Jawbreaker (Apple II) review
"When I was a kid, I liked playing with a calculator. I had enormous fun finding out that 1/9 was .111 repeating. Then I got brave and found that 1/7 was, in fact, .142857 repeating. Which I made sure of it several times. One crazy day I tried 1/17. It took several long minutes of grueling long division, souring me on calculators. But then I discovered video games, which were even more fun than typing in 773440 on an LCD calculator. As much as I loved arcade games, though, some were mean. Even th..."
When I was a kid, I liked playing with a calculator. I had enormous fun finding out that 1/9 was .111 repeating. Then I got brave and found that 1/7 was, in fact, .142857 repeating. Which I made sure of it several times. One crazy day I tried 1/17. It took several long minutes of grueling long division, souring me on calculators. But then I discovered video games, which were even more fun than typing in 773440 on an LCD calculator. As much as I loved arcade games, though, some were mean. Even the ones with an easy first level got tough quickly. They weren't like long division. They were still more fun. Then there came laser disc games which cost more and kicked your butt even quicker. They were worth it, but I wanted a game that was easy and maybe even free! Jawbreaker was the best of these. It wasn't any good, but it didn't have to be.
You may or may not have heard of a game called Pac-Man. You probably didn't hear of an Apple game called Gobbler, one of many Apple IIe knockoffs. It rotated the pen 90 degrees and altered the maze a bit, and the enemies moved randomly. You'd eventually get bored or greedy, then bam! One of the monsters would get you when you tried to get too many after eating a power pill, or the lousy collision detection would catch you off guard.
Now Jawbreaker took this knockoff and gave it a taste of its own medicine. But instead of a little circle with a 90-degree wedge cut out, you are a set of teeth clacking around the same board as in Gobbler. A piece of candy(heart, lollipop, candy cane--not really worth the 200 points) appears to the left of the monster pen, and the monsters still move randomly. Except...except...when they leave the pen, after you've gobbled them and they're still orange, they always go the same direction, looping clockwise around the pen
This was great as revenge against Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, the unfathomably difficult pinball-hybrid Baby Pac-Man, and even Gobbler. (I'll still never get revenge on the third. It's hard to emulate pinball.) Here was something I could win! And even if I didn't, there was that cute scene where the mouth's teeth fell out. Or if you won a level, a toothbrush came from the side, brushed your teeth, and popped back up. "Winner!" would flash at the bottom with a catchy little accompaniment, copied from Gobbler(natch.) Then things went a bit faster and power pills didn't take as long. But you still had an easy path through.
What made Jawbreaker so easy was that it took Gobbler's unfairness and got rid of it. It even bothered to show the scoreboard during the level. Monochrome smiley-faces that were on the same pixels(yes, they ran through each other) would flip around, so they did not cancel each other out as in Gobbler. No zone defense, either--they never moved back on themselves, though they still moved randomly otherwise. While it was possible to tear through levels just eating power pills, though, it certainly wasn't any fun. The game would've stunk that way. You would just gobble the ghosts, wait outside their pen--and I mean wait. The game paused for the googly eyes to return there. Then you'd waited for the tone(the game was too low-budget for Pac-Man style flashing enemies) and eat up a last one before running around some more. Or you'd try for one too many, which was the most frequent way I got killed.
It was rare to have a game where the object could legitimately be to humiliate the computer and not just survive. I never got around to rolling over the six digit scoreboard, but I was sure I could if I didn't have better games to play--games I often wished could be as easy as Jawbreaker, at least for a bit. Usually around 200000 I regained my self esteem and was ready to move on, and I made a dumb mistake on purpose.
Though it may not have been much of a game, Jawbreaker did wonders for my gaming self-esteem. I used to think of Apple games in terms of their cost at the arcade vs. what I would've paid for them if that nice German family who moved back home hadn't dumped all those pirated disks on them. Quarter-based, I probably did not get my worth of Jawbreaker, a real jaw-dropper(pun!) at $40 in 1982 dollars. But I am sure I wasted more time on it than I could have with $40 in arcade quarters. It's a serenely silly Pac-Man knockoff, and I am sure there are many others lost to time and that deserve to be. I recognize how badly it's aged. But I think we all need a game we can beat the heck out of after the usual RPGs and action games fool us.
Community review by aschultz (April 15, 2009)
Andrew Schultz used to write a lot of reviews and game guides but made the transition to writing games a while back. He still comes back, wiser and more forgiving of design errors, to write about games he loved, or appreciates more, now.
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