Jackal was a game that I had to warm up to. By the time Jackal came out I was familiar with the name Konami and knew to expect quality. But it also came at a time when I became jaded with coop, and unfortunately all of my friends who owned it only wanted to play it in multiplayer. It took some time for me to appreciate the game for what it is; a great top down action game. Not only that, the home port is superior to the arcade game as well.
The simplest way to describe Jackal is Contra from the overhead perspective. I know that is strange as it has more in common with Commando but it is true. Jackal places you behind the wheels of a jeep yet it is more mobile than in other top down action character. The jeep is very agile, able to move in eight directions and turn on a dime. The premise is simple: rescue as many POWs as possible and defeat the enemy commander, whoever it is. The game was enjoyable in the arcade but had a few questionable design choices. You could carry a maximum of eight POWs, at which point you needed to find the rescue helicopter to send them off to pick up more. Technically you don’t need to save them but they were your only source of power-ups. The NES version changed that and more.
A large number of changes were introduced when Jackal was ported to the NES. The most significant is its structure. In the arcade the game was one long continuous run up until its conclusion. The Nintendo version splits it up into six distinct levels with a boss fight at the end of each. I was never a fan of the Ikari Warrior’s style of one long grueling battle. Introducing an actual structure makes the game feel more complete. The tank can now hold an infinite number of prisoners, making it easy to rack up extra lives. Of course you still have to get all of them to the helicopter to reap the rewards.
Control wise your machine gun only ever fires straight ahead. It might seem limited but it works in the game’s favor. Locking your fire makes it easier to strafe and avoid bullets altogether, which you’ll be doing a lot of. Grenades/missiles are the better weapon anyway. Speaking of which, grenades can be upgraded three times. The first changes to rockets which are faster but don’t travel over walls. The second increases its range. The final and best upgrade introduces splash damage. The last upgrade is extremely overpowered, often killing enemies you weren’t even targeting.
Overall Jackal isn’t as difficult as Contra but certainly comes close. Despite the speed of your truck it is better to move at a measured pace. Enemy turrets are the biggest threat as they have a longer distance and come in pairs. These will almost always be the source of your cheap deaths. Nothing is worse than pulling up to the chopper only to lose all of your POWs to an off screen turret. The game is more generous than Contra however, starting you with five lives and four continues. That is far more than necessary to see this to its conclusion, especially in coop.
Surprisingly this version of Jackal is superior to the arcade when it comes to graphics. Overall it isn’t as detailed as the coin op but it more than makes up for it with a wider color palette. Considering the setting it is understandable that the arcade game would have a mostly brown color palette. By splitting the game up into distinct levels each has a specific theme, offering more visual variety. It goes a long way toward keeping you interested in the game. There is some heavy slowdown and flickering at times, especially in multiplayer but overall Konami did a good job squeezing the game onto the system. The music needed more love though as this is one of Konami’s most forgettable soundtracks on the system.
It took some time for me to warm up to Jackal but I’m glad I did. Whether its solo or with a friend Jackal still gets the juices flowing and is a good way to kill an afternoon.