Playing Junk Jack [$2.99] for the first time, you may experience a strong sense of déjà vu. It brought to mind my first delve into Minecraft, with the feeling of overwhelming choice, the lack of any clear idea what to do next, the need to visit YouTube and wikis to learn exactly why I was punching all those trees. But while there are any number of blatant Minecraft knockoffs on the App Store, Junk Jack distinguishes itself in nearly every category -- but one.

One of Minecraft's biggest weaknesses (one that's improved over the course of its development) is its lack of direction, and Junk Jack takes that flaw and runs with it. For a game designed around crafting, building and exploration, Junk Jack is aggressive in its lack of assistance, leaving you without even a way to keep track of your craft notes (schematics) until you find the right note for the job. Luckily, developer Pixbits has already acknowledged that problem and is working up a fix as we speak, so we can focus on this game's charm and potential.

It has charm in spades. While it isn't the first 2D sandbox building game out there, it is a particularly attractive one, sporting crisp pixel art and gorgeous lighting effects. Then there's the excellent chiptune soundtrack by Bright Primate. Combined, you get the sense that you're building one of your favorite classic games.

But don't go into Junk Jack looking for a classic game experience. At the moment it's an untouched sandbox. Aside from a selection of Game Center achievements, there are no set goals to the game - just explore, build, and create whatever you can imagine.

Exploration is both better and worse than it is in Minecraft. Above ground, you won't find many truly unique or interesting vistas. Since the game is limited to two planes and a fixed size, crazy mountains or overhangs would largely just get in your way. Under ground, however, there's lots to find. New schematics are everywhere you dig, and boxes full of tools, treasures and materials are scattered throughout the depths. I'm still finding strange new areas, biomes I haven't seen before living deep underground. Still, there's no risk of getting truly lost.

Building has its ups and downs too. With only two planes (background and foreground), there are plenty of things you can't build. Don't expect full-scale replicas of the Millennium Falcon to pop up in Junk Jack. But the things you can build can be filled with all sorts of neat little things. Not only can you create all manner of furniture and decor with a familiar grid-based crafting system, but you also find treasures and statues and artifacts in your journeys, and you can display them proudly in your home.

Speaking of which, Pixbits has done something interesting with its save system. Say you build a gorgeous home underground, and you want to keep it pristine. You can load up one of the other two world slots and strip mine it, because your inventory travels between worlds. This opens up a lot of possibilities for creating linked worlds, but it does seriously limit your ability to share a single copy of the game with, say, your kids.

There is one outstanding caveat to my love of Junk Jack, and that's its controls. They aren't terrible, but they take some getting used to. You can swipe/drag to walk in any direction, and swipe up to jump. You can't do both those things at the same time, though, so jumping is pretty much pointless, though a diagonal swipe jump can sometimes get you where you need to go. Managing your inventory is also harder than necessary, requiring a lot of care and precision while selections hide under your fingertips.

But the real problem is tapping: prepare to do a lot of it. Digging requires aggressively mashing your finger on the spot you want to clear, at least until you have high quality tools. My wrist isn't thanking me for playing this game.

If you can adapt to the controls, you're left with a game of great potential. Pixbits plans to keep building on the foundation they've laid, so hopefully we can expect to see quests, farming and cooking soon. I'll also keep my fingers crossed for bigger worlds with ever more to discover. Even as it stands, though, Junk Jack is outstanding. Just make sure to take a guide, or look to our discussion thread for help -- it's a complicated world in there.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • Miguel Herrero

    This game is more similar to Terraria than to Minecraft.

    • Anonymous

      It's not quite as popular as Minecraft but I think it's clear that Junk
      Jack was more closely inspired by it. The wiki even says it's sponsored
      by Terraria. I suppose they're essentially all just based on Minecraft,
      so we're just talking semantics, but Terraria is definitely worth
      checking out.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/GMDQOJX744STVH7RZADEVZNMF4 Bob

        I wanna try Terraria, but only have a mac... :(

        So Minecraft and Junk Jack it is. Oh well.

      • http://twitter.com/LearnIIBurn Tyler Piderit

        There is a way to play Terraria on Mac and it works great. Requires a Microsoft .NET emulator I think. Its all over the web and not too hard to do! :)

    • https://twitter.com/#!/NissaCam Nissa Campbell

      Certainly. But as a point of reference for people, Minecraft has an audience of ~16 million registered users, and Terraria doesn't.

  • Anonymous

    Since this is a "2D Minecraft" game, how does it compare to Terraria?

