Retro Game Of The Week: Mighty Bomb Jack (Famicom)

Mighty Bomb Jack
Mighty Bomb Jack is a mighty fine Famicom/NES classic — and mighty hard too.

In Retro Game Of The Week I pull a game from my collection and write about why it’s important or interesting. Or in some cases, badly dated and rubbish.

Bomb Jack, conceptually, is qn easy game to describe. There’s a single screen filled with bombs, you’re a superhero, you jump around avoiding enemies and defusing bombs. Lather, rinse, repeat, build up a high score. That’s the game.

I’m pretty sure the first time I ever played Bomb Jack would have been on an Amstrad CPC 464 owned by a school friend of mine at the time.

It would have been this one (though this isn’t me playing it)

It was fine — many Amstrad conversions of the era for simpler arcade titles like Bomb Jack worked quite well — but didn’t do much to shift me from my position that the finest single screen platform game of the 1980s was and is Bubble Bobble.*

Mighty Bomb Jack, however, is a different kind of critter. It takes the core bomb and jumping gameplay of Bomb Jack and drops it into a considerably more complex scrolling platform scene.

Mighty Bomb Jack

It looks simple enough — a superhero, some bombs and some chests. How hard could it be?

Now, it’s true that the Famicom/NES wasn’t exactly lacking for platform game variety; that genre was the dominant one of the era. Mighty Bomb Jack is an interesting game, however on a couple of different levels.

For a start, it’s very hard, especially if you come to it blind. That was often the case back in the day, because you might rent a game from a video store (kids, ask your parents about that) sans instructions, or you might borrow just the cartridge from a friend in the same state.

Bomb Jack was easy to work out within a minute or two of play, but Mighty Bomb Jack is considerably more complex.

It’s no longer just a question of defusing bombs and moving between stationary screens; you’ve got to find exits, gather coins, judge when to use powerups… and the enemies are brutally hard.

Mighty Bomb Jack
Jack had the distinct feeling that they were out to get him.
Jack was entirely correct.

That in itself again isn’t entirely a fresh concept; many Famicom/NES games were deliberately “hard” in order to present the idea of value. When you’re maybe only getting one or two games per year, being able to finish them quickly was a distinct problem.

Mighty Bomb Jack
Power up coins are a vital resource, hidden in chests. But don’t get too greedy…

What makes Mighty Bomb Jack really stand out to me is in how it handles jumping.

Jumping is central to platform games, right?

After Super Mario Bros, nearly every platform game shifted to Mario-style physics and movement, some more elegantly than others.

You did have outliers — Ghosts N’ Goblins Arthur retained his fixed arc jumping for example — but Super Mario Bros was pretty much the template for how you built out the jumping in most 8-bit platform games.

Mighty Bomb Jack doesn’t think that way. Yes, you do have a very high jump that can defy physics by shifting during movement, but Jack is a superhero, which means he can glide.

Mighty Bomb Jack

Jack’s health insurance premiums are ridiculously high.

Not only can, but must, because careful use of the jump button after leaping to micro-manage your descent is a vital tool if you’re going to survive even the first section of the first level.

Mighty Bomb Jack

Spoiler: You’re going to die. A lot.
Correction, that’s not a spoiler at all.
Inevitability: You’re going to die. A lot.

Later on, Mighty Bomb Jack becomes hard to a level that can be maddening; I have zero shame in saying that it’s a game that I’ve never actually finished.

I suspect I might be able to with emulation and save states, but even that would be a serious effort.

Mighty Bomb Jack

The game’s royal palace rooms are a throwback to the original game, with the twist of moving on in a level and “saving” progress when you die, or jumping entire level groups with no save if you collect the bombs in the right order.

A fun effort though, and that’s where Mighty Bomb Jack gets the difficulty curve mostly right. There’s always that sense that you could do a little bit better, or a little smarter… so you keep on playing. Or at least I do.

Maybe I’m a sucker for punishment.

How to play Mighty Bomb Jack now

Mighty Bomb Jack
That’s my cart-only copy above, purchased in Japan, and it wasn’t expensive — about 500-1000 yen or so from memory (~$5-$10 AUD). I’ve certainly seen it pretty frequently in junk bins and hard-offs over the years with no particular bounce upwards in price.

But what if you’re not in Japan?

There’s a really easy way to play Mighty Bomb Jack, because it’s part of the Switch Online system for Nintendo’s current generation console. Because it’s a NES/Famicom game, it’s even on the lower cost tier for the service, no expansion pack needed.

If you do prefer original hardware, pricing does vary depending on whether you want the famicom version or the less common NES variant, typically between that same $5-10 for the famicom and around $25 for the NES loose carts, and more for boxed copies.

Is there a ridiculously expensive copy? Sigh… of course there is.

*I’m right about this, too. There’s Bubble Bobble, then a HUGE gap… and then everything else.

And then, a little further down from everything else, Snow Bros.

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