As the fifth game in my TurboGrafx-16 conquest, I was excited to play J.J. and Jeff. I really was. Yet, as it turns out, it was the game that broke my heart the most.
You see, J.J. and Jeff is one of those games I had and played as a kid. In fact, I remember when and where I got it. I was a teenager and couldn’t drive yet but I had a bus pass. One day, I can’t recall why, I was home alone for an extended time and I knew this game was selling for $19.99 at Toys R Us. To get there took a long walk to the bus stop, a 20-minute trip down Central Ave., and a long walk up hill to get there. In all, I spent a couple hours to get this game and I was quite excited to do it!
What I don’t recall is ever beating it. Heck, I don’t recall playing that far into it either. I was just that kind of fickle gamer back then. That’s why I was so excited to play it now, and ya know what…
This game is actually pretty fun.
You play as either J.J. or Jeff, two dudes who run a detective agency, in a quest to find a kidnapper. It’s not a 2-player game, so you’ll never be able to play them both at once, but when you pick one you’ll see the other throughout all of the levels. It’s actually quirky and funny, really. In the US version, censorship ruins the fun, but in the original Japanese version you see the other character peeing, pooping, and causing lots of other hijinx! (The original characters are part of a Japanese comedy show, but we get the totally invented J.J. and Jeff who represent nobody in particular.)
It’s also remarkably similar to the Adventure Island series. Not only is it made by the same company, but it features similar fruit items and even the unique always-decreasing vitality meter that requires eating food to keep going. Dying due to lack of food is much, much rarer however. And there’s no skateboards.
The game is broken up into 6 worlds with 4 levels each, Super Mario style. (The manual falsely claims to have 8 worlds, so they must’ve cut development short to save time.) In each world, you’ll face a boss after the fourth level only if you find the key for that world. The manual gives no hints, but I can confirm they’re always in the third level. If you get to the end without it, you’re sprung back to the third level. (A dead giveaway.) They’re not too hard to find if you make sure to kick everything you see. (You might even get some hints along the way.)
The levels are very well designed and have good enough variety to stay interesting throughout even if the gags get repetitive. Kicking things (even some empty spaces) will net you coins or food items, but sometimes poop and that will hurt you. Yes, the poop hurts you. Yes, there’s a lot of it.
The game does have some identity issues with what it wants to be. On one hand, they encourage you to “kick anything and everything,” yet so many times this will hurt you with poop. It triggers you back and forth between wanting to kick things and wanting to avoid it. I wish the game would make up it’s mind. It’s also not terribly fun to kick everything when you really just want to focus on the platforming instead.
I had a blast with the game, regardless. It was way better than I had dared hope and at just 24 levels not as long as I feared. The first night I played I got up to level 3-2 and the next day I poured many hours into the game and got to the end. (I kept my TurboGrafx on overnight like I always did as a kid.)
Once I hit World 6 is when I had serious issues.
The play mechanic to throw you back a level will happen often if you get to the last level in a world without the key. As I said earlier, if you get to the end without it you’ll get popped back to the 3rd level and there’s also a green spring which you can use to abort the level a bit earlier. (It’s a tad cruel, and a design error I think, to force you to get through much of the fourth level just for the “honor” of being pushed back. For the tougher levels, you’ll curse at the game for making you work hard just to go backwards.)
In the 6th world, however, it becomes ludicrous.
In level 6-3, there’s a tricky jump where you have to bounce off an otter who’s swimming down below. It’s a toughie because he goes back and forth fairly quickly and sometimes throws things in the air which can mess up your timing. If you miss this jump, you’ll be bounced back to level 6-2. This is infuriating because normally you’d just die from the fall…but for whatever reason they picked this landing spot to penalize you a level. There are several places where falling will do something different such as refilling your health or letting you play slots, but this…this is just the game being mean.
If you get through level 6-3, you’ll find a spot late in 6-4 where you can be sprung back to it again for missing a jump. This jump is a bit harder and also led to some frustration. At one point I’d played through the sequence of 6-1, 6-2, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4. Let me tell you, I was losing my mind at this point. Knowing a missed jump can cause you to play an extra level raises the tension especially before you fully remember where those spots are. I was about ready to swear off all electricity by this point.
Still, he persisted.
I came here to conquer, right? As annoying as all this was, though, the true pain came when I was mere seconds from the final boss battle. I’d reached the boss once before (and lost due to engaging it with already low health), but I’d begun to master 6-4 (playing it several dozen times can do that) and I was headed there again when I missed one of the easier jumps in the end sequence.
I blame the controller.
What happened next was without a doubt the most mind-blowing game penalty I’ve ever seen in my life and one that is unforgiveable for a game developer. Just watch:
That’s right. That missed jump didn’t mean death, it meant I got sent back to level 1-1. Yes, the very first level of the game. I was sent back 23 levels. I’d like to think the developer meant to kick you back to 6-1 (still a very cruel fate, but one that can be overcome) because you can see that I got to keep the key, but instead by sending you to 1-1 the game is telling you that it doesn’t value the large number of hours you spent in playing it by erasing all of your progress utterly and completely.
This crushed all the good memories and challenge from the game for me. This one decision is a big fuck you to people who plunked down $20, $30, or even $40 for this game. It’s astounding this was allowed in.
So, there ya go. I didn’t conquer J.J. and Jeff. The sad part is that I was so, so close to beating it. Really, if I’d have just found the food item they give you right at the very ending I probably would’ve. I didn’t get that chance, however. Psychologically, I simply can’t put in another 4 hours of effort to get back to the end because of that un-blockable fear that one bad jump could erase all my progress again. If it were to happen again I might be committed to the funny farm. It really is like someone cleared the contents of your game data. Unforgivable.
Welp, nothing to do but move on.
Up next, Battle Royale!