The year is 1888, and on the dark and foggy streets of London Jack the Ripper goes about his murderous business without a clue that in a century hence his macabre deeds will end up as background fluff or character inspiration in a whole bunch of videogames. The more I think about it, the weirder it gets - one of the world's most infamous killers, plucked from the pages of history and given a mohawk by a Japanese designer who needs a new character for their fighting game, or transplanted into a murky cyberpunk future. I can't help but wonder what Saucy Jack's reaction to this would have been. Murder, probably. Anyway, here are just a few examples of Jack the Ripper's videogame appearances, starting with a VGJunk favourite.
I've talked about my love for Acclaim's 1999 voodoo adventure Shadow Man before, a game that's sometimes awkward to actually play but which has such a great sense of mood and atmosphere that I'll let it off - I've described it as the game with the biggest gulf between how much I enjoy it and how good it actually is, and part of that enjoyment comes from Shadow Man's very Cockney and wonderfully hammy take on Jack the Ripper.
This version of the Ripper is an architect by trade and a part-time dabbler in the terrifying mysteries of the human soul, mysteries he tries to unravel by cutting open prostitutes. He doesn't have much success, at least not on the soul mysteries front - he does okay with the prostitute murders - until the biblical demon and Shadow Man's main antagonist Legion shows up. Legion explains only certain "dark" souls have the power that Jack seeks, and then invites Jack to come and work for him on his project to build the Asylum: "a cathedral to pain," a sort of Salvation Army shelter for the most depraved scum humanity can offer. This impromptu job interview goes something like this:
"Jack, you're an architect, come and help me build a Giant Hell Church."
"Sure! Where are you going to build the Giant Hell Church?"
"The land of the dead."
"So... I'll need to be dead, then?"
"Cool, I'll be there in two ticks."
Jack does not take a lot of convincing. He may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he has the sharpest knife in the drawer, and Legion gets his architect. I've gotta say, that's real convenient for Legion - how often do you find someone who's both an architect and a sadistic, unhinged killer willing to sacrifice their life for the promise of infernal powers? Now he has to wait for a mass-murdering construction crew, a satanic plumber, a psychopathic building inspector to sign off on the project. No wonder Asylum took one hundred years to build.
Jack reappears later as a boss. Self-disembowelment and a trip to Deadside somehow gave him the ability to climb on the the ceiling like a goddamn xenomorph, but mostly he's really into stabbing people with knives. As I watched him flouncing around in the cutscene, it dawned on me that Jack was really starting to remind me of someone. Then it hit me: the overwrought language, the East End accent, the open-chested shirt... he's Russell Brand. There you go, conclusive proof that Russell Brand is the modern reincarnation of Jack the Ripper. I'm just glad Jack didn't call them his knifey-wifeys.
Master of Darkness
Sega's Master System definitely-not-Castlevania-em-up Master of Darkness now, and in a game about spooky goings-on in Victorian London an appearance by Jack the Ripper is more thematically appropriate than in many of the games I'll be mentioning today. That doesn't explain why Master of Darkness' Ripper greets the player with a piratical "arr!," however.
"You wish to hinder me?" asks Jack, and as his plan is to stab me to death I think I'll have to say yes, I do wish to hinder him. It'd be weird if I just let him stab me to death, right?
His purple suit makes him look a little bit like the Joker, but otherwise this Jack is of a fairly standard type. He's wearing a suit, he's got a big knife. You know, the usual. I think the pirate voice was merely an effort to throw the police off his scent. The Ripper will never be caught if the police are wasting their time looking for Blackbeard.
He's not a very threatening Ripper, either. Any boss that can be defeated by standing on the same spot and wildly swinging your axe about like Conan trying to swat a mosquito is unlikely to engender heart-stopping terror, especially when he's so bouncy. I think he might have been conflated with Spring-Heeled Jack, a different character from Victorian folklore whose party piece was jumping out at servant girls and frightening them.
After you defeat him, it's implied that this Jack the Ripper was actually a waxwork dummy animated through strange magics. I'm sure Madame Tussauds are working hard to recreate these incantations, the punters will be pouring in if they can manage to get Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse up and singing again.
Speaking of waxworks, here's, erm, Waxworks, Horrorsoft's computer graphic adventure. It tells the story of one man's trials as he attempts to remove an ancient curse on his family by travelling back in time via haunted waxworks, including a trip to Whitechapel at the time of the Ripper murders.
That's a heck of a swoon there, lady. It's nice that you're getting into the spirit of things.
So, the player arrives in Victorian London, but unfortunately they arrive right next to the still-warm body of Jack's latest victim, making the local constabulary understandably keen to have a few words with you. Sadly those words are "you're Jack the Ripper" and "here, tell me if this noose feels tight," so the traditional adventure game experience of moving between locations, collecting items and solving puzzles is made more difficult and honestly kinda frustrating by your constant need to avoid the Old Bill. It's the 1880s, they're not much interested in things like evidence and fair trials.
