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Friday, 20 November 2015

Jumping Jack (Imagine, 1983)

Written by Albert Ball with graphics by Stuart C. Ball. Originally released for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum 16k as "Jumping Jack"

Converted for the Atari 8-bit computers by Roy B. Gibson, and for Dragon 32/64 by R.K. Lowry, and released as "Leggit!"

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INTRODUCTION & GAME STATUS


I wish I could say the regular service at the blog continues with a slightly lighter theme, but looks can be deceiving. Although most of us who remember Jumping Jack (or Leggit!) will remember it as a cunningly simple, but addicting little bugger, only a person determined to find every version of the game out there will notice how difficult such a task can be. So, I have given myself the freedom to only write the main comparison based on the three official Imagine Software versions, and focus on the unofficial conversions after the main event. Who knows, perhaps to some of you, the main event comes after the comparison.

In any case, Imagine's early hit game Jumping Jack represents the small percentage of early games that made a relatively good impact on the Spectrum, but for some reason, was not officially converted for the main rival for the following 10 years (C64), although it was planned, at least according to Games That Weren't. I found some plausible traces of it having been worked on for the Amstrad CPC, but I couldn't find any actual game image file, so that one shall remain a mystery.

Since the old magazine review scans at World of Spectrum are currently broken links due to their database crash some months ago, I cannot check the game's original reception, but I suppose it says something of Jumping Jack's status as a proper classic, that it has a score of 7.90 from 120 votes at WoS, and a fairly acceptable 6.8 from 11 votes at Atarimania. The number of unofficial conversions is a lot more telling of the status, though, but let's take a look at the original threesome before getting there.

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DESCRIPTION & REVIEW


Being one of the earliest original single-screen platformers for home computers, Jumping Jack, as it was only ever known as for those of us who had a Spectrum at the time, is only to be expected to be an easily describable game. Your only mission is to get from the bottom of the screen to the top through a series of openings in the moving floors, but as the game progresses, the rooms will come to feature more enemies to avoid and more difficult patterns in the floor openings to navigate through. Getting caught by an enemy (hazard) will knock you down for a short time and falling back to the bottom floor will cost you a life. Missing an opening will cause in bumping your head to the current floor's ceiling and knocking you out for a couple of seconds as well. Although it doesn't sound like much, the game is surprisingly quick and you will need your reflexes to be in top form to get even past the second level. There are 20 levels in the game, so even with some spare lives, it should prove to be a good challenge for even the most hardcore gamers.

Once you get past the beginning, it's a surprisingly fast and furious, yet simple game. You need to keep an eye on everything happening on the screen, and keep your fingers alert at all times. It just goes to show, a game doesn't have to be difficult, rich in content or variety, nor even complex in order to catch your attention for long enough. It's a triumph in simplicity, and a classic by all the necessary standards, and I can only recommend it for most gamers. But if you're looking for something requiring more brain activity, this might not be your thing.


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LOADING


For an old game like this, it's not unusual to have only tape versions released. Although it hasn't been of much interest lately, at least we have our first DRAGON 32/64 loading time documented on the blog, so that's something. As usual for the time, the ATARI version loads considerably slower than most of the other tape versions available, but I thought it was interesting to see, how much quicker the DRAGON version is compared to either of the available SPECTRUM versions.


ATARI: 4 minutes 46 seconds
DRAGON: 57 seconds
SPECTRUM - original: 1 minute 49 seconds
SPECTRUM - 16k Value Pack: 1 minute 36 seconds


Loading screens, left to right: ZX Spectrum 16k, Dragon 32/64, Atari 8-bit


Unsurprisingly, the ATARI tape has no loading picture, but it's not exactly something you would expect. The DRAGON version has a fairly simple loading screen with a green background and some black text, which is my idea of a minimum requirement for a loading screen. In case you haven't seen it in action, the SPECTRUM might give you a nice surprise, particularly for its age: the loading pauses for a moment at some point, then a bunch of big Jack-sprites jump up from the bottom of the screen and align themselves as the game title you see in the above picture, before the rest of the loading picture is shown. However, that doesn't explain the extra 13 seconds to the Value Pack release, which also has the same loading screen animation sequence.

