Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Brütal Legend (Double Fine/Electronic Arts, 2009/2013)

Heavy Metal.

I grew up in the 80s. Heavy Metal was my pop music. My family signed up for cable as soon as it was available in our area, and we had a channel called MTV. I'm not about to go into an old man rant about how MTV doesn't play music anymore. At this point we've got live action shows on Cartoon Network, reality shows about trucking on The History Channel, and reruns of Cops on G4, so MTV giving up on music is only a small part of what is wrong with modern television. Don't even get me started on what The Discovery Channel has devolved into! The point is, back in the 80s, MTV was awesome. It didn't take the network long to replace Devo and The Buggles with Quiet Riot and Def Leppard. From that point on, metal became the soundtrack to my generation. While some abandoned metal for hip hop or grunge in the early 90s, many stayed the course enjoying the riffs and solos as they transitioned from popular, to passé, to revered classics.

Metal and video games have had a long history. Once CD-Roms started replacing cartridges, real music tracks started appearing in games, and it didn't take long for designers to realize that metal tracks could give their games a type of energy that other music genres simply couldn't match. Sports titles such as the Madden franchise started playing metal tracks before games to pump of the players. Rhythm based music games such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band would lean heavily toward metal tracks (no pun intended) to feed the cravings of a whole new generation of axe wielding head bangers. But, no game has ever sung the praises of heavy metal and all that it encompasses more than Brütal Legend.

When Brütal Legend was first released, it was a PS3 exclusive. The ads made it look awesome, and my friends who had it made me extremely jealous. But, I didn't have a PS3, so I was left out of the fun.

As I mentioned in my Alice: Madness Returns review, my amazing wife got me a PS3 for Xmas, so of coarse, the first game I purchased for it was Brütal Legend.

The game follows the adventures of Eddie Riggs (Jack Black's greatest role since School of Rock), a long time heavy metal roadie disenchanted with the current state of hard rock music who by an unexplained supernatural chain of events gets transported to a fantasy realm based around metal. He doesn't know how or why he is there, but it quickly becomes apparent that he has to help the good guys and stop the bad guys. Luckily, his roadie experience gives him just the perfect set of skills that the world needs.

I'll admit that the story doesn't really make a whole lot of sense when you think about it, and the drama and romance are presented with the level of care you'd expect from a summer action flick, but that's all part of the charm. It's not trying to reach beyond that, and in that respect it seems to find itself exactly where it wants to be. The voice cast on the other hand is an amazing ensemble. In addition to the amazing Tim Curry, and the expected Kyle Glass (the other half of Tenacious D), there are several cameos by rock n' roll royalty including Rob Halford, Lemmy, Ozzy Osbourne and Lita Ford. I need to go ahead and say right now that if the previous sentence didn't get you exited then you might want to stop reading this review right now because the game probably isn't for you. For the rest of you, read on.

After so recently playing through Darksiders II and Alice: Madness Returns I was expecting more of the same, an epic single player action adventure with a lot of Hack n' Slash and a little RPG thrown in for good measure, all set to an all star soundtrack. For the most part, that's what I got, but there was something else, something unexpected, and something that if you don't wrap your mind around it early on might turn you off of the game. For the major encounters in the game, the plot turning level ending epic build up moments just before you watch the next cutscene and unlock the next world area, the game turns into an RTS.

Real-Time Strategy games have never been my favorite genre, but I've enjoyed the few that I've played. For whatever reason I just don't seem to get hooked on them as much as others do. The RTS elements of this game are presented differently than in most games. Rather than having a disembodied view floating over the battlefield, you still control Eddie. In earlier sections, you simply run around and command the few troops you have which feels more like squad combat, but as the game progresses, and you amass a greater variety of troops, Eddie gains the ability to fly over the battle, easing you into a more traditional RTS experience. The entire time, you are still playing an active role in the battle yourself. You are still being attacked by the enemies and can at any time run up to them and start attacking them directly. You can also team up with any of your troops, which ranges from getting a piggy back ride to driving a tank. By teaming up with a troop, you gain some of their special abilities.

It's a great system once you get used to it, allowing you to have the active invested connection to the action that you would get from a single player action game while still experiencing the overall battle in a way usually reserved for the less personal RTS genre. The problem with it is not in the implementation, but in the presentation. The first few times this happens, you have a handful of guys following you around that you can give basic commands to such as follow, wait, guard, or attack. It reminded me a bit of the Oddworld series.

