Retro Game Review: “Naxat Super Pinball Jaki Crush” (Super Famicom, Festival of Dread Special)

Welcome back to the Festival of Dread, The Splintering’s month-long celebration of all things dreary and disturbing.

Today we’re going to take a look at Jaki Crush (aka Naxat Super Pinball Jaki Crush), a horror-inspired pinball game released on the Nintendo Super Famicom in 1992. 

Developed by Compile, Jaki Crush is the third game in their “Crush” pinball series (We don’t include Dragon’s Revenge and especially not Alien Crush Returns. They don’t count). Having previously used aliens and medieval horror as graphical backdrops, Jaki Crush uses spirits and demons barrowed from Japanese folklore. What the &%!$ is a Jaki? Well sir, a Jaki is an evil spirit that is often depicted as an Oni in Japanese mythology and legends. Certainly a good excuse for why the game never saw the light of day outside of Japan, そうですね?

The Japanese kanji reads “Balls”… probably

Similar to the earlier installments, Jaki Crush features one, multi-tiered table where you can unlock special screens that essentially act as boss battles. As far as the main table goes, it is three screens tall with flippers, bumpers, obstacles and enemies scattered throughout all of which have a spooky, Japonesque aesthetic. Despite being a Japan-only import, there is absolutely zero need to know Japanese to play Jaki Crush. There are a few numbers and other characters scattered on the board, but it isn’t necessary to read any of them to play the game. 

This table naturally borrows a lot from both Alien and Devil’s Crush, though I certainly would not call Jaki Crush a “best of” from the two. It is remarkably more difficult to advance up to the higher screens in Jaki Crush, and the middle third of the table is largely dull and vacant, working almost purely as a traversal space between the top and the bottom of the play field. Overall, it’s very difficult to advance up to the higher screens, and you often will have to rely on blind luck or a fortunate enemy placement to ricochet up the table. 

Terebi gemu – STAHT!

While the main table in Jaki Crush is a more frustrating experience than its Crush predecessors, the boss fights stand out as the highlights of the game. These bosses include a giant lightning spirit (who’s probably a mythologically accurate depiction of thunder god Raiden, since he’s fat and plays the drums), fire demons, ice dragons, a rotating wheel of devil heads (using the Super Famicom’s Mode 7 effects), and a Space Invaders-inspired boss with a massive, mutating face in the background. 

Most of these bosses are plenty tough, and you will have to defeat all of these them if you want to reach the game’s final battle. The key to doing so lies with the giant spectral face in the center of the bottom screen. So here’s how to do it:

Bounce off his head enough times for him to open his mouth, and then aim for it. Once he swallows it, he will leaves behind three bumpers retreat to the top third of the table. If you overwhelm him and shoot him in the mouth again, you will coax him back to the bottom screen. If you succeed in pushing him back to the top screen a second time and defeat him once again, then he takes physical form on the center of the screen. Defeating him in this form opens up a portal where you will confront each of the bosses, and if you defeat them all, then you will unlock the final battle against some swirling green spirits who eventually transform into a tiger, turtle, bird and dragon. 

If you succeed in this battle, then you beat the game… I guess. I’ve seen videos of an ending sequence online, but despite my defeating the final boss, I didn’t seem to unlock it. Instead, I was thrown back onto the main table to continue racking up my score.

As many a video pinball fan knows, a pinball video game will live and die by its ball physics. I’m happy to say that Jaki Crush is solid in this respect. Each flipper is mapped to its own button, and there is a button for tilting the table, too. The Super Famicom is also the first of the Crush series that give you the chance to use shoulder buttons (L and R) for your flippers, which can be done in the options menu. You can also select whether you prefer fast or slow ball speed. Sure, the slow ball is easier to predict movement, but it gets hung up more easily and it is sometimes harder to get some good inertia needed to power through and obstacle or advance up the table. It feels that way, at least. 

Who’s Your Crush? 

Visually, Jaki Crush is probably the prettiest of the Crush trilogy, at least as static screenshots will convey. The main table and boss fight screens are fairly well detailed, though the wandering enemies have really basic animation cycles. There is happily no “color overload “ as so many other Super Famicom/SNES are subjected to, though I could do without the purple enemies who don’t fit very well with the red and green environment of the main table.  

