• Graphics
  • Sound
  • Playability
  • Lastability
FormatAtari 8-bit
DeveloperGR8 Software
ReviewFrank and Jason

Main review

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!

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.

Second opinion

Although the small arcade where I used to get my Nemesis and Star Force fixes during the 1980s had Tehkan’s Bomb Jack as well, it wasn’t one of the machines that received any real attention or indeed coinage from myself. It wasn’t that it didn’t look fun or anything, there simply weren’t enough spaceships to keep the adolescent version of myself enthralled; when the C64 version was released it was pretty much the sickly younger sibling of the original, looking a bit like a pale version of its older brother and it always had a note for P.E. at school.

Of course, the C64 actually received a conversion whilst the Atari 8-bit range weren’t blessed by Elite (although considering their track record on the Atari hardware, that might have been a good thing in the long run) so it’s been left to a group of dedicated, talented and possibly marginally less than sane individuals to right that particular wrong, producing this 320K behemoth to plug the gap in the Atari’s game catalogue.

Graphically, the newly created backgrounds range from reasonable to superb with my personal highlight being the detailed and colourful Bavarian castle background; the in-game sprites have been scaled down a little from the C64 version and, whilst not quite as colourful as some of the backgrounds are, they’re still functional and don’t get “lost” in the surrounding detail (although some of the platforms do occasionally). Presentations screens really look the part too and, apart from the loading picture, have been based on the arcade version rather than the C64 with colour being used to good effect throughout. The soundtrack has been beefed up as well, taking not only Mark Cooksey’s tunes from the C64 but a selection of pieces from Tehkan’s original, all of which slot into place nicely.

Using that fairly weak C64 version of Bomb Jack as a base probably seems like a questionable choice but a few seemingly minor tweaks under the hood have made a distinct improvement to the overall control of Jack to the point where the game is significantly more playable in its current state. When I reviewed this port previously for Retro Gamer there were a couple of people who couldn’t believe it scored 90% overall since it was build around the back engine from Elite’s C64 conversion; looking back at the game for a second time now and what I wrote for it, that score still seems fair because Bomb Jack on the Atari 8-bit really isn’t a straight dump of the C64 program and there’s been some time and effort put into re-tuning everything to make it a more sturdy production. And with the recently announced cartridge version from GR8 Software with a subtle renaming to Bomb Jake released just after us going to “press”, getting the game running on stock hardware is far less of an issue now!