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PLAYABILITY


There are very few controls in the game - you only need to know how to run left and right, as well as jump. The original SPECTRUM version features a seemingly peculiar key setup, which is as follows: Space Bar makes Jack run right, Symbol Shift makes him run left, Caps Shift will make him jump and Z toggles the Pause function. For a standard PC keyboard layout, this can be uncomfortable, but you have to keep in mind, that this is how the 16k/48k Spectrum keyboard looks like...




...so you see, it's more logical on a real Spectrum than it is on an emulator. That said, you might want to hunt down a modified version of the game, that allows you to control Jack on a joystick. The ATARI version requires a joystick to play, but the DRAGON version has two keyboard control options, both of which can be confusing for newcomers to Dragon gaming, and have only been using emulators. But, with this picture of a Dragon keyboard and the control options colour-coded...



...you can't go wrong. For option #1 (red), the controls are as such: the forward-slash (/) is actually the dash key on your PC keyboard next to right Shift, and the other two are as they are. Option #2 (green) is clearly set to be more suitable for left-handed people, since you can use both Shift keys in both control options.


Before I continue with the particulars about playability, it should be pointed out that the original Jumping Jack was designed to be played in a single player mode. The DRAGON version of Leggit! follows this principle, but the ATARI version has a two-player mode, in which two players control two different (and differently coloured) Leaping Lenny's (or Lennies) simultaneously. It doesn't add much to the gameplay value in the long run, but it's a novel idea, sadly left rather undeveloped. But it's 1983, you can't expect miracles, really.

The two basic rules that need to be kept in mind are as follows: the screen is wrapped around, so you can run off the other side of the screen and appear at the other; and you can only jump straight up, not sideways.

Timing your jumps is the most important thing here, because each version has their own particular quirks in the gameplay mechanics. On SPECTRUM, it's safer to jump when the floor above has moved the hole so that you're directly in the middle below the hole, than it would be to jump slightly in advance. For some reason, Jack can jump through the scrolling floor in the Spectrum version, if he started the jump after the hole scrolled above him. On DRAGON, you have to be more precise in your positioning, as any slight collision with the floor is lethal. The same could be said of the ATARI version, but the jump is slightly slower there, so you need to jump slightly in advance, while still avoiding any collision with any slightest bit of the floors. Strange as it may sound, the DRAGON version pretty much halts the floors for the duration of your jumps, so in that sense, it should be the easiest to play.

As for the holes in the floors and how they increase, that has remained a bit of a mystery to me, even though I have attempted to determine the logic behind the occurences. It definitely looks like the ATARI version adds a new hole into the mix (almost?) every time you jump up through one hole, although I'm pretty sure the holes also increase as they reach either end of the set. In the SPECTRUM and DRAGON versions, the rate of the holes spawning is certainly lower, but I have no idea behind the full logic behind it - all I know is, when you jump through the first hole, it sort of multiplies. After that, I have only vague ideas.


Clearing one level will only make you start from the bottom again, but with one enemy added to the room. The enemies will always move to the left on the SPECTRUM and DRAGON versions, and right on the ATARI, and will be placed far enough apart from each other in subsequent levels to make them give you a more balanced challenge to go with the increasing holes in the floors. Also, in the ATARI version, the enemies move significantly slower than in the other two, which gives you a  completely new kind of a challenge.

Apart from that, the gameplay is similar enough in all three versions - your man runs as fast as the holes do (and enemies apart from the Atari version), so you shouldn't have much trouble with any unnecessary elements of unfairness between the three versions. You only need to be as quick as possible in order to make good progress, otherwise you'll be facing more holes than floor. I'd say the ATARI and DRAGON versions have the game speed adjusted better, but the SPECTRUM version has looser collision detection, so any version you might pick has some good qualities for it that the others don't have, although they all have their bad quirks as well. And of course, there's that jump-halt thing in the DRAGON version, so it's slightly more playable than the ATARI version. However, I'm more inclined towards the original one, both because it's a bit faster, and because of the loose collision detection.

