When I was a kid, I used to play Bomb Jack. This game was actually released by Koei Tecmo in 1984, a few years before I was born, back before the two companies had merged and Tecmo was going by the name Tehkan. It’s a simple game, but also a fun one, so I jumped at the chance to review the Arcade Archives, PS4 port of the classic arcade title. Before you read any further though, know that unless you are a collector of old games or have a personal interest in this particular game for whatever reason like I do, it is by no means worth the $8.
Bomb Jack is a simpler, smaller game from a simpler time in gaming. Even for a classic arcade game, it’s very limited in scope. The graphics are very basic and offer a bare minimum of visual elements. The HUD is done in classic arcade style, outside the gameplay area. Along the top of the screen, you have player one’s score, score multiplier, and player two’s score. Along the bottom of the screen, just below the gameplay area, you have lives, round number, and hi-score. That’s literally all you need for this game and it might be too much with the multiplier. The gameplay area takes place in a rectangular space that is always back dropped by one of five static pixel art landscapes loosely based on real places. Or more realistically, it uses iconic images that make you think about real places such as a sphinx to represent Egypt, a castle for England, and tall buildings for New York. These five backgrounds are cycled in order, looping over the course of five rounds. The gameplay area is made up of orange, green, or blue bars, depending on which background you’re in, arranged in a round specific layout that never changes. So round three will always look the same no matter how many times you play or what difficulty settings you have selected. Scattered throughout the level are red bombs that look like pixel cherries save for the fact that their fuses ignite.
Jack, the playable character, looks like a sprite version of Krusty the Clown from The Simpsons in a red superhero costume and white cape. His blue pointy hair is the same color as his belt. For the time, he’s actually not animated badly. He has both front and side views that show his ears and decent enough walking animations. There are a number of different enemies based on many different things. They all appear to be chrome robots, but resemble objects such as bombs, space ships, birds, sea snails, and even soccer balls. You can also collect power-ups which all look like coins, but can appear in different colors. It’s an old game, but this port runs very smoothly. Can’t say I had any lag or control problems. Ultimately the graphics aren’t impressive, but Bomb Jack hasn’t aged too badly considering it’s 32 years old.
The gameplay is immeasurably simple in Bomb Jack. All you can do is move with the d-pad or left stick and jump with the button of your choice. The jump button can also be used to flutter downwards in order to grab things out of the air and avoid enemies. If you hold up when you jump, you can basically fly from the ground to the top of the stage and flutter down collecting things along the way. Each stage has 24 bombs, again placed in a specific layout depending on the round. Once you’ve collected all 24 bombs, the stage is over and you move onto the next round. When you complete the first five rounds you will return to the round one background but the game will say round six and the layout will be different. Enemies will randomly spawn and get in your way. They won’t necessarily chase after you but as you progress farther, they appear more often and become much more of a problem. Enemies can also turn into other enemies. Specifically walking enemies sometimes turn into flying enemies when they fall off ledges. There are power-up coins that move around to make them hard to collect. The game lists multiple types of coins in the menu, but you will only notice two kinds. The power coin turns all enemies into coins which can be collected. These add points to your score and obviously remove the enemy. Failure to collect the coins in a certain amount of time will cause them to revert to enemy form. The other type of power-up item just nets you additional points. A certain number of bombs collected or enemies killed raises your multiplier, thus raising your score as well. That’s the whole of the gameplay.
As with all Arcade Archives games, there are a number of gameplay options among other types of customization. You can set the number of starting lives from two to five, change the difficulty between one and four, and change the frequency of special items dropping. You can set the button layout and difficulty for player two independently of player one’s choices. The two player mode is done in Pac-Man style which means all you are really doing is taking turns to play one player mode. Your games are independent of each other. If player one gets to round four and dies player two will start on round one on their turn and then start wherever they died when it gets back to them. As a kid I really liked the gameplay and as an adult I don’t dislike it. But I can’t figure out why I loved such a simple game in my youth as much as I did.
The sound is actually pretty solid in this game. There are a small number of songs based on the level you’re on and an opening menu song. They’re very arcade chiptune in style, but I like them. The quality isn’t bad. There are also a number of sound effects for things such as jumping, collecting things, and dying. The game sounds fine. Not really much more to say about the audio component in Bomb Jack.
There is no writing in Bomb Jack. Not even the customary one to two sentence explanation in the manual. The manual is purely explanatory in nature and the only text the game has is “Start” at the beginning of each round and “Game Over” when you die. What is nice with this game is that it’s one of those rare ones in the collection that has a picture of the original English and Japanese instruction images from the original arcade machines in the manual.
Bomb Jack is terrible for replay value. It’s one of the older games in the collection so it doesn’t have the progress based trophies or multiple modes you see in newer Arcade Archives titles. The only performance based trophies are to get a high enough score to get on the local leaderboard and to post a high score to the online leaderboard. I did both of these things on my first try and only made it to round four. The other seven trophies are just for going through the menus and looking at the manual. I got 100% completion on this game in one round in less than 30 minutes. While I don’t know how many total rounds there are, you can get to more than 50, but it’s the same five backgrounds every time and unless you really care about the online leaderboard there’s little reason to keep playing once you’ve gone through all the backgrounds once. Currently my best is round 10 and that got me to the top 400 on the leaderboard. There’s just not enough original gameplay in this one to warrant an $8 purchase price.
Bomb Jack is not a bad game and this is an excellent port. But it’s certainly not worth what HAMSTER is charging for it. It’s definitely fun a few times but ultimately I wouldn’t pay more than a few dollars for this small amount of gameplay.
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