The thing is, these first few encounters can also be hacked through just by running around and taking out the enemies yourself, so you can almost ignore that these sections exist for a while and continue playing the solo adventure you've been playing. The other problem is that these encounters only happen at specific sections of the game, and there is nothing like them throughout the rest of the game. This leads them to being very disorienting and frustrating when they first start getting complex enough that they require an entirely different approach to gameplay. At a certain point, I just had to make the conscious switch in my head that "this is the type of game it is now, and I have to play it like this instead of like that". But again, once I finally wrapped my brain around it, I enjoyed it a lot.

The rest of the game plays like an open world hack n' slash RPG thrown in a blender with Grand Theft Auto. You'll be exploring the land, battling fantastic creatures, uniting the kingdom and overthrowing the great evil, all with a heavy metal flavoring. The sidequests are repetitive, but fun. Most of them are more of mini-games than they are additional RPG content. Again, once you wrap your brain around it, it's highly enjoyable.

The solo combat is just plain fun. Your main weapon is a comically oversized axe, a possible jab at late 90s JRPGs. I couldn't help but think of Cloud's ridiculously large sword from Final Fantasy VII the first time I saw it. It's a great melee weapon and it's fun to hack your way through hoards of fodder on your way to the big guys. Your second weapon is your guitar. You bring this guitar with you from the real world when you are transported, but in this world it has amazing powers, taking the place of the magical elements from standard fantasy games. The guitar can be used quickly in combat to hit enemies from a distance and cast elemental effects on them such as lighting them on fire. Throughout the game you learn a number of riffs for the guitar, borrowing from Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. These riffs are played by quickly hitting the right buttons at the right time Guitar Hero style. Some of them are combat moves such as the amazing Face Melter which literally melts the faces of your enemies like they're Nazis opening the lost ark. Others are used to activate alters and open tombs.

The UI follows the modern trend of less is more. Pulling a trigger to select a guitar riff or manage your troops will bring up radial displays in the center of the screen, but for the most part there is no UI at all. This style has both its advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, it allows you to enjoy an unobstructed view of the game world as if you were watching an animated movie. The view does look clean without random icons and meters crowding the edges of the screen. On the other hand, it's not as easy to keep up with your current status as it would be if you just had a health bar on the screen. A game like Dead Space can get away with putting UI elements directly on the player's suit, but that wouldn't work in a game like this. Instead, the music itself becomes the player's health meter. The more damage you take, the more filtered the music becomes, getting thinned out until it sounds like a tiny transistor radio. When you are close to death, the screen also begins to redden, but for the most part, it's the music that lets you know what your current health is. This makes it difficult to play the game with the sound off, but if you're playing this game with the sound off, this probably isn't the game for you.

The game's soundtrack is one of the best collections of classic metal that's ever been compiled. Not only will you hear some of the biggest hits the genre has produced, there's also a great collection of some of the best songs that never made it to constant rotation on the airwaves. Borrowing from classic MTV, the artist name and song title pop up in the corner of the screen as each new song starts while you cruise around in your car.

It's fitting that a game like this came from the mind of Tim Schafer. Unlike most other forms of entertainment, the gaming industry doesn't really have celebrities. As far as game designers go though, Schafer is about as close to a rock star as you can get. Overall he brings the same level of charm that he has to his past classics, Psychonauts, Grim Fandango, and the Monkey Island series. Time will tell if this title will be remembered in such high regard years from now, but if you're looking for an epic adventure with some RTS sections sprinkled in and a metal soundtrack of epic proportions, then I highly recommend this game, especially now that it's finally available on PC.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Alice: Madness Returns (Spicy Horse/Electronic Arts, 2011)

I spent a lot of the past decade working in video production. For my job I needed to be mobile, so I made the switch from a lifetime of desktop computing, to a less powerful yet more flexible laptop existence. Every three years or so I'd buy a new one to try to keep up with my growing needs, but none of them were really up to playing the most recent PC games. So, I mostly stuck to either console/cloud games, or older PC titles that my machines could handle. Now that I've changed industries, I don't need a laptop as much anymore, so when it came time to look for a new one I decided on getting both a Windows tablet PC, and a high end tower system (both together were still less than half the cost of a decent laptop!)