If you manage to avoid both the law and the roaming mob looking to dish out the kind of justice that bears their name, there are still plenty of puzzles to solve, including feeding a dog offal laced with tranquillizers and liberating some tea from a locked warehouse. That last one is the most British adventure game quest I've ever heard of, but once it's done you can face off against Jack the Ripper himself.
Who would have thought that a doctor's bag could make such an effective shield? The big twist here is that Jack the Ripper is actually your brother - the curse I mentioned earlier is that every time twins are born into this family, one will be good and the other will be evil. I thought that was just how twins worked naturally? It's also pretty lame, as gypsy curses go. For starters, how often are twins born into a family, and how does one of them being evil punish said family for their ancient ill-treatment of the curse-inflicting gypsy? Seems to me the only people suffering under this curse are the working girls of Whitechapel. Okay, so trying to kill his own brother is probably not much fun for the player character but have some perspective - at least he gets to stay alive, or at least he will if I ever figure out how to get past Jack's impenetrable doctor's bag defence.
In ADK's World Heroes series, a time-travelled scientist called Doc Brown somehow avoids Universal Pictures' lawyers long enough to reach into the past and gather various historical figures together for the noble goal of watching them beat each other up. Jack the Ripper is one of those historical figures... sort of.
That's quite the makeover. The best thing about this animation is that if you look closely you'll see that Jack not only shreds his Victorian clothes but also shaves off his moustache in a stunning display of precision claw manipulation.
Clearly what happened here is that upon being dragged into the modern age, Jack spent his time catching up on the entirety of cinema until he reached the Eighties and discovered the man he was meant to be - a cross between a Mad Max villain and Freddy Krueger.
He gets really into the whole 80's street punk persona, too, and nothing demonstrates this more fully than seeing him lick the blades of his claws. Punks love licking sharp things. Knives, claws, the lids off tin cans, if it's metal and you can cut things with it then chances are some mohawked thug has slobbered all over it. Videogame hospitals must be full to bursting with vicious young men in sleeveless jackets who are suffering from lacerated tongues and tetanus. I could almost understand it if he was licking blood off his claws, but those claws are clean. Of course they're clean, he keeps licking them.
The World Heroes version of Jack really likes blood, by the way. I know, it's a real shocker, but I thought I should mention it just in case you were still harbouring suspicions that he was a loveable Edward Scissorhands type (he isn't).
Another Jack the Ripper with Slicing Claw Action appears the in the Playstation game MediEvil 2, where once again he is wearing clothes that show off his chest. That's three bare-chested Jack's so far, it's bordering on becoming a theme.
This Jack is also green and somewhat snake-like, pictured above menacing a mummy. The mummy is called Kiya, and she's the love interest of Sir Daniel Fortesque, the skeletal knight who is MediEvil's main character. It's very tense and all as Jack looms over his helpless victim, (and the top hat gives him an extra fifteen percent or so in looming capability,) but the MediEvil games are jolly, cartoony romps so I'm sure Sir Dan will be along any second to save the day.
Yikes. Well, he is Jack the Ripper, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, and it all works out anyway because Sir Dan goes back in time and stops this from happening. If nothing else, all these games are providing good explanations for why the Ripper killings suddenly stopped, be it via skeletal knight interventions, abductions through the space-time continuum or simple axe murder. These explanations are no more far-fetched than some of the real-world theories put forward about Jack the Ripper, if I'm honest. After all, someone once wrote a book claiming that Lewis Carroll was the Ripper and that Alice in Wonderland is full of clues about his dark deeds, which falls somewhere between "the murders were an elaborate conspiracy orchestrated by the Royal Family" and "Jack was an exceptionally clumsy vampire" on the wacko-meter.
Capcom's Power Stone series is also a colourful cartoon adventure enlivened by the inclusion of a terrifying serial killer because sure, why not? It certainly perks things up a little. I'm waiting for Jeffrey Dahmer to move into my Animal Crossing town, that ought to make things more interesting. Anyway, this is Power Stone's Jack, and he looks like he wants a hug.
A pointy hug, a hug with knives, but a hug none-the-less. That's the body language of a man desperate for human contact, but his commitment to knives is as strong as any of these Rippers and thus he is destined to suffer a life full of loneliness. Presumably he is swathed in bandages because he keeps trying for unsolicited hugs without putting his knives down, which leads to him getting beaten up a lot.
This ending sequence suggest that his name is actually Jack the Slayer, but I don't think it means of the vampire variety and his sinister stalking of young women of darkened streets means I feel comfortable about including him in this list of Rippers. I'm still not going to give him a hug, though. Not until he puts on some trousers.