1. ZX SPECTRUM
2. DRAGON 32/64
3. ATARI 8-BIT

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GRAPHICS


I don't think I have ever before made a comparison of a game with as little focus on graphics as this one. It's a good thing, too, since it gives me a chance to work on this one more quickly. Apart from the loading screens, there is no title screen as such, except in the ATARI version, where the L of Leggit is stylized as a foot with some small arching animation included. Since the DRAGON version also has some exclusive screens, namely the control options and the "press any key for game" screen, I have paired them with the ATARI title screen.


Left: Atari title screen. Right: Dragon non-title screen.


But apart from the ATARI version, this isn't one of those games that would actually even need a title screen as such. The ATARI version just happens to have options to play in a one- or two-player mode and toggle music. Anyway, let's move on to the real meat of the game's graphics, shall we?


Screenshots of the first level, left to right: ZX Spectrum, Atari 8-bit, Dragon 32/64.


The first level doesn't offer much to look at, but it does give us the basic layout on which to build. Jack/Lenny will start his journey from the bottom of the screen, while the eight floors above you will act as two-way conveyor belts for holes that move from bottom to top, as well as top to bottom. When you start working your way up, more holes will appear in the floors, and everything else will stay as they were. So far, nothing too great to concern ourselves about, since nothing looks particularly interesting... apart from one rather obvious thing.


Here - to the right - we can see our protagonist in two of his most utilised actions - idling and running. The above row shows him idling in all his three poses, which he switches back and forth in a steady pace, while the row below shows all of his frames of running. I wouldn't call him a handsome fellow, exactly, but the SPECTRUM version (top area) makes him look less disformed than the other two. The ATARI version (middle area) is definitely more blocky, and Lenny has a bit more meat on his bones than Jack has on the Spectrum original, but he lacks a certain character. The DRAGON rendition (bottom area) of Lenny has a similarly pointy nose as Jack has, and he's got double the amount of animation frames for running, but he's also the ugliest of the lot, having less than usual in terms of facial features and his arms and legs don't have much of detail in them, which makes the bigger amount of animation frames feel a bit useless.
Further ahead in the game, left to right: ZX Spectrum, Dragon 32/64, Atari 8-bit.


 

If you're looking for some diversity in background graphics, this is not your game, since there are none. Then again, if there was some sort of background picture, that would likely change for each level, it would take away from the playability, because you wouldn't be able to see the holes in the floor as well. The diversity comes in the form of the enemy sprites getting added into each level in a random order.

As usual, the SPECTRUM enemies are monochrome, but high in quality. In the DRAGON version, the sprites are a low in quality as our protagonist, and still continue to be monochrome, and for some reason, are always floating slightly above the floor. This is where the ATARI version gets to shine somewhat, because the enemy sprites are rather well made - even if they have slightly bigger pixels than the Spectrum sprites, they are multi-coloured, and look surprisingly nice. All three versions seem to have different looking enemies, so they're not completely comparable... but it doesn't really matter, since they differ from each other in no other way.

Visual effects for getting hit, where available. Two on the left: ZX Spectrum. Third from the left: Dragon 32/64.
The Atari version (the rightmost one) has no visual effects for collisions.


But then, the ATARI version lets us down by having no visual collision effects whatsoever, apart from the necessary animation of your man lying on his back and seeing stars. At least the DRAGON version gives the screen a green flash when you hit your head, but it's no competition for the SPECTRUM version, where you get two visual effects: a white flash when you hit your head, and a purple flash when you get run over by an enemy.

