Atlus' so-called fake Jack Bros. side-scroller is real, free, and on PC
A left-of-field gift for Shin Megami Tensei's 25th anniversary, free to download until December 24.
Full credit to Atlus, they know exactly when to let a good gag go. Last week's trailer for the imminent Shin Megami Tensei: Deep Strange Journey featured footage of a "fake" 2D pixel-art action game starring SMT mainstay Jack Frost that was so conpiscously real that nobody could, even for a second, believe it to be a mere mockup — and rather than labor the joke, they've dropped the charade and released the game as a free download for PC.
Developed by Japanese indie star and SMT fanatic Krobon's new studio Ladybug, the awkwardly-titled Shin Megami Tensei: SYNCHRONICITY PROLOGUE puts the player in control of Jack Frost as he treks through a demon-infested antarctic hellscape in search of... okay, I skipped all the text so I can't tell you why he's there (it's in Japanese and the website says it's non-canon, whaddya want from me?). What I can tell you is that the game features all the hallmarks of a modern 2D action-exploration game — backtracking, key-and-lock character actions, an experience system, stamina-based special attacks and that oh-so-comforting rectangular auto-map — alongside a character-switching gimmick that lets you swap between rescued characters in real time in order to chain their unique abilities or take advantage of familiar SMT elemental affinities. The map is a little more condensed and designed around room-by-room than the average hallway-skulker, and the characters' focus on rapid-fire ranged attacks pull the tempo away from the likes of Castlevania and a little closer to something like Cave Story.
(Of course, a more obvious point of reference would be Krobon's own Pharaoh Rebirth, a game released in Japan in 2015 to critical acclaim and internationally on Steam last year and one that has already been repurposed as a promotional vehicle for an external publisher; namely, KonoSuba: Return of Verdia, a game developed and released as a bonus item for the season 2 DVD release of the popular anime of the same name.)
SYNCHRONICITY PROLOGUE is currently only available in Japanese, with no word on the likelihood of an official English release, but don't let that dissuade you: the installation process is dead simple (download, unzip, run synchronicity.exe), the launcher and config is in English and the in-game text is completely non-essential and very easy to skip. It's free to download but it won't be available forever — you've got until December 24 to try it out, so whether you're a pixel art junkie, a SMT fan or a Virtual Boy maniac, be sure to carve out a few hours to experience SMT's unexpected soujourn into indie platformerdom.