are often linked together by ladders or walled off by duct tape, creating varying paths for both friend and foe to traverse. Atop these shelves are, well, jars. Clicking on the jars shatters them, revealing either enemies, your own minions or power up items that will aid in defending against the vermin horde. Before each individual level you can select which minions you wish to bring with you and equip them with unique unlockable perks that will augment their stats for better results. Experimenting with these loadouts will be key to unlocking the secrets of Victor’s home. Each level presents its own series of unique challenges, loadout requirements, and enemies.



To be quite candid, I probably haven’t touched a Tower Defense game since the heyday of Plants vs. Zombies (2009). So with regards to comparing JARS to other titles in the genre, I’m not the expert. However, standing on the merit of its own two feet as a game, I think it’s masterfully executed. Gameplay levels start simple and unoffending, easing you into the mechanics as they’re beautifully layered. Levels have some structure in their enemy type and density but jar and sarcophagus placement are swapped by RNG, meaning that levels feel interesting, even if you have to replay one a few times. JARS progresses! It intelligently attempts to circumvent becoming trite or stale by introducing differing machinations that avoid traditional Tower Defense rigidity. However, this is actually one of the downsides of the game.


In many ways, the quantity of levels feels prioritized over the quality. There are well over 100 levels to JARS, each segmented into chapters with their own gimmicks or changes. Often, after levels 15 or 16 in a chapter, they began to sort of blur together—coalescing into an amorphous blob. That isn’t to entirely detract from some of the clever designs that reveal themselves, especially as you dig deeper into Victor’s basement. When compared though, the “ah-ha” moments that engaged me were far fewer than the number of total levels.


Tower Defense or strategy games need to be punchy and addictive. They require depth without forcing that depth on the player, leaving the option for playstyles and player agency. They require catchy tunes and cheeky art that imprints on you—hooks to keep you coming back. Many games in the genre fall by the wayside—looking and even feeling generic or uninspired and this game is anything but. In many ways I’m thrust back to being a child, entranced by Courage The Cowardly Dog. On that same token, maybe I really do wish my basement were filled with animated, anthropomorphic, creepy, adorable vermin. What grim adventures could we have gotten into? As we’ll never know, JARS will simply have to be my tether to that endearing thought. I encourage you to also entertain that guileless thought.



JARS is out now on Steam and Nintendo Switch.


 






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