Intermissions (left: ZX Spectrum, middle: Dragon 32/64) and the lack of one (right: Atari 8-bit)


Originally, Jumping Jack featured a limerick, "The Ballad of Jumping Jack", which would be revealed as you progressed in the game in between the levels. Neither version of Leggit! has it, and I'm suspecting the change of title might have something to do with the limerick, and why it wasn't used in the conversions. Whatever the reason, the two Leggit! versions had to go with something entirely different. The DRAGON version features intermission animations that are copied straight from Pac-Man, and the ATARI version has nothing but a small text at the top left corner indicating, which level you are about to enter.

Game Over screens - left: ZX Spectrum, right: Dragon 32/64.
Whichever the version of the game you're playing, it doesn't have a Game Over screen that would actually say "Game Over" - you just get informed of your final score, whether or not it was a new high score, and the obligatory suggestion to press some key for a new game. The ATARI version doesn't even have that - the game takes you back to the title screen instead, with no ceremony.

All in all, the SPECTRUM original has pretty much all the spades. At least the important ones. The visual effects are there, the hi-res monochrome graphics gives everything that much needed bit of personality, and the animations are clearer and more fun to look at than in the other two versions. All that the DRAGON version has to offer are more animation frames (that don't really make the game look any better) and the Pac-Man-like intermissions. The ATARI version's only trump card is, really, the multi-colour enemy sprites, and the animated L in the title screen, but even without much of top-quality graphics, it does look better overall than the DRAGON version.
1. ZX SPECTRUM
2. ATARI 8-BIT
3. DRAGON 32/64

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SOUNDS


Having never before really experienced the two versions of Leggit! in any way, the sounds were what intrigued me the most about them, since the original SPECTRUM game doesn't have all that much to offer in this regard. By "not much", I mean that it's a fairly basic plip-plop set of sound effects, which reminds heavily of Nintendo's Game & Watch games. Since the gameplay and the animations are also very reminiscent of G&W games, it is really only fitting that the sounds should be that as well. You get a nice running sound effect with two pip-sounds in alternating pitches, a descending four-tone melody loop for having knocked yourself out, a full scale octave kind of an ascending melody for jumping up, the same thing backwards for falling down a hole, and two different crash noises for hitting your head and getting run over by an enemy. So, while it's not very grandiose, stylistically it could be called very fitting in terms of sounds.

The ATARI version starts off with a nice and happy little tune that loops over and over. It feels like it could be a children's song, but I have never heard it elsewhere, so I cannot be sure about it, but it's catchy and fitting. Unfortunately, the sound effects are less effective. You get no sounds for the idling animatino, and your running noise is otherwise similar to the original, but is built of two different note pitches on top of each other for both alternating pip-sounds. Hitting your head plays a very high-pitched short screechy sound and falling down produces a low-pitched bloop-sound, but colliding with an enemy plays no sound at all. Once you're laying on your back and seeing stars, the sound effect is a very quickly repeating slide-descending bleep-tone, which has the ability to get on your nerves more quickly than the sound effect in the original. There are no unmelodic noises in the Atari version whatsoever, which is a pity.

As you could expect, the DRAGON version follows the example of the original Jumping Jack in many ways. There is no title tune, and most of the sound effects pay tribute to the original's Game & Watch mentality. I have no idea how the Dragon sounds like in real life, but through emulation, one can get the impression that the sound output can be more powerful and diverse than a basic 48k Spectrum beeper. At least, judging by the sound effect for hitting your head, the low frequencies sound very low and booming. But, like the Atari version, the Dragon version is also missing the sound effect for colliding with an enemy.

Once again, each version offers something the others do not. The SPECTRUM original goes all the way in attempting to recreate a Game & Watch simulation with some slight advantages that a full-blown computer can allow, while the DRAGON version tries to bring that idea properly back into the realm of home computers - which means the conversion team somehow seemed to miss the point. The ATARI version is lacking in sound variety, but features a nice little theme song, which sort of defeats the purpose, if the game's primary idea was to act as a Game & Watch simulation of sorts. I'm going to have to give the two Leggits a tied second place.


