Today I'm going to look at Opera House and Sega's 1991 Master System the-long-legs-of-the-law-em-up Running Battle. It's a play on words, you see, because this game is all about running and battling. Am I going to regret playing a game based solely on the fact that its title is sort of a pun? I suppose we'll find out, but I'm not holding out much hope for this being an undiscovered masterpiece.

Well, this guy certainly seems to be running, so he's probably our hero. I think he's wearing a onesie with the sleeves rolled up, like a baby appearing in Miami Vice. I just hope those three ninjas don't catch up with him before I can start the game.

Yes folks, our hero can run. The "running" part of this game's title? Ten out of ten for accuracy. If you're looking for a game where a man in half a Halloween devil costume sprints alongside a cyberpunk canal, you're weird as hell. Also Running Battle has you covered, I guess. But what is the reason for this man's nocturnal jog?

The answers can be found in this rich, creamy slab of text, which I will attempt to summarise for you. In the near future, America his home to the Dark Zone, which must be situated between the Twilight Zone and the Out Zone. Nothing can instil fear like the Dark Zone, but that's only because bulletproof clowns don't exist. Sergeant Brody gets fed up of all the crime in the Dark Zone, and so heads in alone to put a stop to it. He is immediately killed. Brody's partner and player character Detective Sergeant Gray then swears to avenge his fallen co-worker by following the exact same plan that got Brody killed in the first place. The most interesting part of all this - the part that got cut off the bottom of this screenshot, naturally - is that Brody's dying words were "Hypnotist... M..." so it looks like I'm heading into this futuristic dystopia to do battle with the evil hypnotist who gives James Bond his orders. And they say videogames don't tell compelling stories.

Right, okay, so in Running Battle we have the standard single-plane action game set-up - one button for jump and one for attack. You want to leap into the air and kick something? Go crazy, that's why the police force issued Gray with these robotic legs. I assume that's why Gray can jump twenty feet into the air, anyway. Crouching down so you can punch the villain right in the ballsack? Hey, buddy, you can do that if you want. No judgement here.
I sort of don't want to punch this guy, just in case he's the person who did that bit of Sega graffiti. Nothing brightens up an urban death-zone like a nice, bright blue bit of Sega graffiti. The artist should be commended, not smacked in the chops.

I decided not to fight him. Instead I jumped over him and ran away. This worked surprisingly well, because after a few moments of half-heartedly giving chase the villain turned around and walked off the screen. It's helpful to know that I have this tactic at my disposal, and I suspect Running Battle is going to feature much more running than battling.

One of the big problems with taking the "battling" route is that the enemies will simply stand in place and punch over and over again, meaning that you can't hit them without taking a punch first because their arms are just as long as yours. Even the basic grunts take two hits to dispatch, too, so it's not like you can just batter them before they get a chance to start jabbing away with their feet firmly bolted in place. Your only recourse is to try jumping over them and kicking them on the way down, and when combined with the vague collision detection hand-to-hand fighting can be a bit of a nightmare.

Then I found a gun. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this rather changed the flow of the combat. It has limited ammo, sure, but when that limit is thirty bullets and there are about twenty enemies in this first stage it's hard to feel too constrained. You could even get away with firing a few rounds into the air in celebration of your new-found killing power and still be more than capable of clearing out the level. It just seems odd that, as an American police officer, Gray didn't have a gun in the first place. He was much more efficient when he had a gun. I'm not saying having a gun automatically makes you a better police officer, of course. Just that it makes you more of a man.

Hang on, so the previous few screens of bloody carnage occurred before the battle even began? That is some bold storytelling from Running Battle, giving the player the opportunity to experience a playable prologue in which Gray kills a bunch of people who may or may not be related to his revenge mission. Just because someone's from the Dead Zone, you automatically assume they're a criminal so vile and depraved they deserve nothing but a summary execution? I'd ask you to turn in your badge and gun, but I fear that would do little to deter you, Gray. Plus you lose your gun in the boss fights anyway.