As I mentioned in my Darksiders II review, I finally got my new PC last November, and I was eager to try it out. I started digging through my Steam library looking at all of the games I picked up on sale that I haven't been able to play yet. I tried out Dead Space for a little while, because as I mentioned in my Space Quest review, I'm a sci-fi nut. For some reason or other I put Dead Space aside a little ways into it, and instead decided to play Alice: Madness Returns.

Recently, there's been a trend in pop culture of taking classic fairy tales and making them, for lack of a better word, badass. You can barely turn on a TV without seeing ads for shows such as Once Upon a Time and Grimm, or movies such as Jack the Giant Slayer, and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. It wasn't always like this though. Fairy tales used to be presented mostly as candy coated stories for children, despite the gruesome origins of several of them. Over a decade before Snow White and the Huntsman, and half a decade before The Brothers Grimm, there was a game called American McGee's Alice. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to play it when it was out, and even in this day of digital distribution, the game is no longer available. Fortunately, about a decade later American McGee got back to work and created a sequel.

Alice: Madness Returns is a gothic psychological thriller re-imagining of Lewis Carroll's 1865 Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and 1871 Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. In this version, Wonderland and all of its inhabitants are the hallucinations of a mentally disturbed Allice Liddell, a teenage orphan raised in the insane asylums of a dirty sepia toned Victorian England. Mental illness is a topic rarely touched by video games, outside of the occasional character described as "crazy", but this title actually tackles the subject in a respectful way.

You spend the game trying to uncover Alice's past which her subconscious mind has locked away from her, a blurry memory of the night her family died in a suspicious house fire. Since the mental health practices of the time focused on trying to forget painful memories rather than dealing with them, it is a difficult task to say the least. It's important to note that in this game, Alice is still mentally unstable. She's prone to blackouts and random hallucinations that can intrude into and distort her reality, and sometimes pull her out of it completely. When things get out of hand, she retreats into her internal fantasy world of Wonderland.

Wonderland has always been described as a world driven by nonsense that ranges from pleasant to terrifying, but its presentation here is taken to a new level. I would describe it as a Tim Burton style take on it, if it weren't for the actual Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland movie that came out the previous year. Still, it could almost be described as a more Burtony version. The characters are all presented in horrifying form, while staying true to their origins. The Walrus and the Carpenter are still trying to lure the trusting Oysters to their delicious doom. The Mad Hatter, this time a mechanized clockwork monstrosity, tries to help Alice, but is easily distracted and overall of little use.

An interesting aspect of the presentation is that the whole time Alice is in Wonderland, she knows that she's actually not. She knows that it is all part of her mental disorder, but she uses it as a coping mechanism. By helping to solve Wonderland's problems, she is dealing with her own mental issues and coming to grips with what actually happened to her family, and realizing that she's been raised believing a web of lies covering up a dark secret. This also has implications on the real world. The entire time she's off adventuring through Wonderland, she's actually wandering the streets of London, and having to deal with the consequences of her actions upon her return to reality. As her ultimate quest is not to save the imaginary Wonderland but to save herself, this makes her actions in the real world more important, even if they're less entertaining.

The great thing about having a game set in Wonderland is that it's a world based on pure nonsense. Because of this, design decisions could be made based on how to make the game more fun, without having to worry about breaking reality. This is in much the same way that a Mario game can get away with things that you just couldn't do in a Splinter Cell or Assassin's Creed game. Having a world of nonsense lets the game be what it wants to be, and the more absurd the explanation the better! The basic gameplay is based around the standard 3D platformer tropes. Where some games give you an ability to double jump, Alice can jump and twirl and glide up to four times allowing you to explore some elaborate platforming levels with ease. No explanation needed for her ability, it's simply nonsense.

The combat follows a modern flowing action game style. It doesn't innovate, but it feels solid and thought out. Alice has never really been depicted as a violent girl, so obvious care and creativity was taken in choosing her weapons and attacks. Her primary weapon is the Vorpal Blade, an obscure weapon mentioned briefly in the Jabberwocky poem. This weapon is swung like a typical hack n' slash sword and offers a good variety of attacks. The next weapon you get is a pepper grinder from the Duchess's Cook which fires like a machine gun, and was by far my favorite weapon of the game. Next up is a wooden toy horse that Alice swings like a war hammer. And lastly, a tea kettle that charges up to shoot out tea like a grenade launcher. All of these can be upgraded along the way for a price of teeth which are collected from slain enemies or by shattering various containers. Alice also collects some abilities along the way in a Metroid/Zelda fashion such as being able to shrink on cue, see hidden clues, and place clockwork time bombs made out of top hats.

