I've never really been a fan of Bomb Jack which might have something to do with starting on the rather average Bomb Jack 2 I had from Elite back in the day (Which was kind of like Frogger and Bomb Jack mixed together in a rather odd way). It wasn't until I sampled the arcade in MAME back in 1997 that I discovered what a great little game this was. If you're not familiar with Bomb Jack then you've really missed out, the game is very simple in principle, you must clear the screen of bombs by jumping around various platforms and avoiding creatures. You'll find that out of all the bombs, one will be sizzling away, and when you collect it another begins to burn - the idea is that if you collect all of the bombs in that order you'll earn a nice reward; additionally, fairly frequently a little bonus icon will bounce around the screen, collect this and all the enemies turn into bonus points which you can then collect.
Elite did the original conversions of Bomb Jack, and got it fairly spot on ... apart from the C64 version which causes some debate to whether if it was actually any good. It wasn't bad, but wasn't great either (the Spectrum pulling off a far better effort). Sadly the Atari 8-bit was overlooked and it was only last year that a bunch of guys have decided to change that fact by producing a high quality conversion. And here we are in 2008 with that conversion, over twenty years after Elite released its conversions! What the developers have done is worked with the strengths of the machine, and seem to have taken some of the best aspects of the C64 version and tidied up all of the bad bits to create a more solid conversion. For a start, the game plays more like its arcade counterpart compared to the C64, picking up the Spectrum's playability and with the movement of the game feeling a lot better and certainly a bit zippier!
SOMEBODY SET UP US THE BOMB!
Graphics have improved vastly in areas - especially in the colour department of the backgrounds - though the sprites feature hardly any change from the C64 version. Presentation is also very good too with a great intro picture and a set of title and highscore displays, and the larger range of colours with the Atari 8-bit allows presentation to resemble the arcade more so in this area. Sonically the game shines also, with all the standard C64 music incorporated very well but varying on later levels with a brand new set of tunes that are impressive in their own right and blend quite nicely with the game, making great use of the POKEY sound chip. The tunes overall are not 100% implementations of the arcade version, but the C64 tunes were completely different anyway!
Some niggles with the conversion is that Bomb Jack seems just as bloated as with the C64 conversion - although the playing area has been increased (thanks to removing the score panel from the right of the screen), it still feels a bit claustrophobic. Maybe the sprites could have been thinned out a bit? However the improvements to the game mechanics helps a lot and produces a fun to play conversion and with a difficulty curve which is just about right. Additionally problematic is that the game requires a hefty 320K RAM to play, which is fine if you are running all your Atari 8-bit stuff over emulator, but a bit more difficult if you are a conventional Atari 8-bit user with real hardware keen to play; the advantage though is that everything is in one place in memory, with no multi-loading. To the credit of the developers, they have produced a great solid conversion which improves vastly over the C64 version and offers something more on par with the excellent Spectrum conversion. If you love your Bomb Jack, or have never played it before, then you can do no harm by checking out this nicely crafted conversion.