1. ZX SPECTRUM
2. ATARI / DRAGON

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OVERALL


Call me biased if you will, but it seems to me that the original Spectrum game had a purpose. Whether or not it actually was so, it managed to pull it off rather successfully, and I have always thought of Jumping Jack as such. The Atari version of Leggit! can easily be called the most advanced version of the game - at least from the three official ones - but it also has the least personality and purpose, not to mention playability. So, to further prove my point, here are the ruthless mathematical overall results:

1. ZX SPECTRUM: Playability 3, Graphics 3, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 8
2. DRAGON 32/64: Playability 2, Graphics 1, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 4
2. ATARI 8-BIT: Playability 1, Graphics 2, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 4


As usual, if you don't agree with the results, test the lot by yourselves and make your own decisions. All I can say is, I was happily surprised by the Dragon conversion, and intrigued by the officially exclusive two-player mode in the Atari version, but the original just feels right in every possible way. But what about the unofficial versions, then?

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UNOFFICIAL CONVERSIONS & REMAKES


Jumping Jack has to be one of the most unofficially converted, as well as remade games of all time. And of course it should be, because the gameplay is so simple, yet addicting, and for some reason, Imagine limited their official versions for three machines. Had they released official conversions for the C64 and Amstrad CPC, I'm pretty sure the company's history could be considerably different. But as it is, we still have a bunch of versions for other machines, however unofficial they are and late in arrival.

Unfortunately, so far, I haven't been able to locate image files for all the games below, and there are some that haven't been very co-operative on my chosen emulators, so I can only hope you have better success than me. Updates shall be made when things start going in a more positive manner.


TANGERINE ORIC-1: Mad Jump (1984, Your Computer)

This is currently an MIA title, so I can only offer the same information and pictures that are available at the Oric International website. Mad Jump was released as a type-in program in the September 1984 issue of Your Computer magazine, and so far, no one has been sporting enough to type the game in and release an image file of it. But it definitely looks like a Jumping Jack clone, with at least one significant difference - all the floors have holes from the beginning. One less significant difference is that all the floors are of a different colour, but that's all I can say about it at the moment.


AMSTRAD CPC: Amstrad Jumper (1985, Your Computer)

Another type-in version released in Your Computer magazine was made for Amstrad, and this time there's actually a possibility to get to play it. Amstrad Jumper is a furiously fast rendition of the game, with again holes in every floor, an increasing amount of enemies and colours otherwise comparable with the Atari version of Leggit!, but the colours are better utilised here. Amstrad Jumper also allows you to play with keyboard and joystick, so that's a first. Another first is a demo mode, and yet another is an optional difficulty level, which really makes a difference, and finally, there's a top list instead of just a high score. It would be a highly recommendable version to test out, were it not for the insane game speed.


TEXAS INSTRUMENTS TI-99/4A: Spring Heeled Jack (1985, Stainless Software)

One of the more unlikely conversions was made by Graham Marshall for the Texas Instruments TI-99 machines, and released for public domain in 1985. It's not a pure-breed Jumping Jack clone, but the basic idea is the same: you jump your way up the screen through the holes in the 8 floors, and avoid falling down or colliding into obstacles.



For the first two levels, you get no obstacles whatsoever, and the third screen features a car on every floor already. The first two screens feature an increasing number of holes, starting with one for each floor. Probably the biggest difference to the original game is that you die a bloody death just by falling down one floor, so there's a certain hardcore feel to it.


COMMODORE 16 + ATARI 8-BIT: Leaper (1986, Bug-Byte Software)

By far the least playable rendition of the idea so far is Leaper from Bug-Byte, released for C16 and the 8-bit Atari computers. Somehow, they botched up the jumping idea a bit too effectively - you can ONLY jump when the hole is right on top of you, and not necessarily even then, because the controls are often unresponsive. As an example of this, I can tell that so far, I haven't even been able to jump through the first hole in the C16 version, and it took me several attempts to get the leaper to jump in the Atari version, but at least he did. Otherwise, it seems like a potentially good adaptation, with a nice rendition of Popcorn playing in the background as well.

