Insects can be both fascinating and terrifying, and Jars is a perfect combination of cute crawlies battling against disgusting rodents and infestations. Developed by Mousetrap Games and published by Daedalic Entertainment, Jars is a strategy puzzle game with tower defense elements and a beautiful hand-drawn art style.
Jars tells the story of the young boy Victor, as he plays with and experiments on insects that he finds in the basement of their house. The story is told through adorable hand-drawn cutscenes and artworks, and we have to pass through different puzzles to discover more about the mysteries surrounding the house and Victor’s parents.
The theme of the game is a wonderful reminiscent of Tim Burton’s and Roald Dahl’s works, and for me who grew up with their stories and movies, playing Jars filled me with a cozy feeling of nostalgia. For me, seeing new cutscenes and collecting different pieces of artwork on different levels, was more motivating than the gameplay itself.
Each level in Jars takes place on a shelf with multiple jars. We should break the jars to discover friendly insects who will help us defeat the enemy insects, or as the game calls them “nasties”. On most levels, we win when we break every jar and defeat every enemy, and we lose when the nasties destroy the sarcophagus. This is where the tower defense elements come in. We have to place our insects in locations where they can best defend the sarcophagus.
We have access to multiple types of insects. Some are stationary and can only attack when nasties get close, some can move around on the level that they are in, and some can fly all over the shelves. We can buy new insects as we progress through the game, and even equip them with items that improve their abilities. We also find useable items from jars such as glues, darts, or healing salves that we can use when our insects need an extra hand in dealing with the nasties.
After we complete the first two chapters, we also unlock a new game mode. This is a roguelike mode where we control one hero insect instead of having control over the whole battlefield. It’s a fun little addition, and it’s actually useful for the main gameplay loop. We get more credit from finishing this hero mode runs and we can buy new insects and equipment from the shop that will help us progress through the main game.
In the later chapters of Jars, we get to explore places such as the staircase, the refrigerator, and other locations in Victor’s house. Some of the new levels in these chapters have different objectives, such as turning on the lamps in the fridge or protecting ants who are carrying heavy pieces of food.
The gameplay in Jars at the beginning is very engaging and fun, but I found myself getting bored after a while. I really enjoyed the whole atmosphere of the game, and I really wanted to enjoy the game and finish it, but I eventually realized that I’m forcing myself to play just to see more cutscenes. I couldn’t pinpoint what it was about the gameplay that made it boring at first. But when I was browsing through the screenshots and thinking back on my experience, I realized that after playing more than 60 levels, I could only remember a handful that stood out to me
This is the main issue with the Jars. It looks great. The art style and animations, the soundtrack, and the small entries in the encyclopedia are all beautiful and amusing, but the gameplay gets repetitive after a few levels. Most of the levels look relatively the same, with the same objectives, and after failing a few levels and restarting them, I realized that the placement of the jars and insects is randomly generated. Jars looks like a puzzle game, but the puzzles are not carefully and independently designed. The layout of the levels is not random, but the placement of enemies and allies is. This did not have a recognizable influence on solving the puzzles and passing the levels, but it made them feel less significant and unique.
There is a lot of levels in Jars, and I couldn’t; get myself to finish them all because they all blended in together and made the game into a grind for unlocking new insects are seeing more of the gothic cartoon art style. Some might appreciate the amount of content to finish in the game, but for me, it seemed like a case of quantity over quality. I would’ve rather had 50 memorable and challenging levels with unique puzzles, instead of hundreds of levels that look the same most of the time.
I keep saying “most of the time” because I do remember a few levels that truly felt unique and creative, and I just wish that they weren’t a rare occasion. Jars looks great, but it seems like there were more effort and energy put into the visual aspect of the game over the puzzles.
In the end, I enjoyed playing Jars, and I can tell that it’s not a game to be played in one sitting. The gameplay loop felt fun again whenever I re-entered the game the next day and I’m sure that I will get back to the unfinished levels after a while. The puzzles are not distinct enough to keep the player engaged after finishing a few levels, but it’s the visual and narrative design of the game that makes up for it.