This is definitely the hideout of some sort of criminal organisation. You can tell because there are oil drums everywhere. In videogames, oil drums are the Geiger counters of unlawful activity - the more barrels you can see, the higher the concentration of street punks who have formed themselves into a gang in order to kidnap someone's daughter or hold the city to ransom or what have you.

This gang is a bit more militaristic than usual, dressed in full combat fatigues rather than the usual mohawks-and-shoulderpads look, but they're no great shakes in the fisticuffs department and they certainly can't stand up to a man with a gun. If you don't have a gun and are becoming frustrated by the bad guys' insistence on staying rooted to the spot and wildly swinging their arms like a toddler having a tantrum, I found the best way to deal with them was to jump straight up and on your way back down press towards them and attack to do a flying kick. It's important to press towards them, otherwise you'll kick upwards and miss, and about half the time you'll take damage with the flying kick method anyway, but half the time is better than all the time and it's the best tactic you have until you find a firearm.

New to this stage are some jolly platforming japes. In the screenshot above I am demonstrating how not to have jolly platforming japes, but I actually did it on purpose just so I could confirm what happens when you fall down a hole.

Oh, so you do turn into a heart and float back down onto the stage, only with a chunk of health subtracted from your lifebar. That's what I thought happened, but it's nice to have confirmation. The hearts are your lives, too, and when you die you continue from the spot where you fell, which is a sweet relief after struggling through the checkpoints of Out Zone and Jumpin' Kid's one-life-only policy.
Jumping from platform to platform works well enough, I suppose. As I've mentioned, Gray has the superlative jumping abilities of a flea with a taser up it's backside, so you really only need to make sure you've cleared out all the enemies on-screen before you jump because colliding with them in mid-air means you don't jump as far and thus will fall down the hole.

So far Running Battle's been a surprisingly playable little game, although I think that's more down to personal opinion than any real quality. I could definitely see how the limited (to one, so far) enemy types, slightly ropey combat and lack of ambition might turn you off this one... which leaves me wondering why I'm enjoying it. I can't really answer that, if I'm honest. I will say that Gray's jump-kicking abilities are very satisfying, thanks in part to the crunchy sound effect each one makes, and I like that the appearance of a gun power-up instantly switches the player from a tentative melee fighter cautiously poking at his foes into a fearless Norse berserker, if Vikings had access to firearms.

Then I walked through some double doors and this screen appeared. It seems that I am going to be fighting a pirate. Or, given that this gang is run by an evil hypnotist, I'm going to be a fighting a man who has been hypnotised into thinking he's a pirate. If one of the later bosses isn't a man who think's he's a chicken, I shall be very disappointed.

Captain Brass: less a pirate, more a peg-legged leprechaun. Not that his peg-leg hampers his ability to jump around the place, and that's really all he does in battle, flying towards Gray with his cutlass held out every couple of seconds. That might sound like it's setting the scene from some dramatic mid-air clashes between jumping kicks and cold steel, but that will just lead to you losing all your health, so try to punch Captain Brass when he lands instead. Make sure it's a crouching punch, though, because as a leprechaun Captain Brass is too short to hit with your regular standing punches. Looking at his sprite, I think the reason for his shortness is that he doesn't have a head. His hat, jaunty though it may be, is just resting on his shoulders. So he's a pirate leprechaun tortoise, then?

Whatever he was, Captain Brass has been sent to Davy Jones' locker. Gray informs the player that even stronger enemies await. Stronger than a headless, one-legged midget? I shudder to think what could possibly put up a sterner test than that.

The next stage is the previous stage, but painted in soothing blue hues, and also some of the enemies have guns now. I wouldn't necessarily say they're stronger than Captain Brass, but they're more annoying to fight because they can shoot you. It also puts paid to my previous strategy of jumping over everyone and waiting for them to get bored and leave, because the gun-toting soldiers can simply shoot you in the back as you land.