Left: Commodore 16. Right: Atari 8-bit.



SORD M5: Jumping Jack (1986, SPC)

Although Sord M5 is a close relative of the MSX standard, somehow there hasn't been a proper standalone emulator for it yet. So, obviously, the screenshots at MobyGames have been taken using some sort of MESS setup, which I'm not inclined to do merely for this game. Perhaps later, when there is more need for such an operation. Anyway, from the looks of it, the Sord M5 conversion of Jumping Jack should be very close to the original, even if it features a two-player mode. Judging by some of the other shots I didn't copy here, the two-player mode is NOT a simultaneous play mode. To be updated...



COMMODORE 64: Jumping Jack (1991, CP Verlag)

There was a time I was unable to appreciate this conversion. Somehow, it always felt to me like the creators were trying too much with this, and it didn't feel right. Now, though, having tried out all these other versions along with the three official versions, I have found a new appreciation for CP Verlag's remake of Jumping Jack. For a remake it is.


The biggest problem with it, believe it or not, is it's short duration - this game is only five levels long. It doesn't feel as uncomfortable as you might expect, although all the graphical embellishments don't make it feel as classic as the original. The gameplay is pretty much spot on for what it is. And what it really is, is something very much different. The game starts off as a forced two-player mode, in which you have to race your way up. For the second level, you are given a weird bit of information that you can KICK the other player. VERY unexpected, and it gives the two-player mode an edge that the official Atari version didn't have - a proper element of competition. All the enemies move in different speeds, which is also something very different from the official versions. As I said, it's a remake, and a surprisingly good one at that. Too bad it's so short.


ATARI ST: Jumping Ghost (1992, Rafal Rudzki)

Rafal "Ralph" Rudzki's simplistic take on Jumping Jack was made for the Atari ST during the Christmas season of 1992, if the intro text bits are to be deciphered as such. Unlike any other clone of the game, in Jumping Ghost, you cannot die. You can exit the game by pressing F10, when you get bored, because nothing more happens in it than the holes increase and you get bored of attempting to get through the levels at some point. My point was level 4, as is shown here, because one of the floors moved in a stupidly fast speed, and I couldn't get past it. Definitely felt like one of those useless Christmas games I took a look at about a year ago.


COMMODORE AMIGA: Skoczny Jacus (1994, Atares Sp. z o.o.)

It seems very much like Skoczny Jacus was the first Jumping Jack clone to feature full-blown background graphics. It takes a brave programmer to attempt getting this idea right, and I would have been very interested to see how it actually turned out... but sadly, I have so far been unable to locate a disk image of the game. If anyone can send me an adf file or a link for it, I'd be very thankful for it.






MODERN PC'S AND CONSOLES:

There's a good number of remakes and even sequels for more modern PC's and consoles, dating from 1999 onwards, from what I could find. Since it would be practically impossible to attempt to find all the browser-based conversions, and impossible for me to try out all the remakes outside of Windows-based PC's, I shall give you a short list to start from, and give you leave to add some more remakes to the list, if you're aware of some that are missing from the list.

- Jumping Jack + The Pyramid
(Langford Productions)
- Humpty Rush (Naknick Studio)
- Jumping Jack: The Further Adventures of Skunk McGeordie (RetroSpec)
- Jumping Jack 2: Worryingly Familiar (RetroSpec)
- Jumpin J (nucleart.net)


Here's one for Ouya: Jumping Jack (TCKSOFT)
...and one for Nintendo Wii (Homebrew Channel): Jumping Jack (Zalo)

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That's it for now - don't be afraid to throw in a word for other remakes and conversions if you know of any that I missed out on. Other comments are welcome as well, as usual. Thanks again for reading, hope you enjoyed it! Next time, I'll be fulfilling a request, so watch out for that one! Until then, pip pip!

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