Level design throughout Wonderland is primarily linear with only a few short side paths leading to collectibles. Among these collectibles are Alice's lost memories. The more of these you find throughout the game, the more you start to unravel the story of what actually happened that fateful night. As linear as the levels are, don't expect to be handheld through them. These levels sometimes weave and wrap around themselves in fascinating ways leaving the player trying to puzzle out how to proceed. There are also the occasional detours as the inhabitants of Wonderland will demand you help them to solve their own dilemmas before allowing you to proceed. These segments provide a refreshing change of pace with sometimes a minimal amount of exploration and backtracking. I personally would have preferred more of an open world design overall, but the end results work out so well that I can't complain. The biggest surprise for me was the inclusion of a handful of 2D platformer levels. These use a hand drawn storybook art style similar to the game's cutscenes.

The London segments have a much different overall feel to them. There's no jumping or attacking, simply wandering around and talking to people, most of whom would rather have nothing to do with the orphaned mental patient with the bad reputation. It is in these segments that you investigate Alice's past and the people in her sad life in an attempt to get to the bottom of things. Bits of Wonderland sometimes slip through as well. Alice has a loose grip on reality, and can never be sure if what she's seeing is real or part of her delusions. This haziness reminded me a lot of the Scarecrow segments from the Batman Arkham games, or more precisely, the sections leading into those segments. This is especially fitting considering that the Scarecrow section of Arkham City led to an encounter with Gotham's own Mad Hatter.

The music throughout the game fits the mood perfectly. The haunting violin solo on the main title screen especially was stuck in my head for weeks. The sound effects aren't anything ground breaking, but they do a good job of making the world believable. The voice cast also manages to bring the many fanciful characters to life.

I've heard a lot of complaints about the controls in the game. There's one review in particular that blasted the PC release of the game for playing better with a gamepad than with a mouse and keyboard. To me, that's just a rediculous complaint, like complaining that a PS3 game plays better with a Move controller than a Six-Axis. I played the game with a gamepad, and yes, I think it plays better with a gamepad, but I think all platformer games play better with a gamepad because it's a genre that was born on consoles and plays to the strengths of gamepads. Just because a game is released on PC, doesn't mean it has to work amazingly with a mouse and keyboard. Neither of those devices were created for gaming, and while they work great for some types of games, they don't work as well for others. The great thing about gaming on a PC is that you can use whatever controller fits the game the best.

Overall I thought the controls felt tight and intuitive, but with one exception. The lock-on logic always seemed to want to pick the absolute worst enemy to lock on to. Many of the battles I fought completely without locking on. In others, I would fight off the smaller enemies first, so I could then lock onto the larger enemy I wanted to shoot at. If I did manage to lock on to the strongest enemy early in a fight, I would be afraid to let go of the lock, so I would fight the smaller enemies by positioning myself so I could shoot them in the crossfire of shooting at the larger enemy. So yes, the lock-on logic could have been much better, but other than that I had no complaints with the controls.

The difficulty of the game is well balanced and increases gradually as you progress through the story. As would be expected, the later levels have the most difficult combat. Towards the end of playing Alice: Madness Returns, the basement where I keep my PC started to get pretty cold (it was late December at that point). Luckily, my wonderful wife got me a PS3 for an Xmas gift, and I could use the lure of gaming in a nice warm living room as motivation to get through the final challenges of the game. I found the ending of the game to be extremely satisfying both from a storytelling perspective, and from a game design angle. I'm not going to spoil anything for you here, but let's just say that it left me with a deviously satisfied grin on my face.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Space Quest: The Sarien Encounter (Sierra, 1986)

Once upon a time, a long time ago, in a magical era known as the early 1980s, there were essentially two types of video games you could play at home:
  1. There were the simple early arcade style games of the day, usually played on a single screen with characters that looked like they were made out of a handful of legos. These games were generally reflex based with little to no story presented throughout the game, and very little sense of adventure or exploration.
  2. There were the text adventures available on most home computer platforms with cryptic input, and as the name implies, no graphics. These games relied entirely on the user's imagination both in trying to visualize what the world was supposed to look like, and in trying to figure out how to phrase your request in a way that the game would recognize.
Then, as home computers became more powerful, a new kind of gaming experience emerged...