I found a new power-up: the Super Run. It's essentially a Starman from Super Mario, only as well as making you invincible it makes you automatically kung-fu kick your way over any chasms in your path. This is not massively different from the way I played the game in a non-Super Running state. I'm 99% sure there was not a hole in this game that I didn't jump kick my way over, whether there were enemies around or not. I've said it before and I'll say it again, if you can pull of jumping kicks like that it is your obligation, your duty, to perform them as frequently as possible.

Also new to this stage: gun turrets, both of hanging-down-from-the-ceiling variety and the wall mounted, sad-robot-boob type.  They don't add much to the game, but I figured I should mention them so that you don't go away thinking that the only non-boss enemies in this game are soldiers. The round turrets fire so slowly and predictably that they're essentially wall-mounted power-up dispensers, anyway, and with that in mind I'd like to commend Running Battle for not being too stingy with the power-ups. Even extra lives appear with some regularity, and because you have (as far as I can tell) infinite continues it's a perfectly valid plan to dash past most enemies, kick the turrets for goodies and fight the boss without paying much attention to strategy and then purposefully use up any remaining lives at the start of the next stage so you can continue with a full complement of hearts.

Killer the Kid: clearly not a kid. Also, there's no evidence that he's a killer besides his name, and that could be an ironic nickname, like calling a short guy Lofty or when British politicians refer to each other as "the honourable." I think he might be a cowboy, or possibly an Indiana Jones impersonator.

Oh, so he is a cowboy. It seems obvious now that we're fighting in an old-timey wild west saloon. A
wild west saloon that was just built into the enemy's otherwise ruggedly industrial headquarters like it's a goddamn fantasy hotel room. Maybe this whole base is really some sort of zoo for psychotic fantasists, and like all good zoos great pains have been taken to recreate the inhabitant's natural habitat.
Right, Killer the Kid. For a cowboy he's reluctant to use his shootin' irons, instead preferring to throw molotov cocktails at you and roll across the floor, presumably as a safety measure should he set himself alight with his own petrol bombs Once you've gotten used to avoiding his projectiles, Killer the Kid isn't too tough to take down, especially since you don't have to crouch down to punch him. You might want to crouch and punch him in order to teach Killer a valuable lesson about not throwing incendiary materials around in a wooden building, but that's up to you.

Now Gray has sunk to grabbing anyone who happens to be nearby, kicking the shit out of them and then accusing them of Brody's murder. Perhaps not the most efficient method of detective work, but Gray seems like he's committed to keeping it up so I'm sure he'll batter the real killer eventually.

Again, the next stage is the previous stage only with a fresh coat of paint. This time it's a sickly grey-green-yellow palette, giving the impression that the fighting is taking place in a bowl of leek and potato soup. There's not much new to discuss, although I will say that the increased number of enemies and projectiles on screen means that there's quite a lot of slowdown at times. Running Battle is already fairly slow-paced, because despite being developed by a Japanese developer it was only released in Europe (and possibly Brazil, boy do they love the Master System in Brazil) and thus runs more slowly than originally intended thanks to the 50Hz / 60Hz differences between PAL and NTSC. If you were to play Running Battle in a way that allowed you change the region of the Master System being used - some kind of computer program that emulates a Master System, if such a thing exists - then I would highly recommend changing the region to USA or Japan. The game runs faster, there's less slowdown and sprite flickering and the music sounds better. That last bit might not sound so important, but I really like the main theme from this game. Here's how it sounds at 50Hz:

Not bad, but when it's restored to the speed it's supposed to played at it sounds like this.

I prefer this one, but I can understand a case being made for the superiority of the 50Hz version. It is strangely haunting, especially for a game about punching cowboys in the balls.

It's time to face Sam Raimi! Sorry, Samrai Man. He's a noble samrai who fights according to the strict code of bshdo. I'm still not sure whether his colour palette is messed up or if he's supposed be all purple and green.

