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Old 07-11-2010, 07:00 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Spectrum Analyzer: Bomb Jack

From the Atari 2600 to the NES to the Sega Genesis, you thought you've experienced everything there is to know about retro. Don't get too cocky though, Americans! There's a whole other chapter of classic gaming you've likely missed. Pack your bags... 1UP is taking an extended trip to England to discover:

For better or worse, Sean “Seanbaby” Reiley helped define internet comedy with his long-running and sardonic pop culture web site, paving the way for countless other online satirists. He also sparked a revolution in classic gaming, bringing the Nintendo generation into a community that was once dominated by Atari enthusiasts.

Some may consider him a legend in his own time, but for all the influence that Reiley has had on Gen-X culture, he's not always right. Take for instance his incredibly popular feature on the twenty worst Nintendo games of all time, recently reprinted on Cracked. He carelessly lumps Tecmo's Mighty Bomb Jack in with genuinely terrible NES titles like Total Recall, Super Pitfall, and Deadly Towers, making such substantial complaints as “the instruction manual was translated into five different languages before making a final stop at English,” or “the lead character wears his underwear outside his costume” (congratulations, you just described every comic book hero since Superman!).

The only thing Reiley mentioned that had anything to do with the game was that the hero spends most of his time in mid-air, which was, well, the entire point. More than Mario, more than Sonic, and more than any other side-scrolling platformer, Mighty Bomb Jack is about controlling the height and descent of the hero's jumps. Holding the fire button launches Jack into the air, a light tap stops his climb, and repeated taps let him glide safely to the ground.

It takes skill and timing to master jumping and stay alive throughout this lengthy adventure, a point that was clearly lost on Seanbaby but understood by indie game designer Anna Anthropy. Her Mighty Jill Off ran with the concept, inserting the control scheme into a vertically scrolling action game that milked it for all it was worth. Either you used pixel-perfect leaps to squeeze the leather-clad hero through tight, spike-filled tunnels, or you (and your controller) died trying.

Hold on, Spectrum fans, I'm getting to you! Mighty Bomb Jack is actually the sequel to the sleeper hit Bomb Jack, which first debuted in arcades back in 1984. Created by Michitaka Tsuruta, who would go on to design the equally brilliant Solomon's Key, and produced by Kazutoshi Ueta, responsible for Mr. Do!, Bomb Jack had the parentage to be a blockbuster hit. It never found an audience in America thanks to the video game crash, but its bomb-snatching, robot-dodging action was appreciated in both its native Japan and in Great Britain thanks to Elite Systems. Elite released versions of Bomb Jack for a handful of home computers, including (here it comes, get ready for it!) the ZX Spectrum, where it was warmly received by both critics and the public. Crash magazine declared it a “Crash Smash,” while Your Sinclair editor Rachael Smith proclaimed “Bomb Jack most certainly is a blast!”

It's a terrible pun, I know, but she wasn't wrong. The Spectrum version of Bomb Jack is dynamite, explosive, mind-blowing… pretty much every detonator-related superlative you can throw at it. The graphics are colorful and detailed without masking the characters in the foreground, and the game plays pretty much just like the original, right down to the thick crowds of enemies that fill the screen, the “sparking bonus” you'll receive by picking up only lit bombs, and the tight control that makes the difference between a slam-dunk conversion and the kind of game best described as a Shaquille O'Neal free throw shot. The only thing lost in translation is the cheery and copyright-flaunting soundtrack, which Tecmo had to trim out of more recent versions of the game anyway. Hey, if you wanted to listen to the Mrs. Pepper Pot theme song that badly, you'd be watching the cartoon!

So for those of you keeping score: Bomb Jack and the Spectrum, 1; Seanbaby, 0.

Special thanks to World of Spectrum, the MAME History File, and Wikipedia for historical data.
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