The Virtual Boy is an odd duck. Nearly everything about it absurd, and as you probably know, it was a commercial and critical failure. Still, it was a Nintendo product, and as such has gathered quite the cult following, which isn’t entirely without merit. While the console itself might not be the best way to play a game (and that’s putting it nicely) it is a fascinating piece of Nintendo’s history, and some of the games in its 14-title US library are actually quite good. Among them is the sole release from Atlus, who itself has a rather serious cult following. Being such a singular product, Jack Bros. has skyrocketed in value over the years. The question is, is it worth it?
Jack Bros was released in October of 1995 for the Virtual Boy, and is quite the neat little game. It features three playable characters (all of whom look nothing like their cover art counterparts) in the form of Jack Frost, Jack Skelton, and Jack Lantern. If those characters seem familiar to you, then you’ve probably played a Megami Tensei game before. Jack Bros. marks the first entry in the series to make it out of Japan. That tidbit is just one of several factors that makes this title a perfect storm for collectible price gouging.
Due to the nature of the Virtual Boy, none of its games have been recreated on another console, which has contributed to the VB collector market becoming quite volatile, and Jack Bros. sits right at the top of that pile. It’s the first US appearance of some fan favorite characters, it was published by a fan favorite company, there weren’t that many copies made, there were even fewer copies sold, it’s never been ported to anything else, and it’s exclusively available on a very collectible Nintendo console. Basically, if you want to play this game legally, it’s going to cost you an arm and a leg, between getting yourself a working Virtual Boy, and tracking down the cart itself. (Expect to pay way more if you want the box and manual).
The other thing that has driven this game’s prices so high the inflated word of mouth. For some reason, the Virtual Boy’s library, while containing some rather fun titles, has become drastically over-hyped in terms of quality. Upon its release, Jack Bros. was referred to as a pretty neat game. Over the years, it became a really good game. Then a great game. Now, it’s not uncommon to hear it referred to as phenominal, amazing, and system seller. Its relative scarcity coupled with the mystique surrounding the Virtual Boy itself has elevated Jack Bros. to legendary status. But what kind of game is it? Is it really that great?
In short, no. Jack Bros. is a very simple action game. You pick your character, and you are placed in a series of mazes filled with monsters to shoot and keys to find. You kill the monsters, find the keys, unlock the doors, and move on to the next stage, until you get to the boss. Beat the boss in the allotted time limit, rinse, repeat. Where Jack Bros. shines though, is its sense of character. Even viewed through the Virtual Boy’s red and black color scheme, the sprites are big, bold, and filled with personality. It’s a simple concept, but it really works for what it is. Think Gauntlet, but more claustrophobic, with really cool art direction and some creative bosses. And much shorter. This game is short. Like, really short. Clocking in at a paltry six stages, Jack Bros. can be completed in an afternoon. And while yes, that would be a very cool , albeit uncomfortable, afternoon, it brings us back to the question of whether or not it lives up to the hype, and in my opinion, unfortunately not.
Jack Bros. isn’t a bad game by any stretch of the imagination. It’s one of the better Virtual Boy releases, but if you’re looking at its library objectively, that’s not a very high bar. If you’re going to track down a VB, you would be better served laying down the cash for something like the Mario Bros. pseudo sequel Mario Clash, or the legitimately awesome Virtual Boy Wario Land. I was lucky enough to grab this game back when it was being clearanced from Electronics Boutique, and I’m glad I did. I like it, but I don’t think I would be very happy with my multi-hundred dollar purchase if I were to buy this game today. It really is a fun time, but that’s it. No more, no less.