Long thought to be the curse limited to the ProSystem and a couple of computer platforms, a prototype of Jinks has, lo and behold, belatedly surfaced for the XE, perhaps providing further proof that bad ideas did indeed breed and multiply at Atari Corp. Gamers unfortunate enough to have experienced Jinks on the 7800 will likely stay far, far away from this port. While not necessarily a bad decision, it must be noted that defunct software house SoftGold expended considerable effort in correcting Jinks' many noted deficiencies and that they've astoundingly turned the XE version into something that is vaguely playable. The insatiably curious (or masochistic) may therefore wish to spend the money to acquire this gaming curiosity; other gamers are well advised to instead purchase one of the many better arcade titles available for the system.
The title screen indicates a copyright date of 1991, which makes Jinks a likely candidate for the last XE game completed for the XEGS by Atari. I'm somewhat horrified by the thought that SoftGold spent so much effort trying to port this turkey (instead of something better) to the XE, though it's nice to see that someone spent the time trying to salvage from this train-wreck of a gaming concept. Too bad it didn't really work out for them.
Jinks is pretty much impossible to describe, let alone play. Variously described as "Breakout-on-acid" or, more usually, with a number of prefixed expletives, Jinks is best thought of as another ball-and-paddle game, except that you're supposed to play it with a joystick.
The gaming field consist of four large horizontally-stretched screens which are filled with tiles, barriers, and gaming bonuses. The goal, as in the 7800 version, is apparently one of clearing all tiles off of a gaming screen, but all screens may be exited by hitting the "warp" feature on the far right edge of the screen. This takes players to an annoying "interlude" screen, where they may select to continue to one of the game's other three screens. While helpful as a cheat, this does remove much of the incentive in the attempt to completely clear a screen.
Points are received for clearing tiles, hitting bonuses, and removing what I can only describe as "monsters". There does not appear to be a time limit for completing each level in the XE version of "Jinks", but lives can be lost by repeatedly hitting the fragile tiles that are present on the bottom of some of the screens.
Controls are far superior to the disastrous scheme in the 7800 version of the game. In other words, you can actually control the game paddle and ball here without going completely insane, but it's still onerous and, on most screens, not much fun. Screen layouts also hinder proper paddle movement, as tiles and bonuses are often arranged to obstruct horizontal movement. I'm sure this was intended to increase gaming difficulty, but it was a supremely bad idea.
On the 7800, Jinks featured a graphic environment that was fairly decent, if bland. This graphic scheme has been replicated fully on the XE, which means that the graphics are pretty good, given the comparatively limited graphics hardware of the A8 machines. Jinks isn't precisely a showpiece for the A8's hardware, but credit should be given for the obvious effort made to plot tiles, bonuses, and game barriers with some care. I especially like the background "wallpaper" that is included on levels two and three, and was generally impressed by field scrolling and player movement, which was typically smooth and flicker-free.
The 7800's bizarre title screen is missing from the XE port. This is, all things considered, quite a good thing.
I give the XE port of Jinks bonus points for omitting the ear-splitting audio sample at the beginning of the 7800 version of the game. POKEY is otherwise little in evidence here, although there is somewhat more in-game sound than in the 7800 version of the game. It is, like most of the other aspects of this game, of a very mediocre quality.
Jinks on the XE may be recommended, without hesitation, to anyone who has ever spent a sleepless night wondering what the 7800 version might have been like if the controls had been improved, and then made a personal vow to hack the game to find out. Since I can't think of anyone who actually falls into this category, I'll simply state that Jinks is probably best left to 8-bit collectors and completists. Arcade enthusiasts looking for a quick ball-and-paddle fix have many better choices from which they can choose.
(64K cartridge, $20. Available from Video61 and Atari sales. At least one joystick req'd.)