Samrai Man has two moves at his disposal: he either jumps into the air and tries to land on your head, which you can avoid by walking sideways, or he calls down a bolt of lighting where you're standing, which can be avoided by walking sideways. Samrai Man is not the most threatening boss you'll encounter in this game. I have a suspicion that Samrai Man is not an actual samurai. For one thing, he can't spell "samurai." Also, the Japanese flag is not a red disc with stripes on a bright orange background. Another victim of M's evil hypnosis? It sure looks that way.

Another suspect detained and pummelled, another case of mistaken identity, another potential lawsuit waiting for Gray if he ever escapes from the Dark Zone. When policemen complain that their hands are tied by red tape and bureaucracy, this is what they mean. If they didn't have so many forms to fill in they could be out there on the streets, kicking samurais about and preventing Sega graffiti.

The next stage isn't really a stage at all, just a couple of empty rooms before a boss fight. Empty apart from a young woman in suspended animation, that is.

This is Mary. She's Brody's sister. Say hello, everyone. Why has the villainous M kidnapped Brody's sister? It's never explained. Perhaps it was part of an attempt to get Brody to stop his one-man vendetta against the Dark Zone by holding his loved ones hostage, and word just hasn't filtered down to this part of the base yet that Brody has been killed. Maybe it's because this is an 8-bit action game and developers were contractually obligated to include at least one damsel rescue in each videogame. I say damsel, with that bright purple lipstick and eyeshadow, plus the straw-like thatch of her hair, Mary looks like one of those toy busts that little girls practise applying make-up on. Not that Gray looks much better, his red jacket giving him the appearance of a low-rent knock-off of Kaneda from Akira. Portraiture is not this game's strong suit.

Case in point - Milacle Man, the TV-psychic-cum-luchador with no ears and what I originally took to be two mouths.

Thanks to his ESP abilities, Milacle Man attacks with the power of his mind. However, the power of his mind must be channeled through a suitable medium, like a housebrick. That's why there are so many holes in the background, Milacle Man likes to tear some bricks free with his thoughts and then throw them at Gray. There's a wonderful dissonance between the mysterious power of telekinesis and chucking a brick at someone that I personally find very pleasing, but I didn't get much chance to enjoy it while I was desperately trying to avoid said bricks as well as the energy bolts Milacle Man can fire at you. With his cape, magic powers and round, featureless head, it's like I'm fighting Mysterio again, except this time he's a threat.

Finally, Gray's police brutality pays off and he comes face-to-face with M himself. M rules all, apart from coming up with cool names for himself. M is hypnotist and we've seen that his lieutenants have access to an array of fantastical power, so I'm sure this battle will be crackling with raw magical energy and unfathomable mental abilities.

Huh. Not feeling very confident in your hypnotic powers, M? Having to fight a giant robotic gunship seems a trifle unfair, what with Gray not having access to guns in any boss battles, and to make matters worse if you die you're sent back to the start of the last base level and you have to fight your way through that, Samrai Man and Milacle Man again before you can have another go at M.

Fortunately, I quickly discovered an optimum battle plan: standing on this big gun. Not only does positioning yourself here mean you can't be shot by the big gun, you can also hold up and press attack to perform a high kick that hits the boss' weak point. "Weak point" is a relative term, because you still have to kick it sixty times to win, but it works better than having that minigun pointed at your face and with a little perseverance I managed to put an end to M's evil schemes.

"Now Brody can rest in peace, hopefully without being harassed by the spirits of all those I punched to death in order to achieve justice for him."
As this is all the ending you get, nothing is known about what happens to Gray after his mission to the Dark Zone was completed. If I had to guess, I'd say it involved an awful lot of paperwork and hopefully some intensive psychological rehabilitation.

