Most games concerned with keeping their heroes undetected create a reliance on a few familiar mechanics. Sticking to shadows, staying out of sight and keeping quiet have staple stealth mechanics for as long as the genre's been around. And Dynamite Jack uses all of those. But, given that the only weapon that the titular hero can wield is dynamite, maintaining silence gets very tricky..
This PC/Mac action game comes from Phil Hassey, the game designer behind the hit multiplayer strategy mobile game Galcon. Players control Jack, a human space marine who's being held prisoner but hostile aliens. He managed to break free from his captors and now needs to escape the subterranean caverns where he's been forced to mine valuable minerals.
Luckily, Jack has access to the loads of explosives left lying around underground. Along with a flashlight to illuminate the darkness, you'll use bombs to create paths, eliminate obstacles and kill guards. Jack needs to find the glowing portal exit on each level to proceed and will be able to pick up chunks of ore to add to their score. Each level is timed and you can earn achievements for feats like clearing a level without killing.
I've spent a good chunk of time with Dynamite Jack and have come to really appreciate how it generates a nice tension between the necessity to explore very loudly with explosives and remain unseen. It can be easy enough to track patrol patterns and weave around guards' fields of vision. But when you need to blow out a cave wall to get a key card, they'll hear it and come running to investigate. If you get spotted, you get shot death on the spot and need to restart the level. Best of all, there's a frightening unpredictability to the guards' investigative rambles. I rarely felt safe while hiding in the aftermath of an explosion. And in a stealth game, that's a great thing.
Puzzle elements show up in DJ, too. Some level will have you blowing up technological barriers to access interiors. These moments can result in beautiful cascades of destruction that are both fun and useful. There's a mini-map for a little help but it only shows the pathways that you've already discovered or made, so it never becomes too much of a crutch.
Dynamite Jack sports an undeniably retro aesthetic but combines the top-down look with smart, challenging modern-day design elements. If it were a coin-op arcade game, Dynamite Jack would keep players pumping quarters into it until they'd mastered its challenges. As it is, you'll be able to grab it on Steam when it releases on May 10th.