Jaki Crush has a few unique flourishes and special effects, too. I already mentioned the rotating boss above, but there is also a fancy transition between the main table and boss stages where the ball quickly scales down like it is descending to another area. When you beat a boss, your ball changes color until you lose it, which was a nice touch. 

Music… Crushed

Despite the Super Famicom’s celebrated sound capabilities, Jaki Crush has the weakest soundtrack of all the main line Crush games. Unlike Alien Crush, you don’t get a choice of background music, and the theme for Jaki Crush’s main table is grating. I got remarkably tired of this main theme before my first playthrough was over, which is pretty bad for a pinball game, much less a Crush series pinball game. To make matters worse, the music resets every time you lose a ball, so it’s like listening to a scratchy record that skips to the worst part of a song every time it happens. I suppose that gives you some incentive to “Git gud” and not lose your balls, though. 

The boss stages, however, give you a much needed reprieve from the main table theme song. Each boss room has its own unique music, and many of these tunes are awesome. The fire demons and final boss emerged as my own personal favorites, as they both inject some much needed energy into the soundtrack. 

On the sound effect side, everything is mostly pinball standard, but a few of the effects stand out, like Raiden’s thunder drumming have a deep, satisfying “thwump – thwump – thwump!” There are only a few voices, such as the high-pitched laughter when you lose a ball, and the demon at the title screen bellowing out “Jaki Crush” to introduce the game. 

The Ice Boss is the lamest in the game

I got balls to crush and no time to do it!

To sum up some final nitpicks, I did feel like there was some slight input lag when I first started playing, though this might have been due to my playing on a Retron 5 rather than a native console. It either went away or I got used to it, but I don’t recall having a similar issue with a Retron before. 

Additionally, Jaki Crush features a multiball power-up, giving you two balls to keep track of on the screen. The camera doesn’t pull back though, so if your balls drift apart, then the camera follows whichever ball is lower on the table. This makes keeping track of the upper ball impossible, which negates much of the advantage of having a multiball in the first place. You will also lose your ball in this mode if either one of your them gets lost in the drain or the gutters, whereas most other pinball games give you the second ball as a “bonus” ball if one gets lost. Nothing game-breaking, to be sure, but unlocking the mulitball certainly didn’t feel like much of a reward as a result. 

It’s also worth mentioning – barely – that Jaki Crush also has a two-player mode where you and your little brother can take turns playing and compete for score. If that sounds kind of pointless, it is, but I suppose putting “1-2 players” on the box probably helped sell the game to moms and wine aunts looking for something to buy for little Riku and Haru. 

The final boss

And we crush! Crush! Crush ’em! Crush ’em!

Jaki Crush is absolutely the weakest of Compile’s Crush pinball series. It doesn’t introduce much of anything new, the main table is less enjoyable to traverse, and the soundtrack disappoints when compared to the other two games. It is still a very solid game, however, and given that it is the only Crush title on a Nintendo console, Japanese kids who only had a Super Famicom would have been more than happy to have it as part of their library. 

Jaki Crush is also the toughest game of the series, without a doubt. Fortunately, there is a password system if you want to save your progress from either a long or successful playthrough, making it a bit more surmountable for those hoping to see everything the game has to offer. While I had trouble unlocking the ending, who plays a pinball game to “beat it,” anyway? The replay value from a pinball game – at least for me – comes from its pick-up-and-play mechanics and some killer aesthetics, whether they be a great soundtrack or pretty “flashing lights”. I am probably more likely to return to either Dragon’s Fury or Alien Crush if I want a pinball fix, but I will absolutely play Jaki Crush again in the future. I can’t authoritatively say that it is the best pinball game on Super Famicom /SNES as I haven’t played them all, but it’s definitely better than Pinball Dreams.

The only legal way to get your hands on Jaki Crush at the moment is to purchase a retro import cartridge. I picked up a loose copy for roughly $30, but the asking price looks to have nearly doubled since, and you will have to have a way to play Japanese Famicom games to play it. That makes the price of entry a bit high for 16-bit pinball game, but for video pinball aficionados or fans of the Crush series, it’s probably worth checking out.

Super Famicom Box Art

Thanks to Moby Games for once again providing excellent screenshots.

Thanks for reading!

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