Review: Jetpack Joyride

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When I first heard the name of the game Jetpack Joyride, my first impression was one of bemusement.  I had thought that perhaps the developer could have only picked a more generic title if they had gone “Check it out Jetpacks.”  Luckily for everyone involved, I didn’t just read the title in the App Store, I actually played the game and found it to be a fun one-touch iOS game.  (Note: a quick search of the trademark database does not reveal anything called “Check it out, Jetpacks: Now with Comma Action!”  A missed opportunity.)

The setup for the game is that a man named Barry is frustrated at work, and to burn off some steam he steals two Gatling guns strapped to a backpack and goes for a jetpack joyride.  A joyride in this case means running at top speed through a lab that is filled with traps and coins and occasionally using the jetpack to gain some altitude to respectively avoid and gather these items.  The score in the game is calculated based on how far Barry makes it before his inevitable demise.  In this, some suspension of disbelief is required as the game’s online leaderboard shows that the laboratory building is at least 26 kilometers long.  Granted it could be a circle, but as he doesn’t lap the corpses of the employees trapped in the middle of the struggle between rocketeer and automated defenses struggle, that seems unlikely.

The basic mechanic is that by pressing on the screen, the jetpack’s thruster will engage.  When the throttle is turned off, gravity kicks in to pull Barry back to the lab’s steely floor.  There is no control over the x-axis, our joyrider just goes faster and faster until it’s game over.  Miss some coins and want to go back? Too bad.  The trick becomes knowing how to hop over some obstacles and when to hover in the middle of the screen by tapping the throttle button.  There are only three basic obstacles: electric fences that form a line to be avoided, red lasers that will appear to take up the entire screen, but will actually only cover the portion of the field indicated by a thinner, warning beam, and missiles which shoot across to take out the jetpack thief after being considerate enough to sound an alarm and put a fat exclamation on the screen to mark its approximate trajectory.  At first all of this is easy to avoid and the coins scattered throughout the map are equally simple to gather.  But, as you can imagine, it gets considerably more difficult as the game’s speed increases.

The graphics are stylized to look like a 16-bit game.  Barry is super deformed with a cute little head that is almost as big as his body, as are the similarly proportioned scientists that run around whose only job seems to be dying at the hands of the traps or the rain of bullets sent down from the protagonist’s machine gun backpack.  While the lab is a very dull, industrial, battleship grey setting, occasionally Barry will run through warehouses or past large panoramic windows that show a futuristic city, an underwater reef, or even a vault housing millions of piles of gold coins.  It would probably make gathering coins easier if you could just head into that last room, but then it would not be a one-touch game.  The visuals are appealing, if somewhat deliberately pixelated.  The menus are all easily laid out, and the only knock I have against the presentation is the music that plays during each and every joyride is not very catchy.  It’s not offensive, it’s just generic and, if you’re like me, you’ll tune it out after Barry’s first run under your fingertips.

Floating throughout the levels are Spin Coins.  When gathered these coins allow one spin on a Slot Machine that pops up after the end of a run.  The average prizes range from extra coins power-ups that will toss a bomb on the screen to bounce Barry up a couple hundred meters to up the score for that run.  But the best payout is a second chance that allows Barry to get back up and keep running.  As one hit is all that is needed to die, this boon is always much appreciated.

The core gameplay and presentation alone would make this a worthy addition to your device if you are looking for a new distraction, but the game has other things that make it addictive.  Jetpack Joyride has a dynamic in-game achievement system in addition to Open Feint and Game Center achievements.  At any given time there are three Missions to accomplish which earn a certain number of stars for their completion, and enough stars will Rank you up as a joyrider.  These missions are usually cumulative, such as running 1km on foot over however many plays that takes you, or may be specific to one run, such as ending a run between 500 m and 600m or passing 15 red lights.  These change the gameplay up to more than just getting a high score and it can be a lot of fun to accomplish these goals rather than to only shoot for the moon.  Each time you rank up the missions seem to get harder, and coins are awarded.  The coins can be spent at a store to change Barry’s appearance and to buy power-ups that are usually awarded at the Slot Machine.  Coins can also be spent to clear missions so that there is a way to remove a mission that you cannot seem to beat.

Lastly, in addition to the jetpack, Barry has several other means of conveyance.  Occasionally, a glowing gear box will show on the screen.  Hitting this box causes a random vehicle’s parts to fly in from nowhere to assemble around Barry’s person.  The designs for theses vehicles are varied and each has different mechanics.  One called Profit Wings, which looks suspiciously like a mech version of the bird in Tiny Wings, will flap a little bit upwards every time the screen is tapped, all while pooping cash.  The vehicle Bad as Hog turns the B-Man into the T-101 from Terminator Two, complete with shotgun blasts, leather jacket, and indulgently long motorcycle jumps.  Unless there is some ultra rare one I never saw, there are six of these in total that are all engaging to look at and play.   The only sad part is that one hit from a trap destroys the vehicle and it’s back to the jetpack.  In most games getting the jetpack would be awesome, but here, it’s nothing special.

It would not be fair to finish the review without mentioning the in game store.  As mentioned before, coins can unlock things but running around in the lab and completing missions is not the only way to get coins.  If you want, you can plunk down actual dollars to get fake, virtual coins.  The game never expressly told me to use this service, but the coin payout for an average run or rank up is such that it would take about an hour to generate the coins necessary to unlock the more expensive items.  It’s kind of a shady element to an otherwise great game.  But hey, everyone’s doin’ it, so I guess that makes it OK.  At least in someone’s mind.

In-app cheat codes for real, sweat-of-your-brow, actual currency aside, this is a great game!

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Pros:
+ Great visuals
+ Can use coins to complete missions if frustrated

Cons:
- Background music leaves something to be desired
- You can pay real money to remove the carrot that gets you to play

Game Info:
Platform: iPhone / iPad
Publisher: Halfbrick Studios
Developer: Halfbrick Studios
Release Date: 9/1/2011
Genre: Shoot-’Em-Up
Age Rating: 9+
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Steve has been playing video games since the start of the 1980s. While the first video game system he played was his father's, an Atari 2600, he soon began saving allowances and working for extra money every summer to afford the latest in interactive entertainment. He is keenly aware of how much it stinks to spend good money on a bad game. It does things to a man. It makes stink way too much time into games like Karnov to justify the purchase.