Game Freak makes some fanciful games. It doesn’t matter if the developer is encouraging us to catch’em all with Pokemon, drill our way to diamonds in Drill Dozer, play our cards right in races with Pocket Card Jockey or sending a badass elephant to save the day in Tembo. The games are always set in bright, colorful worlds filled with personality. Unfortunately, one of its games’ North American releases paled in comparison to the original iteration. When Sony Imagesoft brought Jerry Boy to the west as Smart Ball, it sucked much of the joy out of it.
Smart Ball is a rather obscure game, even with its US release, so let’s refresh. It’s an action game starring what appears to be a generic slime enemy. Players help him traverse levels, taking advantage of his unique properties. If you hold down one button, he’ll slide faster and be able to climb along ceilings and walls. He can travel through pipes. If you come across a ball, he can absorb and throw it at enemies. You can also have him jump on top of enemies and press down to defeat them. I like to think Jerry is absorbing them like the Blob. You travel around a kingdom, defeating various monsters, all in hopes of eventually turning back into a human and saving a princess from a wizard.
Except, the North American localization of Jerry Boy completely ignored the game’s entire premise. When Smart Ball was localized, almost every part of the story was removed. We get that satisfying conclusion, where Jerry becomes a human boy again and reunites with Princess Emi, but that’s it. There’s no exposition whatsoever to explain who either character is and why this moment is so important.
The original Jerry Boy offered multiple segments designed to add flavor to the story. As an example, Smart Ball begins with Jerry going from a field area to a ruined village where he fights a bird boss. Jerry Boy inserts an intact village between those two levels. We get an opportunity to look around and see missing person posters showing Prince Jerry Bean has disappeared. We’re able to talk to citizens, who mention that Prince Jerry is gone, Princess Emi is supposedly by a stream, express concern about a gigantic bird threatening the town and remark on the fact that a blue slime is suddenly roaming around the area.
It’s charming. These moments in Jerry Boy not only give us a breather, but let us appreciate the world Game Freak has created. We realize our hero has greater depths. We discover that a brother’s jealousy led to the wizard cursing Jerry and Emi’s kidnapping. It also makes the game in general feel more unique. Plenty of platformers appeared in the NES and SNES generation. One that offered an opportunity to learn more about the characters and kingdoms between encounters was a welcome anomaly. Those who only played Smart Ball missed out.
Fortunately, people able to find an original copy of Jerry Boy don’t have to. Thanks to the work of Chris Covell and the RetroN 5, it’s possible to apply an English translation patch to a Japanese copy of the game and see what we missed. The result is an adventure that I would liken to an SNES account of a Studio Ghibli game.
Jerry Boy is an action game that realizes you don’t always have to be in motion, fighting enemies and traversing unwelcoming terrain. Sometimes, you can take a moment and enjoy the people and places around you, even if you’ve been transformed into a slime.