PLAYERS: 1-2 alternating
DEVELOPER: Tehkan (port by Sega)
RELEASE DATE: 1985 (JP)
Is Jack the most boring name for a superhero ever? Well, it’s slightly better than Ant-Man, but not by much. Thankfully, Jack’s ability to defuse bombs is nothing short of phenomenal. Also, he can jump as good or better than Mario. You heard it here first, kids.
In Bomb Jack, you play as Jack (is he a demon in tights or just a really ugly superhero? Who can say!) and your goal is to defuse bombs at several worldwide tourist sites. The Sphinx, the Great Pyramids, the Acropolis and many more will be blown to the realm of the Ancients unless Jack can defuse all the bombs in time.
“Defusing” involves nothing more than collecting/jumping through them, and while the bombs are scattered all around the screen, Jack’s superhero leaps will easily allow him to collect them in the highest places. Also, the bombs themselves will never go off, even though certain ones look closer to detonation. No, the real threat comes in the form of numerous unknown creatures (I have no idea what these things are – bats? Crustaceans? Beings from civilizations past?). They generate out of nothing and try to stop Jack from defusing the bombs. Jack can’t attack these creatures, even though he’s a superhero and all superheroes should have an attack of some sort. However, if he collects enough bombs, an @ symbol will appear and bob around the screen. Grab dat @ and all of the creatures will turn into blobs. At this point, Jack can collect the creatures for extra points or leave them be and finish collecting the bombs.
The best way to play through Bomb Jack is by collecting the proper amount of bombs for the @ symbol to drop. Once the @ symbol drops, grab it, then fly through the remainder of the level and pick up the rest of the bombs. All the enemies will be powerless to stop your bomb grabbing. Of course, this strategy becomes less doable as the level layouts grow more complex and puzzle-like, but it will certainly get you through the first dozen stages.
While the level backdrops themselves don’t change that often (by the time you reach level six or seven, you’ll have seen The Sphinx a couple times), the levels themselves potentially go on forever and with slightly more complex layouts. Each level consists of a pre-rendered historical backdrop and platforms in the foreground which Jack can use to access the bombs or weave his way through, puzzle style, to collect the bombs. The higher the level, the more ferocious these level layouts are. Imagine Tetris pieces set up around the bombs, and you’ll get the idea.
Bomb Jack ultimately succeeds because of the game’s flawless controls. Jack can jump to the very top of the screen if you want him to – hold Button I or II down for as long as it takes and watch him soar like Superman. Once Jack’s on top of the world, press either Button down again and he’ll glide slowly downwards. These actions feel as smooth and instinctual as jumping in the original Super Mario Bros. Not only does the arcade version of Bomb Jack precede Super Mario Bros by a year, Jack’s jumping, flying, and gliding abilities recall some of Mario’s later endeavors. Long before Mario donned a Tanooki suit or a cape, Jack – of all characters – laid down the roots of character-based flight in a video game.
Bomb Jack isn’t the deepest arcade game, no matter who you ask. But I’ll be jiggered if the little horned creature didn’t win my heart with his pure arcade action. The Jack series continued with Mighty Bomb Jack on the NES, a not-so-impressive attempt at an early platformer. While not a terrible game by any means, Mighty Bomb Jack seeks to be unique, but ultimately feels like another early NES platformer with a genre identity crisis (see also: Goonies II, Milon’s Secret Castle). Bomb Jack‘s focus is simple and true, and its this assured identity (and beautiful controls) that make the game… dy-no-mite!