Review by Flashman85

Reviewed: 08/14/09

Mighty Waste of Time is more like it.

Mighty Bomb Jack is one of the worst video games I’ve ever played.

I don’t make this claim lightly. If you’ve already played the game, the mere mention of the title should’ve had you in tears by now. If you play through with a detailed map and a halfway decent walkthrough, Mighty Bomb Jack is a disappointing and heavily flawed platformer; if you play through equipped with nothing but your own intuition to guide you, Mighty Bomb Jack is a nightmare-inducing gaming fiasco.

I actually have a hardcopy instruction manual for Mighty Bomb Jack, so, in a stunning stroke of genius, I decided to read it before starting up the game. The manual is written in the time-honored “poor Japanese-to-English translation” style, the kind that explains how the purpose of a 1-Up is “To increase one JACK in a stock of JACKS.” Not the worst translation I’ve ever seen, to be sure, but I think the manual’s description of the bouncing skull enemy pretty much sums things up: “It narrates the pyramid legend weirdly, ‘Weird! Weird!’”

Indeed.

Despite all the nonsense, I managed to piece together that Mighty Bomb Jack is a fairly average platformer with a hint of innovative gameplay that involves exploring a mazelike pyramid, collecting treasure, racking up a high score, finding secrets, and rescuing a king, queen, and princess from the evil clutches of the demon king Belzebut.

No, not Beelzebub. Belzebut. Pronounced kinda like “bells on butt.”

Really, though, the plot has no impact whatsoever on the game until the very end, and chances are extremely high that you will never make it to the very end. No, this is not a criticism of your gaming ability; Mighty Bomb Jack is so unfair and unrewarding that there is no reason to play through the whole thing, unless you’re planning on writing a review to warn others of the dangers of playing. And for the three people out there who actually *like* Mighty Bomb Jack, I have just two words to say to you: “Weird! Weird!”

Conceptually, Mighty Bomb Jack (henceforth to be known as “MBJ”) has the potential to be a very interesting game. Conceptually, that is; in practice, the game is a lot of wasted potential and bad ideas. But let’s start with the interesting parts, and then see where things went sour.

First, the jumping physics are unique: Jack, the hero, can leap almost the entire height of the screen, but he can stop his jump at any height. Then, Jack can either fall at normal speed, drop quickly to the ground, or slowly and smoothly float to the floor (Raccoon Mario would be jealous). It may take a while to become completely comfortable with the controls (I, for one, am still not completely comfortable with the controls), but the game is worth playing if for no other reason than to see what it’s like to jump around a bit.

That’s a pretty pathetic reason, I know, but I’m doing what I can to say something positive here.

Second, there are multiple paths to take, multiple endings, a high score to shoot for, and the enemies are randomized and randomly placed. You can also try for a high “Game Deviation Value” score that is displayed at the Game Over screen, which is “based on the computer’s analysis of your reflexes, memory, judgement and application power.” In other words, the computer pulls a number out of a hat and gives it to you. The number, that is; not the hat.

In theory, it sounds like there should be a lot of replayability here. In practice, I really don't think anybody wants to replay this game. But I'm getting there.

Third, treasure hunting plays a curious role: Treasure chests are scattered everywhere, but there are so many enemies around that it’s often a better idea to leave them behind than to risk your life for a few hundred points. However, it’s imperative to check out every treasure chest if you want to beat the game properly, because some chests contain sphinx-shaped items that open up alternate passages, and a few chests contain secret coins that you must collect to unlock the “best” ending. Don’t ask me how any of this works; I just do what the walkthroughs tell me.

Treasure chests often contain Mighty Coins, which Jack can use in the middle of a level to activate his Mighty Power, which changes the color of his tights (at least, that’s what I’m assuming he’s wearing) and allows him to open chests that regular ol’ not-so-mighty Jack can’t open. Collect too many coins, however, and you are banished to the Torture Room, where you will remain until you have jumped 50 times in a row to atone for your greed, all the while avoiding an endless onslaught of enemies.

You may balk at the idea of doing so many pointless jumping jacks (hah—get it? “Jumping JACKS”?), but the sad truth is that you’re doing that much jumping anyhow just to stay alive throughout the rest of the game. And you can never catch a break. And that’s all you ever do. The jumping does not end.

Torture Room? More like Torture Game!

Once released from the Torture Room, you’re dumped back out where you were before, except you have to start waaaay back at the beginning of that area. Or maybe not. Most of the areas look exactly the same, so for all I know the Torture Room could be, like, a warp zone.

Nah.

That’s one of the biggest problems with this game: In the hands of a dedicated gamer, MBJ should take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to complete, but after about the first four minutes of gameplay, you will have seen virtually all of the enemies, powerups, graphics, and general level layouts the game has to offer. That’s all well and good for a game like Pong, but a platformer of this length demands more variety!

Throughout the entire game, the floors and walls are made either of square stones or generic cave rock. The backgrounds are bland brick walls. Sometimes, if Santa knows you’ve been especially good this year, you’ll find an area with a different color scheme.

Each area is either a single room, a long horizontal tunnel, or a long vertical shaft (kinda like the original Metroid), all of which consist of ledges, pillars, scattered treasure chests, and wide open spaces. Eventually, there are deadly (and stationary) columns of flame. And that’s about it. For the entire game. The few exceptions barely warrant a mention, and most of them don’t show up until the last few screens of MBJ. Still, I’ll at least acknowledge that there’s a section where you can briefly step outside the pyramid and admire the refreshingly different background, a lovingly rendered sky that is entirely one shade of blue.

Alright, fine. There are palm trees and totem poles as well. Are ya happy now?