Most gamers today are familiar with the Point and Click Adventure genre, but not many remember its humble origins. Before the mouse was standard issue, computers were controlled almost entirely with keyboards. Some systems (like the Commodore 64) had joystick inputs, but most (such as the IBM computers which would eventually evolve into the modern Windows PC market) stuck to the good old keyboard.

Once home computers were capable of displaying decent graphics, the next logical step was simply to provide illustrations to the text adventures that were already being produced. Inspired by the joystick controls of console systems, the cursor keys were used for character control, but text input was still utilized for just about everything else. This lead to the birth of the Graphic Adventure genre.

For the most part, Sierra was the undisputed champ of 80s graphic adventures. Their King's Quest series dominated the genre, and spawned several more franchises using the familiar formula in different settings. I played several of them growing up, but there were just so many to keep up with. During's most recent holiday sale, they had an amazing deal where you got every King's Quest, Police Quest, Space Quest, and Quest for Glory game for just $20. I had to jump on the deal! The only thing that would have made the deal better would have been the inclusion of the Leisure Suit Larry series which they didn't carry at the time, but have since added.

So, with all of these amazing classic games, I just had to decide where to start. I've been a sci-fi nut since the first Star Wars film, so I decided to dive into Space Quest: The Sarien Encounter.

Space Quest is a sci-fi comedy series of games. While there are lots of games that have a sense of humor, there are very few that can actually be considered funny. Luckily, this is one of those rarities. Considering how long ago it came out, many of the pop culture references will be lost on modern audiences, but some of the subjects lampooned have stood the test of time. References to Star Trek, Star Wars, and even The Blues Brothers pop up throughout the game.

In this game, you play as a crew member of an interplanetary starship. You're not the captain, you're not the weapons officer, you're not the elite space marine commando. You're the ship's janitor, and considering you start the game by waking up from a nap in the janitor's closet, you're probably not a very good one. It should  be noted that this game came out several years before the BBC series Red Dwarf which follows a similar premise. And like in Red Dwarf, an unexpected turn of events leaves you as the only remaining crew member alive. As would be imagined, this leads to an unintentional sequence of adventures.

You experience these adventures by leading your character (in this game you name him yourself, but in later installments he is rebranded Roger Wilco) using the cursor keys on your keyboard. Again, this came out in 1986, WASD didn't become the popular control scheme until many years later, and wouldn't have worked here anyway because all of your alphabet and number keys are used for typing. Yes, this game has a lot of typing. Want to pick up a grenade? You walk up to it with your cursor keys and type "pick up grenade". Wonder what that control panel on the wall is for? Walk over to it with the cursor keys and type "look at control panel".

I'm mentioning the cursor keys a lot because if you're too far away to perform the command you type in, your character will complain to you that he's too far away. Then you'll have to walk over to it and type in the command again. Many of you are probably cringing right now at the tediousness of the interface, but as archaic as they may seem to modern gamers, there is a reason these games were so popular. Typing in your commands gives you a freedom you just can't get from a point and click interface, and certainly not from a gamepad. You can literally type in anything, and while not every command is recognized, you will be amazed at how many are. Most commands that can't be followed will at least be answered with a humorous response. At times you'll be arguing back and forth with your character and forget that your not in a heated IM discussion.

Then, there are the deaths. You will die in this game. You will die a lot. But, unlike most games, you will love it! This game is loaded with clever death sequences. Walk through a laser fence? Watch as your body drops to the floor like a loaf of sliced bread. Get a bad pull on a slot machine? Watch as you're zapped into a pile of dust that is quickly swept up by a cute little cleaning robot. There are times where you will go out of your way to see how many interesting ways you can find to die. Just make sure you save your game often.

Speaking of saving your game, make sure you use multiple slots too. In modern game it's common to use a single save file to play through an entire game. This would be a bad idea in Space Quest, or really any of the classic Sierra games, because they were big fans of dead ends. There are multiple instances throughout the game where you can find yourself in a situation where you can't progress forward in the game because you missed doing something important earlier, yet you can't go back to do it now because the game has locked you where you are. You are now at a dead end, and the only hope of continuing in the game is to load up an earlier save file and try to find what you missed.