I sort of enjoyed Running Battle, but I'm still at a loss as to explain why. I'm sure most people who played it would say it's a bad game, and they wouldn't be wrong: it's jerky, finicky, about as original as doing a twee indie cover of rap track and the gameworld and story are hardly likely to inspire any great feelings of admiration... and yet I'm still glad I played it to the end. Part of that might be down to the fact that it's a Master System game that I got along with, something that doesn't happen very often, and there is a certain satisfying chunkiness to the kickin' and punchin', but this one will have to go down as a game I like thanks solely to my own unique brain chemistry rather than any actual worthwhile content. Well, the chance to fight a pirate leprechaun could conceivably fall under the banner of "worthwhile content" but beyond that? I'm not sure there's much going on.



If you had to choose the genre most representative of the NES, you could make a strong case for the platformer for a variety of reasons. The hardware allowed for fluid graphical scrolling, the Super Mario games came as close to perfection as eight bits could handle, but mostly there were just so god damn many of them that if you if threw a dart into a sack of NES games chances are you'd puncture some form of side-scrolling, vaguely cutesy hop-n-bop adventure. Without wanting to imply that's how I choose what games to write about, here's Now Productions and Asmik's 1990 Famicom-only deadpan-visage-of-complete-disinterest-em-up Jumpin' Kid: Jack to Mame no Ki Monogatari!

There's Jack now, the tattered ragamuffin at the bottom of the screen. He's about to embark on a grand adventure, but his face has all the expressiveness - and a strange resemblance to - a plug socket. Maybe he's wondering where his shoes have gone. Surely you can't be thinking about completing your mission in bare feet, Jack?

"Screw you," says Jack as he hops over a cartoon mouse. "No shoes, no masters." The title Jumpin' Kid is an accurate one, because that's most of what you'll be doing in this game, leaping through a cartoony landscape and avoiding the usual bunch of critters that look like refugees from a Hello Kitty game. You can throw small white pellets at them too, if you so wish. This either stuns them or kills them, without much rhyme or reason that I could discern, sometimes seeming to affect the same enemies in different ways.

I reached a boss. What, already? Yep, this first area is about four screens long and because I hadn't exactly had long to familiarise myself with Jumpin' Kid's physics I ran straight into this chubby grey mouse with sunglasses. Hang on...

He's carrying a bit of extra weight, but it's still nice to see Mouser getting work after Super Mario Bros. 2.
My incompetence aside, this boss was barely a boss at all, content to waddle back and forth amongst these many bricks until I'd hit him with the required amount of pellets. It didn't exactly take long.

As soon as I'd I killed the ineffectual mouse I was thrown into a bonus game with a completely different playstyle. A playstyle rather reminiscent of Konami's mid-eighties arcade game Pooyan, in fact, with Jack moving up and down in order to fire at the mice that emerge from the holes on the right. If you let the mice wander for too long, they'll climb the rope and steal your treasure. Replace Jack with a pig, the treasure with her piglets and the mice with wolves and yes, that's pretty much just Pooyan.

I don't remember Pooyan letting you meet any angels, mind you. Jack looks as impressed with the unexpected appearance of the Lord's celestial messenger as he does with everything else in his life, which is to say not in the slightest. Maybe the next stage will pique his interest.

As you can see from this between-stage information panel, Jumpin' Kid takes place on a beanstalk and is in fact telling the story of Jack and the Beanstalk via the medium of jumping and killing rodents. The essentially text-free gameplay, marketable platform mechanics and the fact it's based on a western fairytale make Jumpin' Kid seem like a shoo-in for US release, and indeed work was apparently underway to bring it to the west as Jack the Giant Slayer. In the end that all fell through and Jumpin' Kid remained a Japan-only release. Were we in the West denied access to a forgotten platforming gem? I guess we'll find out as we climb up this beanstalk, huh?

Thus follows fifteen or so short stages of platforming action as Jack traverses the beanstalk. The immediate difference between this and most other NES platformers is that you're mostly moving in a vertical fashion, as opposed to the horizontal gameplay of most other titles of this ilk. Simply climb the beanstalk by leaping between it's leafy vines, trying to avoid colliding with the birds and other nuisances that flap around you. I mean really trying to avoid the enemies, because you've only got one life and I can't fathom the continue system: one time when I died I had nine continues, the next time I had none and it was back to the foot of the beanstalk for me. Jack never should have traded his cows for those magic beans, I'd be having much more fun with a game about cows. Harvest Moon taught me that if you brush a cow for long enough, you end up getting pretty attached to it.