Considering everything that can be done with the unique jumping physics, one would expect a wider array of challenges than “Jump over the pillar. Jump onto the ledge. Jump over the pillar. Etc.” Not only is it monotonous to run through several iterations of what appears to be the same level, but it’s incredibly difficult to keep track of where you are and where you’re going; MBJ is just as labyrinthine as the original Metroid, except there are barely any landmarks to reassure you that you aren’t jumping around in circles, and the secrets are far less intuitive to find. Worse yet, the levels are timed, so wasting time on getting lost can cost you more than your sanity.

Adding to the navigational challenge is the fact that enemies appear at random in every single area, so it’s impossible to identify an area by how many enemies are there when you enter, or by where they’re positioned. Making matters worse, each enemy periodically transforms into a different kind of enemy; whereas in Super Mario Bros. there are a limited number of locations in the game where you’ll find Bullet Bills or Buzzy Beetles, in MBJ you could run into absolutely any enemy at any time; so, it's totally useless to figure out where you are based on the enemies, because they keep changing.

For example, a skeleton might suddenly appear and start walking on the ground. Shortly thereafter, it might transform into a bird that follows you around. A moment later, you’ll be fleeing from a rocket-powered turtle shell that ricochets around the room at high speed. This can be immensely frustrating because the difficulty fluctuates wildly from moment to moment; every single screen can instantly become a horrible deathtrap without any warning at all, depending on the whims of the enemy randomizer.

Here’s the kicker: Jack has only three lives and no continues, passwords, or saved games. And one hit kills. As the manual puts it, “If the timer reaches zero (0), or Jack touches an enemy he will die causing a loss of play.” Not to mention a loss of one's temper.

To top it all off, Jack has no offensive capabilities. If you collect a fairly rare special item (or burn a bunch of Mighty Coins at once) you can temporarily turn all the enemies into bonus coins, but other than that, it’s Dodge City. Because you have to dodge enemies all the time. And because the results of that are usually as pretty as those of an Old West gunfight.

Seriously, MBJ is brutal. Enemies DO NOT stop respawning, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the stunningly boring level design was intentional, so that players could focus most of their efforts on nonstop dodging (and that gets tiresome VERY quickly). While there are one or two screens that require actual platforming skill to traverse, all the hardest challenges in the game require you to jump up and down in one spot while dodging enemies. You can’t really practice to get better, either; you can memorize where all the secret passages and hidden items are, but survival in the face of randomly spawning enemies depends heavily on luck and great reflexes, which seem to diminish the longer you play.

The only parts of the game that feel at all enjoyable are the occasional “bomb rooms,” where you must collect all the round, red bombs from the room before being able to proceed. Evidently, Jack either collects or defuses bombs for some unclear reason, which is why this terrible game is called Mighty Bomb Jack instead of just plain Mighty Bomb, which I think would have been a more accurate title.

The bomb rooms feel like isolated stages from an arcade game (which makes sense, because I understand that MBJ was based on an arcade game); there’s an obvious objective, and the layouts of the bomb rooms allow for optimal use of both the jumping physics and the natural challenge of the ever-changing enemies that keep popping into existence. Unfortunately, the rest of the game stretches this moderately fun arcade experience into a tedious and confusing escape from a swarm of infinite foes that simply does not end.

Maybe MBJ isn’t a platformer at all. The more I think about it, the more I feel like it should be classified as survival horror. Especially when I start thinking about the music.

MBJ’s highly repetitive, frequently high-pitched soundtrack lunges back and forth between being excessively happy and unapologetically ominous. It sounds like a Carnival of Doom. Most of the sound effects appear to have been recorded by a digitized bird stuck in a blender. It’s all tolerable in small doses, but prolonged exposure to the game’s audio may result in permanent brain damage.

Of course, there’s really no reason to play MBJ for that long. It might be worth trying out just to see what the game physics are like, but a single session with this game is more than anybody needs. I started out playing MBJ on my Nintendo without any help other than the instruction manual, and I ultimately ended up finishing the game on an emulator (with LOTS of save states) with total dependence on a map and a walkthrough.

Neither experience was fun. And the few fleeting moments of fun I may have experienced were grossly overshadowed by the pain of dying every thirty seconds, being hopelessly lost at all times, doing nothing but jumping, and being subjected to the Carnival of Doom for several days in a row.

Yet, there’s somebody out there who is devoted enough to have mastered this game, someone who can beat it in about 10 minutes. I saw the video, and I don’t care whether or not the run was tool-assisted; this person somehow bypasses almost every section of the game. Man, if I could have done that, I think I might have almost liked Mighty Bomb Jack.

Mighty Bomb Jack is basically a half-decent arcade game that was mistranslated into a bad platformer. The unique jumping physics are interesting, but the uninspired level designs rarely allow for anything more than basic enemy avoidance, which quickly becomes wearisome due to a lack of offensive powers and the fact that the enemies NEVER let up. The game is unforgiving, repetitive, and lacking in rewards for the unbelievable amount of effort required to make any real progress. Mighty Bomb Jack might be worth a few minutes of goofing around, but the only reason I can think of to play through the entire game, let alone to go after more than one ending, is if you’re still living in 1987 and own no other video games.

Alright, so maybe you want to see the ridiculous congratulatory message at the end of the game after you rescue the royal family and defeat Belzebut. Here, I’ve saved you the trouble:

“KING PAMERA WAS MOVED TO TEARS WITH PLEASURE SEEING IT, JACK FOUND OUT AND SHOUTED ‘FATHER’”

…You so owe me.


Rating:   1.0 - Terrible

Product Release: Mighty Bomb Jack (US, 07/31/87)

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