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Daily iPhone App: Junk Jack builds something special

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I have flown over 6,000 miles in the last two days -- on Monday, I left Prague to fly back to London, and then yesterday, I jumped on a plane to come back home to Los Angeles. And through it all, Junk Jack was there for me. The game has been out for a while now, and you might have passed over it previously as a 2D Minecraft or Terraria clone (which it basically is). But especially with the recent update, Junk Jack has carved out a major niche of its own, and it now stands as the best sandbox game I've ever played on a mobile device.

You may know how these games work by now. You start in a wild, untamed world with nothing, and then start digging down to see what kinds of resources you can find and structures you can build. Crafting is a big part of the gameplay, with your first items being axes and swords made out of wood, but you can eventually work up to making clocks out of iron, and with the latest update, even weaving and coloring wool, and planting and growing food to cook. Controls are simple (just tap to break blocks, and drag to move around), and though I've built a huge maze of mines throughout my two flights, it's still surprisingly easy to find my way around. I'm still uncovering new treasures and resources constantly even after ten or twelve hours of gameplay.

The one issue I've had is the game's recipe system. It uses the PC-based Minecraft's "workbench layout" method, which creates interesting depth, but often requires looking up recipes elsewhere, or having to flip back and forth through the in-game manual quite a bit. Inventory management is also kind of a pain on the iPhone's small screen. Just because you have so much stuff, some auto-sort buttons would be helpful.

The latest update also sends Junk Jack universal, which makes the game a must-play. It's well worth the US$2.99. If you, too, have any big plans coming up that require a huge and deep distraction, just look to Junk Jack.

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