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Game Design Essentials: 20 Mysterious Games

January 14, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 9 of 21 Next

8. Mighty Bomb Jack

Mapping the pyramid and special ending conditions.

Developed by Tecmo

Reason for inclusion:

Like Bubble Bobble and Solomon's Key, Mighty Bomb Jack is absolutely loaded with secret items and areas, and forces a player to discover lots of well-hidden things in order to see its best ending.

The game:

Although maligned by many reviewers, it's a fairly clever little game. It's a little spacey in its implementation, for sometimes enemies spawn right over the player or inside walls, but at least it's less buggy than NES Athena. The sequel to the semi-obscure arcade game Bomb Jack, the primary method of play is the same as that game. The player controls a guy with an extremely high jump as nearly his only skill. He can control his arc by pressing the jump button again in the middle of a leap. When it's pressed, it zeros out his vertical velocity, ending jumps early and slowing descent. It does nothing to change horizontal velocity, so by pressing the button quickly players can glide across long distances, provided there's space to do so and an enemy doesn't generate in the air right in his way. All told, what this means is that the player can effectively "glide" by rapidly pressing the button, and pull off some amazing escapes by sliding horizontally between approaching enemies.

While it's not exactly a "Metroidvania," one of the neater things about the game is that, although it's composed as a sequence of branching levels, it still maps out coherently. The manual provides an illustration of an Egyptian pyramid with the outlines of the first areas mapped out on it. As successive levels are explored, their locations can also be placed on the map. If the player does this, some interesting things about the game become evident.

In a couple of places the corridors extend outside the pyramid. When that happens, the graphics change to sky and clouds. If the game is mapped out, it becomes clear that there are some places where there is a significant void, a place where it looks like there should be something, and this is an important clue to hunting down the secret rooms. The principle at work here is that the areas aren't laid out arbitrarily but according to a deeper structure, and this aids exploration by giving observant players a subtle hint as to passage locations.

Two of these secret areas have special import. While the player can work through the game normally and get a plain ending, to get the best ending the player has to find special items buried in the depths. Finding them is particularly difficult because often the player must jump on unmarked breakable blocks on the level that disappear when this is done, and use that to drill down and find hidden treasure chests, some of which contain the items that make the secret door appear. Some of these chests are invisible at first, and are hidden in the middle of large empty rooms. When the player is being relentlessly chased by killer mummies and parrots that appear out of thin air, jumping on every piddling spot on the screen can be something of a hassle, but it definitely makes it challenging to find them.

Design lesson:

Like Solomon's Key (which was also developed by Tecmo), one can win the game without getting the best ending. Unlike many multiple-ending games these days, the player doesn't feel gypped by a less-than-optimal ending. The day is saved regardless of the ending obtained. Hunting up those crystal balls out of their maddening secret rooms just makes a happy ending happier.

Some developers put in bad endings as a way to punish the player for playing in a way they don't like (Ogre Battle for instance), or for not figuring out some obscure trick (adventure-style Castlevanias). In Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, Simon Belmont's fate gets worse the faster the game is completed.

Now, understand -- I am averse to posing many iron-clad "Don't do it!" rules for game designers to slavishly follow. There is a good counter-example to nearly every piece of such advice I've ever heard. But I would suggest that, if you're going to put real multiple endings in your game (and not just trick ends like in the last case of the second Phoenix Wright), that you consider allowing the player to feel good about his accomplishment regardless... especially if, to get anything else, the player must jump through the kinds of flaming hoops that Mighty Bomb Jack presents.


Most of the resources on this game are in Japanese. The best site I know of on the game can be found at Mighty Bomb Jack Walkthrough Page (Google Translation). Be sure to check the map of the pyramid. The full details of the game's endings and how to get them can be found in a GameFAQs article that summarizes the old Nintendo Game Counselor's handbook entry on the game.


Article Start Previous Page 9 of 21 Next

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