In modern games, this is known as a blocker, and companies spend a lot of time and money testing to make sure these don't exist. Back then, this was all just part of the fun. In fact, back then it was uncommon to complete one of these games on your first play through. You would generally get to a point where you were completely stuck, and then start over again from the beginning. Luckily the games were structured in such a way that while they take some time the first time through as you solve the puzzles and unlock the mysteries, they take considerably less time once you know what to do in each situation. This allows you to painlessly zip through sections that might have taken you hours to figure out the first time through, all the while keeping a look out for anything you might not have noticed before.

And don't expect to notice everything with your eyes. The blocky graphics do an adequate job of letting you know what your environment generally looks like, but to really study your surroundings you'll need to ask the game what you really see. You'll spend a lot of time typing commands starting with "look at" or "search through" and then reading the descriptions.

The graphics were actually at a much lower resolution than they needed to be at the time, but there's a reason for that. Back in 1986, there were basically two common types of video cards in PCs. There was the older CGA (Color Graphics Adapter) card that could display text in up to 16 colors, but could only display graphics in 4 colors at a time (and with very limited pallet choices), and then there were the top of the line EGA (Extended Graphic Adapter) card that could display graphics in all 16 colors! Yes, once upon a time that was a big deal.

Anyway, the CGA cards usually came with not only the standard RGB monitor output, but also a composite video output, the same yellow video plug you still find on DVD players and cable boxes. This could let the computer plug directly into a standard TV. Where sierra got clever is they discovered that if you put certain combinations of colored pixels next to each other, the TV would get confused and display the wrong color. By doing this they were able to let CGA cards produce all 16 colors on your TV.

The sound is another story. PC sound cards didn't become popular until the early 90s, so all your computer could do was beep. Despite this, Space Quest still manages to play a rousing melody on the title screen that with a little imagination can sort of imply to you that it might sound awesome if it were played by a full orchestra in the style of epic space movies. But still, it's one beep at a time, so don't get your hopes up too much. The rest of the game is pretty silent. Every so often it will attempt to make a sound effect, but don't expect anything recognizable, or even up to 8-bit console standards. In face, sometimes the sound is just plain annoying, but I'd still recommend leaving it on as it can sometimes provide important clues as to what's going on.

I know this review might have sounded fairly negative, but I have to stress how much I enjoyed this game! All the antiquated technological shortcomings may be a huge turn off for some, but as somebody who grew up on these types of games it all filled me with a sense of nostalgia. It had a great story, tons of funny gags, and an overall charm that makes it worth playing at least once by anybody who can look past the retro 80s presentation and enjoy it for what it is.

And since I have the whole collection, expect to see more Space Quest reviews on this site in the near future!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Jetpack Joyride (Halfbrick, 2011)

The first time I saw Jetpack Joyride was last summer, my niece was playing it on her iPod touch. I didn't know what it was, but it looked like a fun game. I promptly forgot all about it until a few months later when I saw a guy I know playing it on his phone. This time I had to ask what game it was. I'd heard the name "Jetpack Joyride" mentioned in conversations a few times, but I never made the connection until then. I looked it up on the Google Play store, saw that it was free, and immediately downloaded it.

Jetpack Joyride is a running game, and at the time, I hadn't played a lot of running games. The ones I had played were fun in small doses, but I never really saw them as being very deep. I know some of my friends are crazy about the genre, but I sort of looked at them the way I do some classic arcade games. While I could easily sink a few hours into Super Mario Bros. without thinking about it, I couldn't play Q-Bert or Joust for that long at a sitting, as much as I enjoy those games. So, I figured Jetpack Joyride would be like that too. An amusing distraction on my phone that I would play when I had a couple minutes to spare.

So, that's how I approached it. I'd load it up every now and then, and see if I could get a little farther than I had before, and then put it away after a couple of tries. One weekend when I was playing it, I noticed the little tab labled missions. I don't know why I never saw it before then. Maybe I just wasn't paying much attention to the interface between rounds assuming it was all micro-transaction stuff, but that day I saw it, and it changed the game for me. Suddenly the game had a purpose, and every play meant something. Suddenly, I was addicted! I got so addicted to it, that I completed every single mission in the next 3 days!

