Bomb Jack (1984)
By: Tehkan Genre: Platform Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 186,620
Also Available For: Sega SG-1000, GameBoy, Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Commodore 16, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Atari XL/XE, MSX
Download For: Wii Virtual Console
You know, given the overwhelming popularity of super heroes and the potential they have for starring in great games, it’s ironic that there are so few decent ones around. One of the few good ones, not to mention one of the earliest, is Bomb Jack, and he was created especially for the job! I first discovered it on a school friend’s CPC 464 (complete with green-screen monitor) and I’ve been hooked on helping him save the world ever since! I’m sure he’s far from miffed himself – I imagine life must get pretty boring for a superhero when there’s no supervillains around to vanquish. Luckily for Jack, an unnamed scoundrel has placed bombs at some of the world’s monuments and tourist spots, so he has to dust off his cape and fly off to save the day!
Each single-screen stage contains 24 bombs and all of them must be collected before Jack can progress to the next stage. Helpfully, a majority of the stages have platforms in various arrangements to help him reach the bombs but there are of course also numerous evil enemies intent on stopping you. There’s only one or two to begin with but more turn up the longer you’re on each round. They take many forms and include mummies, flying saucers, snails, satellite things, and even birds. Some of them are airborne, but others walk around on the platforms for a while. These ones will eventually fall off their platforms, however, and when they reach the ground they’ll mutate into airborne ones, some of whom even chase you (at alarming speeds on the later rounds, too)! Regardless of their location, a touch from any of them is enough to use up one of our hero’s three lives, so they are obviously to be avoided at all costs. The further into the game you get, the faster the enemies get and the more of them there will be.
Luckily, all is not lost for our minuscule saviour, for Jack is an agile fellow and can run, hop, and jump around the platforms with ease. The height of his jumps is easily controlled and he can hover too. Well, he can’t really, but he can slow his descent by rapidly pressing the jump button which has the same effect! He can still move left or right while doing this so it’s an extremely helpful addition to his repertoire of moves. Something else that can provide a lot of help are the various icons that appear periodically. Some can be collected just for bonus points but far more useful are the ‘P’ tokens which appear fairly frequently. These bounce around the screen for a while (making a horrifying sound as they go) and, once collected, have a similar affect to the ‘Power Pills’ in Pac-Man – they turn all the enemies into bonus coins! This effect only lasts for a short time of course, plus the enemies soon respawn, but it can often be the difference between success and dismal failure! Also to be found, but far more rarely, are extra life and extra credit icons.
One of the best features of Bomb Jack is its scoring system. As soon as you grab your first bomb on any given stage, another bomb will start fizzing. A fizzing bomb is called a Fire Bomb and collecting one will then cause another to start fizzing, and so on. Collecting a fire bomb gives you double the points of a normal bomb and if you collect more than twenty of them in one round you’ll receive a large bonus at the end of it, increasing to fifty thousand points if you manage to collect all 23 of them. As I’m sure you can imagine, this makes Bomb Jack an awesome game for high-score challenges – the difference between possible scores is immense! This is especially true since the fire bombs invariably appear in rows, first on one side of the screen, then once that row has been collected, on the other side of the screen! This means you have to decide… do you risk crossing an enemy-filled screen to get a better score or do you settle for finishing the round by grabbing non-fizzing bombs nearer to your position, but with a lower score?
That’s actually key to Bomb Jack’s longevity. It’s a fantastically playable and enjoyable game, but the lure of trying to beat your (or indeed someone else’s) high score is high! It also helps that the graphics and sounds are highly appealing too. The music and sound effects are pretty simple but nice enough (with the exception of the noise the ‘P’ icon makes) and Mr Jack is a very endearing little fellow. The enemies, whilst slightly odd-looking, are nicely defined too. The game cycles through the same five backgrounds for the stages, but the platforms and bombs are arranged differently each time so the game won’t get boring any time soon. Control of Jack is nigh-on faultless too, making it relatively easy to time pixel-perfect jumps around the screen, and it’s this, combined with the great high-score potential, that makes this such a great game. There’s not really too many other games like Bomb Jack around either, and it hasn’t aged a bit. It made an ideal arcade game in its day – it’s the epitome of a fast-paced, addictive action game – something beginners will not last long at but enjoy enough to try again, and something that practise will buy you a long, enjoyable session on.
RKS Score: 9/10