    • Anonymous

      on the mining front, it's just as fun. but after that layer of gameplay, it falls a little short. but this is something I hope is improved with many updates. Terraria has a boatload for you to do other than just mine for things.

      also one major complaint is, the enemies in Terraria provide not only a challenge, but they also drop loot that you need to craft certain items. Right now, almost none of the enemies in JJ drop any loot other than the green blobs. Which to me, if there is no reward, then there is no point.

      Still though, JJ is quite enjoyable, and if you like Terraria even the slightest bit, you will enjoy Junk Jack. The exploration aspect is a lot of fun.

      • https://twitter.com/#!/NissaCam Nissa Campbell

        Yeah, it lacks Terraria's focus on combat, and it's significantly smaller. I really prefer the look of Junk Jack, though - and the size of the blocks for mining feels much better.

      • Daniel Palacios

        The green blobs' loot can be used to make green lanterns. For me that's enough to get them. I haven't played Terraria nor Minecraft, but from what I've read, the first thing that came to my mind was "a 2D Minecraft".

        For newbies such as me, you'll need to dedicate 1-2 hours to learn the basics and you'll need to read some of the forums with tips on how to begin (TA forums and JJ forums are great for that). After the "introductory 2 hours", everything goes smooth as silk.

        As for James Bond's comment on the price, I have to admit that for people who have never had any contact with Minecraft nor similar games, it looks expensive at first. I thought: "Mmmm, it's not the standard price of 1 buck... Will it be worth 3 bucks? Forums are boiling with the game, praising it everywhere... Seems expensive, but I've read no bad news, no apparent bugs... People enjoying it... I'll give them the 3 bucks to see what all the hipe is about!". And to be honest, I find the 3 bucks much better spent than in other cheaper 1 buck games.

        If you're looking for an exploration game easy to play but with loads of depth, stop thinking about it and buy this game. Rest assured, you'll have plenty of hours of play.

  • http://twitter.com/ZildjianKX Jeff

    Any chance of a universal update?  I might buy it if there is.

    • Anonymous

      they have stated on their twitter feed that it will come eventually

    • http://www.facebook.com/brandon.blokzijl Brandon Blokzijl

      Looks great (but not perfect) on x2 on the iPad. Woudn't wait if I were you (I use it on both the iPad and iPhone).

  • http://twitter.com/VULTR3 Mike

    I'm enjoying this game. It's got a little more character to it than Crafted, and better controls. I just hope they eventually update with letting you destroy blocks by holding, instead of all the tapping. Also, some bigger looking monsters would be cool...

    • http://twitter.com/mguniverse Danny Perski

      Crafted is a joke, a mediocre ripoff that even uses Minecraft art assets. 

      • http://twitter.com/VULTR3 Mike

        Yeah, I noticed that. I've pretty much switched to Junk Jack having played both.

  • http://twitter.com/droidaphone Droidaphone

    The devs have said that universal update is planned, but implied it won't be right away.

    • http://www.facebook.com/brandon.blokzijl Brandon Blokzijl

      Looks fine on x2 on the iPad, not perfect but still very nice. Can recommend to pick it up now.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_CN5B3ROVDFAFDYBQTPCMD3C3OI James Bond

    Ehhh... low on credit and on memory on device. Might as well wait for a sale...

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_CN5B3ROVDFAFDYBQTPCMD3C3OI James Bond

      On a side note, I think it would have been more wise to do an introductory sale(JJ didn't rank very high on the appstore rank list- it would have helped its popularity)

      • http://www.facebook.com/brandon.blokzijl Brandon Blokzijl

        Actually, according to them it's a promotional/introductory sale price:

        "8. What will be the launch price of Junk Jack?
        Junk Jack will hit the AppStore with a price of 2.99$. This a promotional launch price for our beloved followers! "

        Source: http://www.pixbits.com/junk-jack/faq

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_CN5B3ROVDFAFDYBQTPCMD3C3OI James Bond

        o_o that's a pretty ambitious price for a game people are complaining about for content.

      • Anonymous

        It's a FAIR price.  And no one's complaining except you...

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_CN5B3ROVDFAFDYBQTPCMD3C3OI James Bond

        Who's complaining. I was merely stating an observation. It seems like you're just upset because we don't share mutual sentiments on this issue, but it's ok to feel angry over the internet. 