Shin Megami Tensei
The Pokemon-with-demons-em-ups of the Shin Megami Tensei series also get their own take on Jack the Ripper, and as in Power Stone he looks more lonely than anything else.
"Why do they always run away from my barber's shop?" cries Jack Ripper as he chases after his fleeing customers with a cut-throat razor in his hand, the scent of shaving foam heavy in the air. It's because of your hideous face, Jack Ripper. You look like a carved pumpkin that's been left on the porch until mid-December. I don't care how dapper your clothes are, you should not be working in an profession like hairdressing where there are lots of mirrors around.
Jack Ripper's most prominent role - if anything on the Virtual Boy can be considered "prominent" - was as a playable character in the game Jack Bros., released for Nintendo's ill-fated console and thus almost completely forgotten. It's a Gauntlet-style monster-maze game, and Jack Ripper's power is that he's really good at stabbing things, so Atlus stayed fairly true to the source material in that regard. In the US version of Jack Bros., Jack Ripper was renamed Jack Skelton. I assume that this is because even in the free and liberated year of 1995, Nintendo of America did not feel comfortable about having a character named after a real-world murderer in one of their games.
Duke Nukem: Zero Hour
Okay, so here's the lamest Jack on the list, appearing the Nintendo 64 game Duke Nukem: Zero Hour.
At least he buttoned his shirt up. A mere mid-boss, this version of Jack seems even less intelligent than the others, and that is some stiff competition. Here he's just standing in front of Duke Nukem, trying to stab him to death while Duke pours round after round of semi-automatic fire into him. Then he dies, with no fanfare. The whole thing feels like kind of a waste.
Nearby, there's a recreation of the Goulston Street graffiti, with the word "juwes" replaced by "Dukes". It's an interesting if not particularly well-thought-out reference, which makes it rather fitting for a Duke Nukem game. Zing!
Finally for today we have Ripper, an FMV adventure game released for the PC in 1996. I have to confess, I've never played Ripper, so I read about it for a while only to discover that it's set in the future year of 2040 and it involves the kind of virtual reality that The Lawnmower Man briefly made popular. Would you like to see the Ripper's blood-curdling cyber-visage? No, you wouldn't, but here it is anyway.
He doesn't look comfortable in there, does he? Well, he's got plenty of company because Ripper stars some actors that you've actually heard of and none of them look comfortable either. Yes, it's quite the cast. Christopher Walken giving the performance of his career! Sorry, that should read "worst performance of his career!" Paul Giamatti, the very physical incarnation of the phrase "slovenly bachelor uncle"! Burgess Meredith, in what I really hope was not his final role! Here, check out the trailer, it's... something, chrome-skinned genderless VR humanoids and all.
Naturally I was curious about exactly what the hell was going on in this game, so I read the plot synopsis on Wikipedia. Unfortunately I didn't learn much. My eyes just kept sliding off the page, as though my brain was refusing to accept the existence of a cyberpunk Jack the Ripper adventure starring Christopher Walken. The few bits that I did pick up include the startling revelation that everyone involved in this spate of futuristic Ripper murders all once belonged to the same group of online gamers who played a Jack the Ripper-themed adventure together. So the basic plot could be described as "extreme online gaming guild bust-up," then? Also, the connection is made between the killer and Jack the Ripper due to their matching MOs, but it is later discovered that the murderer kills by hacking people's brains and forcing their body's internal pressure to rise until they burst. Okay, so, I am in no way a medical professional but I'm sure I could tell the difference between a corpse that has been slashed with a knife and one that fucking exploded. Explosions? Not Jack the Ripper's MO. He's a ripper. He rips. There's a clue in the name. He's not called Jack the Popper.
From what I've heard, Ripper is a pretty bad game, but it does have a gimmick where one of four characters can turn out to be the Cyber-Ripper. One of those characters is played by, you guessed it, Christopher Walken. Christopher Walken once played a virtual reality Jack the Ripper who kills the people on the 2040 equivalent of his Steam friends list. Nope, that's finished me off, it's time to wrap this one up.
On reflection, it becomes clear that Jack the Ripper is a perfect candidate for inclusion in a videogame. He provides a soupcon of real-world interest and he needs no introduction or explanation beyond "hey look, it's Jack the Ripper", but his crimes took place so long ago that his appearance is unlikely to cause offence, and because no-one knows who he was you don't have to worry about any living relatives demanding his removal. The mystery surrounding him allows writers plenty of space to work in weird theories and motives, and he comes with knife-fighting almost pre-defined as a combat style if you want to make your protagonist fight against him. The only thing you should really stay away from is making Jack the Ripper the hero of your game, but no-one would be daft enough to consider that, right?