Jack Bros.
  • Genre:
    • Action Adventure
  • Platform:
    • Virtual Boy
  • Developer:
    • Atlus
  • Publisher:
    • Atlus
  • Released:
    • JP 09/29/1995
    • US 10/20/1995
Score: 70%

This review was published on 07/21/2016.

Jack Bros. is a video game published and developed by Atlus for the Virtual Boy. It was originally released in Japan on September 29, 1995, and North America on October 20, 1995. The game was initially called Devil Busters, but that name was changed before release. Atlus is best known for creating the Megami Tensei series, sometimes abbreviated as MegaTen. Most entries in the Megami Tensei series are role-playing games involving the capture and usage of demons in battle. In other words, the MegaTen games are a demonic take on Pokemon, except they actually came first. Jack Bros. is a spinoff from the Megami Tensei series, as it features some of the iconic characters from those games, but contains none of the demon catching stuff. Despite that, Jack Bros. is technically the first Megami Tensei game to be officially released in North America. Regardless, this is one of the best games on the Virtual Boy, though it doesn't make very good use of the system's capabilities.

Image

On every October 31st, during Halloween, the portal between the human world and the World of Fairies opens. This allows the fairies to enter the human world for a brief period of time. Whenever this happens, the fairies join with the children of the human world to play together and cause mischief wherever they go. However, the portal between worlds closes at midnight, so all the fairies must return back to their world before then, or else they risk extinction. During one particularly rowdy Halloween night, all the fairies had returned home save for a select few. These few were the Jack Brothers, and they only had an hour left to get back to their world before disappearing forever. Pixie the Fairy shows up just in the nick of time and offers to lead the Jack Brothers down a perilous shortcut that would get them back to their world in a flash. Together, they make a mad dash towards the World of Fairies in hopes of getting there before midnight.

Image

Game play is seen from an overhead view with mechanics similar to that of the Gauntlet series. You move with the left d-pad and attack with either the right d-pad or the A or B buttons. The A and B buttons will make you attack whichever direction you're facing, but the right d-pad will cause your character to attack in the direction you press. Since most of the characters in this game rely on ranged projectiles, it's actually better to use the right d-pad for attacking, because it allows for strafing when combined with the left d-pad's movement. Lastly, you can press the R shoulder button to launch a special attack that hits all enemies on the screen. Even though it potentially uses both d-pads on the Virtual Boy's strange controller, the controls in Jack Bros. are extremely simple. It shouldn't take you more than a few seconds to get a good feel for the controls.

Image

There are multiple playable characters to choose from, the first of which are the titular Jack Bros. They are Jack Frost, Jack Lantern, and Jack Skelton, who's known as Jack Ripper in the Japanese version. All characters have different special attacks and attributes, and you're stuck with whoever you pick for the whole game. Jack Frost attacks with ranged snowballs that do little damage, but have a high rate of fire, and his special attack temporarily freezes all enemies. Jack Lantern shoots fireballs from a distance, which are stronger than Frost's snowballs, but have a lower rate of fire, and his special attack does damage to everything on the screen. Jack Skelton is the only character in the game that doesn't have a ranged attack, instead opting for a sword that does huge damage at close range, plus his special attack instantly kills all non-boss enemies within the vicinity. Finally, if you beat the game on hard mode, you'll get a password that'll let you play as a secret fourth character, Pixie. Additionally, each character has a slightly different ending. This combined with the differences between each character adds replay value to the game, which is nice.

Image

The game is divided into six stages, each of which contains a varying number of floors, for a total of sixty floors. Each floor consists of many interconnecting narrow passageways seemingly floating in midair, all littered with malicious monsters and terrifying traps. You can see the lower floors in the background, which uses the Virtual Boy's stereoscopic 3-D and parallax to add depth to the 2-D visuals. The goal of each floor is to find all the keys, the locations of which are shown via a mini-map, to open the path to the next floor. You're also timed. If you run out of time before beating the stage, you lose and are forced to retry that stage from the start. Also, there is no life bar; getting hit simply reduces the timer by a few seconds, with stronger attacks taking off more time. Admittedly, the time limit is somewhat of a buzzkill, especially since it gives you very little room for error. However, the stages are fun enough to make up for that.

Image

While the stages don't change much from a visual standpoint, they do introduce new enemies and obstacles all throughout the game, which prevents things from becoming repetitive. Enemies include goblins that lay down bombs that explode in cross shaped patterns reminiscent of Bomberman, archers that shoot arrows in your general direction, and mystical mages that teleport around the environment. Traps, on the other hand, may include stuff like retracting ground spikes and wall lasers. There are also some minor puzzles that involve pushing boulders around. On top of all that, every stage ends with a fight against a big boss monster. Not everything is dangerous, however, as there are occasionally helpful power-ups, like potions that grant temporary invincibility and shields that protect you for up to three hits. This is all pretty cool, but one annoying thing is that your pixie friend will go overboard on dispensing unnecessary advice early on, forcing you to sift through countless dialogue boxes, sometimes multiple times per floor. However, this eventually stops being a problem, as she mostly keeps her trap shut for the latter half of the game.

Image

Aside from the pixie's annoying dialogue at the beginning and the unforgiving timer, this game is fun. The varied enemies, traps, puzzles, and bosses keep the stages from getting stale, plus the multiple endings and different playable characters add some replay value. The music's pretty good, too. All things considered, this game is decent, but it really shouldn't have been on the Virtual Boy. The Virtual Boy doesn't add anything to the experience, and in fact, detracts from it. Still, if you can tolerate the Virtual Boy's eyestrain inducing red and black color scheme, then this is one game to check out.

Word Count: 1,160