      • Anonymous

        I should have worded my reply differently, I didn't intend to sound hostile.  I have not heard any complaints concerning a lack of content; this game has plenty of content, along with depth and charm to spare.  It's well worth the asking price, in my opinion.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_CN5B3ROVDFAFDYBQTPCMD3C3OI James Bond

        Ah well come to think of it, my empirical statement was based only on a few comments from the forums(mostly from those unexposed to sandbox games). My mistake I guess. 

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_CN5B3ROVDFAFDYBQTPCMD3C3OI James Bond

        My main point though was that 2.99 doesn't seem like a strategical price for the developers to launch Junk Jack. 

      • http://twitter.com/b2kdaman Valentine

        They will add quests and more features to the game. So it might be worthy a 4.99 price. We'll see.

  • Anonymous

    @James Bond

    It IS a strategical price my friend. How?

    Market is already THERE for minecraft (people want to play minecraft kinda game on their iphones)
    Usually price is set low to let people understand the product and get a feel for it. (market penetration)

    p.s. you can read more on 1-market development 2-product development 3-Differentiation 4-market penetration

    As far as the game is concerned... It's too good! adding quests and stuff will make the game grow in future, financially as well. Of-course devs can't (read: won't) give the full cake in the beginning :D

  • http://twitter.com/b2kdaman Valentine

    Can't find iron for two hours or so. Can't build anvil... Starting to feel disappointed...A bit...

    • http://twitter.com/droidaphone Droidaphone

      Iron is definitely rarer than it shld be...

  • Jeff Krus

    Only with the advent of the App Store has the cost of a Large Cappucino ($3-$4) been considered expensive. I feel like I'm listening to my grandmother complain about canned peas!! Shut UP already with the cheap-ass drivel about $3 being "expensive"!!

    5 years ago, the only way to play a game of this quality was either A) Pay $20-$30 bucks for a GBA title, or B) Flash games on PC / Mac.

    Now, all I hear is "$3 is a little steep".

    Whatever. Around my way, if you complained about a $3 pricetag on ANYTHING, you'd never hear the end of it from your friends. We weren't rich, either. We just had a little dignity.

    • http://mattplays.com/ Matt

      Not a good analogy.  You don't consume multiple caapucinos a day (or I hope not.)  Most people like the idea of buying multiple iOS games for 99 cents and playing a bunch of them at a time.  That's where the price comes in, it adds up fast, especially if you have an iOS game addiction, which I'm guessing most of us suffer from.

  • Olivier Chouinard

    How do I play Junk JAck on my Computer ? In each videos I see he's playing with a Cursor so can we explain me how ? (maybe tight VNC ??)

    • http://twitter.com/JaredTA Jared Nelson

      That's the developer playing in the iOS simulator software on a computer. It's part of the iOS SDK, not an actual desktop version of the game. As far as I know Junk Jack is only available for iOS.

    • http://twitter.com/ahamling27 Andrew Hamling

      If you want Junk Jack on your computer, the closest thing is the awesome Steam game called Terraria. :D

  • Bazooka Piggy

    The 'complete craftbook' was worth it, but there are a lot of crafting recipes that are not in the craftbook :( and why do some items have no use? some examples: tetris peice, zombie shirt, red shoe, space invader character

  • cwearly

    In the 1.1 release coming soon, there are over 225 individual improvements to the game. I've been playing since early December, and been a member on the Junk Jack Forum. I even just Beta tested for this upcoming release. It's now even better with farming, and new, smarter, faster "bad-ass" mobs (enemies).
    This game has the "best" Developers backing it up. Jacopo and Silvio (Jack and XsX on the Junk Jack Forum) are "the" hardest working Devs I've ever seen. We members make suggestions for the game, they make it happen.
    Also, the Devs have released on pixbits.wordpress.com a Prototype for water. It's beginning to look that in 1.2 or 1.3, Junk Jack will have water (and maybe even lava).
    By the way, Universal Version is in 1.1, too!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=627554781 Jacko DD

    It sounds more about making little clothes and decorations for your character, how is that a purpose? If you want 2d minecraft, find a way to play terraria as it will be a while before any alternative even comes close!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FEPGNPPZWZHESHEVLCXZZOMUCY Damien

    Three bucks for the amount of content Junk Jack provides is a no-brainier. It's fun, period. I've been playing it off and on for the last few days, where most free or .99 apps end up getting deleted within a few hours.

    Give it a try, and hang in for the updates. Its already a HUGE game for three bucks, and it's only going to get better, from what I'm reading.

Junk Jack Reviewed by Nissa Campbell on . Rating: 4.5