First impressions are often crucial for a game’s success. And although retro games aren’t technically making their “first” impressions these days, less-heralded older games have a tiny window to catch the attention of gamers. As a result, luring gamers away from popular modern games and popular older games is a challenge. It’s a shame that one of Nintendo’s goofy, retro sci-fi platformers never saw its day in the spotlight as a result — but you can help change that right now.
The 1995 game Jelly Boy, one of the latest games available for Nintendo Switch Online, had its comeback in the middle of a pressure-filled Nintendo Direct. However, it’s quite a fun and challenging game. If you’re a paid Nintendo Switch online subscriber, it can be played right now by downloading the Super Nintendo Entertainment System app.
As Tomas Franzese has noted elsewhere on Inverse, Jelly Boy’s announcement in the app was a sign to many that Nintendo's curation of SNES and NES history was “flawed.” In the Direct’s YouTube comments, viewers poked fun at Jelly Boy for not being EarthBound.
EarthBound is a classic, and Jelly Boy is a very obscure game only released in Europe. But while Jelly Boy doesn’t have Ness, it does have Jelly Boy. And he seems nice, considering the big smile on his pink jelly face.
Jelly Boy owes a lot to the Kirby franchise, which debuted three years earlier in 1992. For one thing, both of its main characters are pink blobs. For another thing, both games have settings you can describe as “child-like.” And as a third thing, both Jelly Boy and Kirby can transform their bodies for attacks and movement.
The main difference between Jelly Boy and Kirby lies in their standard mode of attack. Kirby sucks people in, whereas Jelly Boy’s stomach turns into a fist to punch out tiny gnomes and other bad guys. Jelly Boy also lacks Kirby’s jumping and floating skills, at least most of the time. But, despite the variations, they’re still amorphous pink blobs that are probably related.
But even if parts of the game don’t feel entirely original, Jelly Boy is a fun and odd challenge in its own right. Jelly Boy can acquire new forms by punching question boxes, including hot-air balloons, skateboards, umbrellas, hammers, and pogo sticks. These bodies come with particular abilities: to fly, to move quickly, to break boxes, and so on.
Unlike in Kirby, where a player can hold onto a power for a long time, Jelly Boy’s abilities fade after a certain amount of time. This adds a level of urgency to solving the problem at hand: What exactly is the game offering you in this liminal hot-air balloon space? Is there a secret level above? Or are there blocks around that need to get smashed? Is the question box containing the hammer body transformation high above?
The body transformation blocks are the most essential power-ups on the screen, but they are not alone. Like in Pac-Man, there are pieces of fruit just drifting around that Jelly Boy can pick up. You get some and bonus by picking them up: Cherries give bonus points, whereas oranges can add time. Those oranges were crucial, with time proving to be a stressful factor on some levels built for speed.
Jelly Boy is a platforming challenge filled with spiked walls and moving platforms stationed above fire pits. Bees fly around as they do in Donkey Kong Country, and various construction workers dot the levels ready for Jelly Boy punches. Levels also include the chance to punch aliens and mummies.
The game also features a bizarre ending sequence (that I watched with this walkthrough) where Jelly Boy takes an elevator with three of the game’s enemies, who then become super-sized and start stacking up on top of each other.
A British company called Probe Entertainment, which was later bought by Acclaim, developed Jelly Boy. There’s nothing readily available about how Probe made the odd game, but the company specialized in movie tie-ins and arcade ports. Fergus McGovern, who earned millions when the company was sold, died in 2016. But his legacy is firmly placed with Jelly Boy and several other Probe games.
As if the game wasn’t weird enough, there are passwords that can do all sorts of things. For example, entering a certain password at the start of Jelly Boy on Sega Genesis can change Jelly Boy’s head to look like Fergus McGovern.
It sadly doesn’t seem like this password works for the Switch Online port, which is a shame. Although Jelly Boy remains criminally underrated, it offers up enough oddity and challenge to prove itself a worthy addition to Nintendo’s library.
Hopefully, that secret password can be patched in.