Sadly I remain cow-less, stuck with this overgrown pot-plant and a hundred thousand snails for company. The actual jumping part of of the gameplay is okay, if a little floaty, a feeling that's only increased when you collect the "spring" power-ups that make you jump higher. You can also pick up beans to increase the power of your ranged attack. I guess that means Jack is throwing beans at the enemy? It explains why they only briefly daze most enemies, and I suppose it means he'll always have plenty of ammo. I wonder if he planned that to coincide with the sprouting of the giant beanstalk or if he was just some weird, emotionless kid who has always chucked legumes at people.

This screenshot isn't important, I just wanted to say that this bat is adorable. One aspect of Jumpin' Kid that I will unreservedly praise are the enemy designs. They're simple and hardly bursting with originality, but they're cute as heck.

Even this big dopey frog looks like something you should be hugging rather than throwing beans at, but he's one of the various bosses that wait at the top of certain stages and so his fate is sealed: Death By Legumes, which is also the name of the vegan restaurant I'm going to open. I got really attached to those cows, man.
Defeating the frog is a simple matter of standing on this platform and jumping up to shoot it while it's facing away and thus spitting acorns (I think) in the other direction, but then none of the bosses in this game put up much of a fight and all the challenge comes from the regular enemies. They don't butt out while I'm going mano-a-mano with whatever cartoon frog or bouncing fungus is blocking the exit, oh no - they continually appear on screen to harass you, diverting your attention and turning every boss battle into the gaming equivalent of rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time. Except I can do that, but can I avoid roaming snails whilst also trying to kill a frog with beans? Can I bollocks. I makes every boss fight feel lazy and pointless, because without the smaller enemies around you might as well be fighting an empty cardboard box for all the opposition they put up, but with the enemies around it's just annoying, especially when a single hits means you lose all your power-ups. Fortunately, many of the boss can be ignored completely by simply jumping past them and into the exit door. It's a strategy I suggest you make full use of.

Suddenly I'm amongst the clouds and the gameplay has switched back to a more familiar horizontal style, a change which makes the game much, much easier. I'm not sure why that is: perhaps I'm just more used to playing this style of platformer, maybe the enemies are still designed around fighting on a vertical plane. There seems to be more space, which helps. While the horizontal stages are easy, they also cast Jumpin' Kids shortcomings in a starker light because once you're here the comparisons to other, similar games are inevitable and Jumpin' Kid doesn't match up. It's very simplistic, with controls that are just loose enough to be occasionally frustrating and (cutesy enemies aside) the whole enterprise is soporifically bland, as the above screenshot shows.
A quick note on the enemies pictured above: no, Jack is not being attacked by a rosy-cheeked flying washcloth. It's a teru teru bozu, a Japanese charm for good weather that takes the form of a little bald doll. On the right is a Japanese-style thunder demon guy wearing shades and dungarees. Maybe he's a cool plumber, not a demon. Either way, I have no idea why these very Japanese characters appear in a game based on a European fairy tale, but no matter. My version of Seven Samurai where the samurai are played by Robin Hood and his Merry Men will redress the balance and foster a sense of international harmony.

Another minigame. This time, Mouser drops coins from above and Jack has to catch them by standing underneath them. This explains why his hat is knackered, but it doesn't make for a thrilling gameplay experience.