I should probably back up at this point, and explain what the game actually is. As I mentioned earlier, Jetpack Joyride is a running game. The running game genre has been around for decades, but has only reached popularity recently. It's sort of a spin off of the platformer genre. Like platformers, there are 3D runners and 2D runners, sometimes you're going forward, sometimes you scroll to the side, sometimes you travel straight up. The big difference between the genres is that in running games the player has little to no control over forward momentum, you just keep running.

In the case of Jetpack Joyride, it's a 2D side scroller where you are constantly traveling from left to right. For the most part, your only control is your titular jetpack. Touching the screen causes the jetpack to start, making the player go up. Letting go of the screen causes the jetpack to stop, making the player go down. Because of the simple controls, the entire screen acts as a single button, the only input needed to play the game. Since you're constantly moving to the right, I would definitely recommend using your left thumb to play, so you don't block your brief view of what is coming up in front of you. I've since also picked up the PSN version of Jetpack Joyride, in which you use only the X button to play. I personally find the game easier to control with a PS3 controller than with the touch screen, but that might just be because I grew up in the era where games used buttons.

Anyway, you control the jetpack, and only the jetpack. Using this, you must avoid obstacles and dodge incoming weapons as you continuously move to the right. Along the way, you also collect power-ups such as coins for purchasing new items between rounds, tokens for the slot machine (more on this later), and best of all, the vehicles! As cool as the jetpack is, the vehicles really bring the game to life. They range from pretty standard like the motorcycle, to completely awesome like the robot dragon! Each vehicle has its own control scheme, still using the single button. They are all intuitive to use and very fun. Plus, like the power-up mushrooms in classic Super Mario games, they provide you with an extra try if you get hit. Instead of instant death, you simply lose your vehicle and keep going.

The game is a single randomly generated level that keeps going until you die, and also keeps up with where you died on your previous longest run. It's always fun to zip past the sign indicating your previous best run and know that you are setting a new record. After you die, you get to spend any tokens you might have collected in the slot machine mini-game. I know I've already mentioned the Super Mario series twice in this review, but this mini-game gave me pleasant memories of playing through Super Mario Bros. 2 back in the day. Prizes in the slot machine include, more tokens, coins, head starts for the next round, getting a second chance to continue your current round, and a variety of explosives that will launch your corpse just a little farther down the course. Tokens can also be cashed in for coins if you'd prefer.

Coins can be spent between rounds on a variety of items. Many of them are cosmetic, allowing you to customize or replace your avatar, or jetpack. Others are one time use items to help you in the game by giving you a head start or letting you collect double the amount of coins. I didn't notice many permanent upgrade items which is a bit disappointing. You can also purchase coins with real world money, but you get so many throughout the game that there's not really any reason to unless you just really want to change how you look in the game.

That's all nice and all, but as I mentioned earlier, it's the missions that really hooked me on this game. The missions are similar to the achievements or trophies you see in other games, but what makes the system work is that you only get 3 of them at a time. When you complete one, you're given a new one. Sometimes the new mission is something you've already done in the past, but since you didn't have the mission yet it didn't count, so you have to do it again. I know that sounds like a pain, but somehow it just works. Completing each mission awards the player with a certain number of stars. Collecting enough stars increases your rank. Being at a higher rank doesn't actually effect gameplay, but it still has that same addictive quality as leveling up in an RPG. Some missions must be completed in a single run, and some are cumulative and will take several runs to complete. You can even complete more than one in a single run. It was fulfilling to see new missions stop appearing as I neared the final rank

Once you finally complete all of the missions and achieve the highest rank, you have an option to start all over again, but keeping any of the micro transaction items you might have purchased throughout the game. I only played through the game once, but I can imagine that after a few runs of the game you could purchase just about any of the items you have your eye on.

The only negative comment I can make is that there is no story other than you stole a jetpack from a lab, and you're going on a joyride. If you're curious why the lab was making the jetpack, or why you stole it, or what the consequences of stealing it are, then you'll just have to deal with these questions being unanswered. But, a game like this really doesn't need a back story any more than Frogger or Pac-Man did. It's a simple arcade formula that has you coming back again and again, and this time you can save your quarters for laundry day.

So, the bottom line is that this is a fun game with simple to pick up gameplay that is fun to play in small or large doses and it's completely free. So, unless you absolutely hate any game that requires reflexes, I would definitely recommend picking this one up and giving it a try.