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RELEASE DATE (NA): October 20, 1995 GENRE: Action
// review by SoyBomb

Never played? Then you don't know Jack!

Remember the Virtual Boy? Do you really remember it? I sure do. I remember trying it out in a Toys'R'Us when I was about 10 years old, and impressed I was not. The equipment was very uncomfortable to use, the screens were not well-focused, and... well, the initial game library didn't make effective use of the supposed three-dimensional capabilities of the system. Plus, though I don't remember this specifically happening to me, it provided gamers with an unpleasant side effect: headaches. Still, every gaming console is not entirely worthless in the eyes of this reviewer; unique gaming gems are, indeed, available on every system to date (difficult though it may seem to find them). Although most of the Virtual Boy's library was less than impressive, there are a few solid games to be found, one of which is the interesting Jack Bros.

Developed as an extreme side-story to the popular Megami Tensei franchise in Japan (though this was actually the first title of the series to be released overseas), we follow the Jack Bros. (now mascots to developer/publisher Atlus) on Halloween night, the only night of the year when the portal between our world and the Land of the Fairies opens. Unfortunately, in the midst of mirth, one of the Jack Bros. enjoys himself a bit too much on that brisk October day and loses track of time. He must now dash quickly to that portal before it closes for the entire year -- or face the loss of his powers and his own complete disappearance! Terrible! With the aid of a fairy, Pixie, the Jack Brother can find the best way home, though his journey is not without its fair share of hardships... and antagonists.

Now I say that only one Jack Brother falls behind. Whichever one is decided by you. You get your pick of snowballin' Jack Frost, the fiery Jack Lantern, or the slightly more devious Jack Skelton (originally called Jack Ripper in the Japanese version). Each one boasts their own special aptitudes and statistics: different weapons, special attacks, and levels of overall mobility.

You can never trust a fairy. They'll only corrupt your children. Oh, and damn, red & black make for ugly action scenes.

Within the game, there are 6 areas total, and each consists of multiple levels, but not levels as in separate stages, but levels as in LITERALLY levels. Each area has multiple floors that require you to collect all the keys strewn about to open up the gateway to the next floor... and then you jump downward directly to the next floor, in sequence, until you get to the final boss at the end. This little jumping trick is a nice way to show off the 3D capabilities of the system, though it's nothing unique. All the while, you must avoid/destroy grumpy enemies and varied traps sprouting from the walls and floors in an effort to save your own skin and get back to your homeland. Unfortunately, there's a very strict timer at the top of the screen working against you: Jack's time is quite precious here! Every time you get injured, you lose some time, and once you hit zero, your life is over. (The one in the game, not your real life.) Luckily, some enemies will drop clocks (from where?) so you can score some additional play time. But the time is indeed limited and even for the first area, you are quite limited in your timeframe, so it's best to play wisely and safely. That means no injury! All in all, it's your general platformer: nothing too extravagant, but at the same time easy to pick up and play. The password system will also help with the quick burst, "pick up and play" mentality, especially considering your eyes will probably have dried up into gray raisinettes after 15 minutes.

But now I have to talk about graphics. All I can say is that it's Virtual Boy. That's all I really NEED to say. If extravagance is what you seek, though, I could say that what you DO get is very quaint, even if everything is in red and black. If everything was in colour, I'd imagine it would look very much like a cute SNES platformer, which should give you a relative state of the quality of the graphics. I've always liked how Jack Frost & Co. has been drawn, and Jack Bros. illustrates their unique appearances. The environments all look very much alike; unfortunately, you're always walking on grating, making for a bland scenic experience. As for sound, well, it's a mixed bag. For the most part, it's good, although certain instruments sound... off. However, for a Virtual Boy game soundtrack, it kicks more butt than anyone could reasonably expect.

If you do ever come across a reasonably-priced Virtual Boy, or find one in someone's trash bin, don't leave it be! Pick it up! Dust it off! Rip off that dirty banana peel! And get playing! And if you need to stock up on a few Virtual Boy games for your collection, I'd actually recommend Jack Bros. as one of those games -- though attaining a copy will be pricey. It's not the deepest platformer in the world -- far from it -- but compared to the rest of the brood, it's definitely one of the better options.

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