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.

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