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Jackal (NES) artwork

Jackal (NES) review

"Back in 1988, Konami-designed Metal Gear hit America and earned release on the NES. Its combination of action and espionage was critically acclaimed and paved the way for one of the most successful franchises of recent memory. "

Back in 1988, Konami-designed Metal Gear hit America and earned release on the NES. Its combination of action and espionage was critically acclaimed and paved the way for one of the most successful franchises of recent memory.

Lost in the wake of the Metal Gear monolith was another 1988 Konami game. It also featured the player going behind enemy lines to rescue captives and eradicate the source of all these shenanigans ó minus the espionage (and rapidly-appearing bottomless pits oí doom). It may not have gained the fame and fortune of its more successful counterpart, but for my dime, Jackal is the superior product.

A free-roaming arcade shooter (much in the vein of Granada for the Genesis), Jackal sends a lone jeep-driving soldier deep in the heart of some dictatorís domain for six levels of good, old-fashioned mindless fun. While your gallant hero is outnumbered, heís not necessarily outmatched, as that little jeep can pack some impressive weaponry.

No, not the stupid little machine-gun that operates as (sort of) your primary weapon. Not only does it JUST fire towards the top of the screen regardless of what direction you may be driving in, but also canít be upgraded. While it isn't absolutely worthless (it does fire quickly and can be pretty handy in some situations), it didn't take long for me to relegate this weapon to the scrap heap in favor of my jeep's ďmanĒ weapon ó the infinite-use grenade/missile launcher.

Initially, you may scoff at this weapon, as all it emits is a powerful, but slow-moving grenade that travels in the direction youíre facing. But, as you start recovering certain special captives (the flashing ones), things change. After a while, that grenade will have changed into a speedy missile that sends projectiles off in four directions when it detonates, wiping out most enemies that had the misfortune to be in the general vicinity of whatever you were actually trying to shoot.

Of course, if you lose a life, youíre back to the grenades, but Jackal doesnít make it overly difficult to recover from setbacks. It only takes a couple of flashing men to fully upgrade your missiles and the game tends to give you at least two or three of the fellows each level ó something that really makes the game addictive. Because, letís face it, odds are that youíll suffer your fair share of deaths.

The first couple of stages are very easy up until youíve reached the boss fights. The first levelís confrontation with four tanks is only truly difficult if you let the first couple stay alive long enough for the reinforcements to enter the screen and overwhelm you, but the second boss can be quite tricky. Four stationary statues fire homing missiles at you, while weak tanks occasionally charge onto the screen to divert your attention. If you canít clear out a couple of those unmoving, yet deadly, foes in a hurry, you WILL be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of opposition the enemy is throwing at you.

And things only will get tougher as you get ever closer to the enemy headquarters. The actual levels will hold legitimate threats to your safety, as your lone jeep will find itself under siege from stationary guns, tanks, boats, planes and other deadly hazards. But still, with the exception of a couple of short (but brutal), sections, most of this gameís difficulty is centered on the boss fights.

While itís pretty simple to knock the fourth stageís helicopter out of the sky, the rest of these encounters will provide a fair share of challenge. Or in the case of the final boss, a obscene, control-breaking amount. Not only can the game-ending opponent can take an obscene amount of damage before finally perishing, but it also has multiple attacks that can be quite difficult to dodge for the amount of time it takes to cause enough damage to end the enemy threat. To be honest, I had far more trouble with this brute than with any other section of the game ó and maybe more than I had with the rest of the game PUT TOGETHER!

No, I didnít really like that final boss, as its extreme difficulty just didnít seem to jibe with the rest of the game completely, but I could find few other flaws with Jackal. Itís a simple game that nearly does everything well. While there isnít much in the way of background decoration beyond the basic elements, I was impressed with the amount of care that went into crafting many of the enemy vessels. Considering this was a NES game (and a fairly early one, at that), little effects like how submarines emerge from the water and enemy helicopters flitter onto the screen, release their payload and disappear were really nice.

The only real graphical blunder I found involved falling items. Whether it be bombs dropped from said helicopters, pillars crumbling and collapsing in the second stage or rockslides in the fourth ó it is next-to-impossible to figure out exactly where these hazards will hit. I can remember many times in which I thought my jeep was surely a goner, only to watch a rock or bomb harmlessly land some distance away. To me, it looked like Konami tried to utilize these items in such a way to create a sense of depth, but due to hardware limitations, only succeeded in creating hazards that wind up in a different spot than you would have predicted.

Still, Jackal succeeds in its most important objective ó to provide a short-term enjoyable experience. With a mere six stages, this game can easily be bested in a couple of hours if you have sufficient skill. And with serviceable play control, itís a game youíll likely have a good deal of fun trying to beat. Over the 14 years since I first played Jackal, I still find myself picking it up occasionally, which is more than I can say about the majority of the old games I played, including that original Metal Gear.

overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (June 02, 2005)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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