Similar to a lot of Konami games of the NES era, Jackal is truly better when you play with a friend. It’s a great pick-up-and-play game, that anyone can have fun with.
Your brothers-in-arms are hostages behind enemy lines, and you’re their only hope for freedom.
But the firepower you’ll face to rescue them is awesome. Cannons, tanks, submarines and snipers will blast you with horrific crossfire, while jet fighters zero in from above.
To defend yourself, you control the army’s advanced all-terrain attack jeep, with its arsenal of guided missiles and incendiary grenades.
Of course these are merely tools, and to save your countrymen you’ll need more than a handful of gunpowder. You’ll need a pocketful of miracles, and the ferocity of a wild Jackal!
Arcade Roots, But Not Too Deep
When Jackal was in development for the Japanese arcade market, it was originally designed to be played with a rotary joystick, similar to machines like Ikari Warriors from SNK. This would allow your character to move in 8 directions, as well as rotate, all with one stick.
Some time before release, they re-thought their control scheme and decided to go with a more traditional 8-way joystick like most other arcade systems. The game can be played with up to 2 players, each driving their own Jeep, which is equipped with a machine gun and a grenade launcher (or bazooka with upgrades). Both weapons can be fired in 8 directions.
When it was brought to the North American arcade market, they dropped the 8-way shooting on the machine gun, meaning you could only fire your machine gun upwards. While I’m not sure why the change was made, it’s certainly a debated topic as to whether or not this is a good change for gameplay. I prefer the upwards-only mechanic.
By the time Konami released Jackal on the NES, the company had already put out some heavy hitters for the system, which shows in the fit and finish in Jackal. Gradius, Life Force, Contra, TwinBee, Castlevania I & II, to name a few. To say that they were a juggernaut for the system would be an understatement.
To port the game to the NES, they kept the upward-only firing machine gun, and split the game up in to 6 stages, each with their own new boss. The final boss of the game was also tweaked, adding a second stage to the fight that’s not present in the arcade.
Along with the graphical downgrades that needed to be done for the less powerful NES, they added a bunch of new tile sets to the game, to allow each stage to stand out. This creates a really nice sense of progression through the game, in place of the mostly-sand graphics the entire way through the arcade version.
It will come as no surprise then, that this is one of my favourite games in the NES library.
Return to ‘Nam
Your mission is to infiltrate the enemy lines, and rescue POW soldiers that have been imprisoned since the Vietnam War ended. You’ve been instructed to go in alone, as raising a big stink will only serve to bring retaliation from the enemy.
While you pilot your Jeep through the game, you will come along camps with buildings in a couple different varieties. The regular houses will have POWs that you release by blowing up the building (not sure why shooting down the door wouldn’t work), and your jeep can hold as many as you can find in a single level. In the green buildings (grey in later levels) there are POWs that flash when they exit their captivity, and they are your method of upgrading to a bazooka. The bazooka can be upgraded two additional times, making it spread in 4 directions when it hits the ground or an enemy. This can be very useful for taking out multiple enemies, or turrets that are sitting behind walls and barriers. Some players prefer sticking with only the grenade launcher, as it can always be launched over obstacles.
You transport the POWs to a helicopter drop point, and they are flown away to safety, netting you additional points and eventually more lives. If you die along the way, up to 4 POWs will scatter so you can gather them up again, and the rest of them will perish.
The gameplay is fast and engaging. You’re constantly in danger, and there are very few ways to protect yourself, other than the kill-or-be-killed strategy. As your machine gun can only shoot upwards, you’re decision-making to move into position for a machine gun shot, or face your Jeep towards the enemy to launch a grenade is something that will take a bit of time to learn.
If you bring along a friend, they will be piloting their own Jeep, and the action is slightly easier for the most part, but much more fun. Making fun of your buddy for all the stupid deaths is part of the experience!
If you manage to complete all 6 missions and defeat the final boss, the game will roll credits and begin again, allowing you to see how far you can really take your score.
Sound & Music
The sound in the game is typical Konami fare. The original music from the arcade is here, but it sounds much less tinny and in your face, because of the tame sound of the NES audio. The music is done very well, and the upbeat tunes perfectly matches with the setting of the game, constantly keeping a certain fevered tempo to the war-time action. You’ll probably find it getting stuck in your head when you’re finished playing, which I don’t mind in the least.
The sound effects serve their purpose well, and never get annoying. Every time the sound in this game hits my ears, I am brought right back to my childhood, hunched around a small wood grain CRT, on an orange shag carpet in my friend’s basement. We put many hours into this fantastic game, but never managed to finish it.
The environments in the 6 stages are varied to a great extent, but the enemies themselves do not differ too much from stage to stage. The game moves from a typical Vietnam jungle setting to Roman temples (there are Roman temples in Vietnam?), to cliffside battles alongside wall-mounted turrets.
As you progress through the game, the difficulty is ramped up nicely with a more diverse group of attackers, and more enemies on screen to deal with. In the final stages, you’ll be put into some devious situations that can easily take a couple playthroughs to learn how to defeat.
The difficulty then, is nicely balanced, but the game is not overly difficult at all. It’s a great game for a quick play with a friend, without becoming overwhelming to a newcomer. You really can’t go wrong with this title, and it’s a known classic on the NES for good reason.
I cannot recommend this game enough.
Released: September 1988
MSRP: $49.99 USD
Go ahead, laugh at him for getting killed by the soldier he tried to run over.
– More varied graphics than the arcade version
– 6 boss battles to fight through
– Excellent music
– Playing with a friend is an awesome experience, and it’s easy to pick up and play
– Probably the best port of the arcade original
– Only 6 stages, can be finished in 30 minutes