Jack Bros. brings together three of fairy tale's most beloved Jacks - Jack Frost, Jack Lantern, and, um, Jack Ripper - and casts them in a Zelda/Gauntlet-style maze adventure game where time is constantly ticking away and enemies await around every corner. Released in October 1995 for the Nintendo Virtual Boy by Atlus, Jack Bros. is one of the best games available for the failed system and also one of the rarest games in the used game market. The story begins as the Jacks have come to Earth via a magic portal that only opens on Halloween to play and romp with the little children. As midnight approaches, your chosen Jack realizes that he's lost track of time and if he doesn't get back to the portal before November 1, he will cease to exist. Since time is of the essence, a fairy by the name of Pixie has come to guide Jack home across a dangerous shortcut that leads him through sixty levels of maze-based adventuring. A timer in the upper-left corner of the screen is always counting down and if it reaches zero then Jack vanishes and the game is over.

Each level is positioned directly above the next level, meaning that it's possible (and useful) to peek down to the next level through the holes and gaps in the current level. The object of each level is to collect the various keys that are scattered around (radar helps guide the way), then find the spot(s) where Jack can jump down to the next level to start the process all over again. The sixty levels are divided unequally into six worlds, with the final level of a world consisting of a boss fight. Passwords are awarded at the end of each world.

While most games of this caliber only give you one hero to work with, Jack Bros. provides three (or four if you find the hidden character). Each Jack as specific skills and attacks, and to complete the game completely one must bring each Jack home. The controls are simple to learn: the left control pad moves Jack, the A and B buttons fire your weapon, the L button activates the special attack, and the right control pad allows Jack to fire his weapon in a direction other than the one he is facing. Mastering this technique is essential when Jack needs to both attack and retreat. The Jacks will be attacking often, as there's a number of enemies who are aiming to keep the Jacks from returning home and most all of them shoot a projectile of some sort. Let's meet our heros, shall we?

  • Jack Frost - Master of the ice and snow, Frost attacks with a barrage of snowballs that can be tossed quickly, but do little damage. His special attack freezes enemies in their tracks momentarily. He walks slowly, too.
  • Jack Lantern - Relying on pumpkin power, Lantern shoots fireballs that inflict more damage than Frost's snowballs, but move slowly towards the target. His speed is average and his special attack burns the enemies onscreen.
  • Jack Ripper - Known as Jack Skeleton in the American version, Ripper relies on a big knife to inflict damage. He does not toss knives, but instead stabs with a single knife, making long-range attacks impossible. The knife is more powerful than any snowball or fireball, however, and he's the fastest of the three Jacks. A blast from his special attack destroys all enemies currently visible.
  • Pixie - The helpful fairy is also a hidden playable character. Only the best players will master her unique set of abilities.
As mentioned earlier, time is a major factor in Jack Bros.. When the timer reaches zero, the game is over and continuing will drop Jack back at the first level of the current world. Each world begins with a predetermined time limit - say, 100 seconds - and only stops ticking when Pixie is talking. Taking damage from an enemy or trap deducts up to thirty seconds from the timer, too. The only way to add time back on to the timer is to pick up a clock icon (thus adding 10, 20, 30, or even 50 seconds of time to the timer), find a secret exit (this awards 20 seconds) or finish a world without using all of your special attacks; each unused special attack is worth 10 seconds in the next world. Extra time left at the end of a world does not carry over to the next, however. It is imperative that you not spend too much time wandering around on one level, as you will run out of time before reaching the finish, guarenteed. If you do finish the game, a special challenge mode dares you to complete the game with even less time on the clock.

Jack Bros. is some of the most fun you can have with a Virtual Boy, ranking with Virtual Boy Wario Land as a highlight of the system. Due to its popularity and the limited release of the game, finding it can be an expensive challenge. It typically sells for $50 or more on online auctions and is the rarest American Virtual Boy game pak. It's worth tracking down if you're a fan of the maze-based action genre, but don't mistake the game's festive nature for a simple action game. If you lump this game in with similar titles, then you obviously don't know Jack.