Back to the beanstalk, which now has beans growing on it. What else can I say? You jump upwards, there are beans, some of the beans are ambulatory and want you dead, others are part of the background. Oh, I know what I can say about it - I can tell you about the game's most bizarre mechanic. If you're jumping towards a platform - something you might find yourself doing once or twice in a game called Jumpin' Kid - and there's an enemy in your path, what do you do? You throw a bean at them, right? Well, yes, but enjoy attempting that jump again because if you press fire in the air all your forward momentum is instantly cancelled and you fall straight downwards. You either go through with the jump and take the hit or fall down and do it again, and it feels horribly unintuitive because you can jump forwards and fire in pretty much every other videogame ever where jumping and shooting is an option, and you don't just un-learn that kind of deeply ingrained reflex for the purposes of playing a sub-par NES platformer. It's an extremely aggravating mechanic, and probably the worst thing about the game unless you have a terrible fear of vines.

A boss will cheer me up, because who can stay grumpy in the face of a peanut in sunglasses? Well, the peanut can, I guess. He looks as fed up as Jack does disinterested. Also, was this game sponsored by Ray-Ban or something? Was this all just a promotional tie-in in with their Pissed-Off Peanut and Mario Mouse ranges of eyewear? There's not going to be a goose that lays golden eggs at the top of this beanstalk, just a pair of sunglasses sitting on a plinth, bathed in a single shaft of light.
Hey, you know what was a really fun game about jumping and climbing upwards? Rainbow Islands. Maybe you should take some inspiration from that game and put it in this game?

Oh, you did that already. I see. Well, carry on.
To be fair to Jumpin' Kid and its developers, they didn't really copy the gameplay from Rainbow Islands here - the rainbows are stationary and unbreakable, there are no enemies and you're actually heading downwards. I wish they'd copied Rainbow Islands' gameplay, because anything would be more interesting than this, but they didn't.

The beanstalk is a bamboo stalk now. It makes a nice change visually, even if it's still predominantly green. However, this bit is a real pain in the backside because as far as I can tell you're required to have two spring power-ups to make the jump to the next platform. This means you have to farm some enemies for a while, as though you were playing an RPG, in the hope that they'll drop the springs you need. I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that including a section that requires you to grind for power-ups in your hitherto fast-paced action game is a bad idea, but I guess I did just tell you that, and I'll do it again. It's a bad idea.

Hey look, I rescued a princess-y, shrine maiden-y type lady from being pecked to death by the vast flock of birds that swarms around the bamboo tower. Normally this would be where a retro game ends, but Jack isn't interested in female gratitude or women or men or anything, not one single stimulus will faze him, and so he plods onwards, blank-faced as ever in his quest to find whatever the hell it is he's looking for.

The beanstalk is now suffering from a fungal infection. You can get creams for that at the chemist, but while we're here let's enjoy the fact that this screenshot isn't greener than a frog eating a lettuce on a snooker table. The warm orange soothes eye a little, and in his pink ensemble Jack is still clearly visible. It's technically competent, is what I'm saying.
You might have though that the switch to mushrooms would have given the developers a chance to expand the gameplay a little - after all, mushrooms don't feel like bamboo and it might not be original but you could make the mushroom caps springy or something, but no. They're the same as every other platform in the game, and changing from plant to fungal life will not disguise the fact that Jumpin' Kid is getting tedious and repetitive despite each stage only being five or six screens tall.

Am I wrong to keep comparing Jumpin' Kid to other games? Am I alone in having my thoughts turn directly to Super Mario Bros. 3 when I'm playing a platform game and I'm tasked with traversing a flying wooden battleship that's bristling with cannons? Because that's all I can think of here. I'm humming the music from SMB3 as I type this. "But wait," you cry, "didn't both these games come out in 1990, making it unlikely that Jumpin' Kid ripped off SMB3?" Well yes, Mario 3 was released in 1990... in the US. The Japanese original came out in 1988. We poor Europeans didn't get it until August 1991, the same month that Super Mario World was released in America. It was tough being a videogame fan in Europe in the nineties, but my original point was that there was plenty of time for Now Productions to play Super Mario Bros. 3 and decide that those airships were totally rad enough for their game about shabbily-dressed urchins climbing magic beanstalks.

The final set of stages take place in the giant's castle, which is full of crabs and a wide variety of different brickwork styles. It feels like the developers were getting as tired of making this game as I am of playing it, because the size of the levels is rapidly dwindling and after a mere four or so screens of crab avoidance I reached a boss.

It's a succubus! I think - years of playing Darkstalkers have conditioned me to assume any character with bat wings and a bustier is a succubus, but I suppose she could just be half-bat, half-woman or a fairy going through a goth phase. Whatever she is, she doesn't pose much of a threat, lazily swooping down from the ceiling on a path that's easily avoidable by calmly walking past her, providing ample opportunity to kill her by throwing beans at her back.

Despite their lack of menace, the giant is so confident in the castle-protecting abilities of these pseudo-succubi that he employs two more of them to guard the following stages. One's got a big scalpel, one's got a pitchfork. The one on the right is more "devilish," which is probably why she looks more cheerful. The devil has the best tunes and the most enthusiastic minions.
They're no more of a threat than the first bat-winged lady, fighting with the same attack pattern and only slightly more aggression, but as always in this game it's the minor enemies that cause all the problems, with the actual boss feeling like an afterthought as you concentrate on dodging the crabs and fireballs that litter the screen.

I wonder if these bosses are one of the reasons that Jumpin' Kid didn't make it out of Japan? I can't imagine Nintendo being too keen on releasing a game with "sexy" devil-women in it, what with their famously strict content policies and all.

At last, a reward for all this beanstalk-climbing and succubus-shooting - the chicken that laid the golden egg! Not a goose, then? No, that's fine, geese are evil honking hate machines so I'm much happier with a chicken and happier still to just collect the giant 24-carat egg it just popped out. I can buy my cows back with this!

Once I picked up the egg, a dragon started chasing me across a series of pillars in one of the only bits of gameplay I actually enjoyed. It's more focussed, with the simple goal - avoid the dragon and don't fall - being uncluttered by the usual hordes of critters or need to plan an upwards route. Just run and jump. It's been done before by much better games, but in Jumpin' Kid it makes a nice change.

That's the giant? He's not very, well, giant, is he? Pink, most assuredly pink, but hardly giant. This is the final boss, and he can throw balls of fire from his hands. Sadly for him, he can only throw them at forty-five degree angles and so if you get right up next to him he can't throw them at a shallow enough angle to hit you. That bat will probably do me some damage, but as I somehow reached this battle with an almost-full health bar my strategy was to stand right next to the giant and just keep jumping and throwing beans, hoping that his health would run out before mine. It totally did.

My reward is a massive harp. It's far too big for Jack to carry, so I guess he's going to have to leave it behind. Bet you're glad you struggled through the entire game just for that, huh Jack?

Never mind the pointlessly large harp, there is a far greater prize that Jack has won through his noble efforts: the prize of love. The giant was holding a princess captive, as giants are wont to do, but now that he's in a bean coma Jack is free to whisk this fair maiden away, back to his farm where they will live happily together forever on the bounty of his golden egg and their deep, abiding love for each other.

If you're having trouble believing that they're in love despite having only just met, this screenshot proves beyond doubt that Jack and this princess are one hundred percent in bona fide love. They're like Romeo and Juliet, except Romeo has no shoes and the relationship hopefully won't end in a double suicide. If the heart is that big, it's a love that's destined to last. Isn't that right, Jack?

"Yes, I am very much in love with this person."
Aww, that's sweet. You must be very happy!

"I have never been happier in my life."
Well, that's good. And I'm happy too, because Jumpin' Kid: Jack to Mame no Ki Monogatari is over. Is it a terrible game? No, I suppose not, it's just dull and uninspired. I always like to look for the positives, so I'll happily admit that I like the enemy designs and at least they thought about trying to mix up the platforming status quo with a game about going upwards rather than sideways, but once you factor in the repetitive stages, annoying enemy patterns and the impossibility of performing jumping attacks, Jumpin' Kid is one that I'd say you should probably avoid. I mean, Jack didn't look like he was enjoying it, so why would you?

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