When it comes to personal transportation, nothing quite holds the allure of the jetpack. Inefficient, sure. Likely to set you on fire, definitely. But the freedom of movement in any direction, flying high above lesser mortals, no contending with traffic, makes it worth the third degree burns. Halfbrick, makers of the ubiquitous Fruit Ninja, have taken all that, plus fiery death upon your enemies, and put it in Jetpack Joyride.
The hero of the game is one Barry Steakfries, who breaks into a secret research facility to steal a jetpack, causing wanton destruction and killing evil scientists along the way. Why are they evil? We don’t know, but we can safely assume it’s something really bad. The controls could not be more simple. Just tap or hold on the screen to make the jetpack go up. Letting go causes it to drop down. Barry moves forward at his own pace, which progressively gets faster the farther you go. Along the way, there are zappers, lasers, and missiles to dodge, and coins, spin tokens, and special vehicles to pick up.
Like most sidescrollers of this genre, there is no finish line. You just keep going until the pace gets too fast and you make the inevitable mistake that sends you to your doom. After you die, any spin tokens you collect can be used to get a potential bonus, or fifty coins. To avoid the quickly diminishing interest games like this can have (I’m looking at you, Robot Unicorn Attack), you are given a wide array of upgrades to your jetpack, the vehicles, and your outfit that can be purchased using coins. There’s also a series of missions to beat, with a good variety of goals. Each mission helps you to gain a new rank, and each new rank earns you extra coin. The missions can be repeated infinitely, which is great for replay value.
The vehicles add an extra dimension to the gameplay, as each has its unique mechanics. Barry can take one hit without dying in a vehicle, but then it will go away. They also slow your pace down when you initially get one, which makes it easier to dodge obstacles. There’s a sense of humor with them. The giant Chinese-style dragon vehicle is called “Mr. Cuddles.” However, some of them are not very useful.
The upgrades come in four types. Clothing upgrades are purely cosmetic, but give Barry his own special look, whether that be punk Santa or a zombie king. Jetpacks allow you to pick from an array of the same, with a variety of exhausts that come out of them. Picking the right jetpack can make certain missions easier. Vehicle upgrade make it easier to collect coins when in vehicles. Utilities are little one-time use items, which give you advantages like a head start, or revive you if you die.
While the controls are simple, they do have a flaw. Because you need to see as much of the screen as possible, your finger needs to be obscuring as little of the screen as possible. So you end up with your finger in the tiniest corner of the screen, which is not a natural or comfortable place for your hand. Minus the “Profit Bird” vehicle, the controls are intuitive and easy for any gamer to pick up.
The music isn’t bad, but it doesn’t feel right. It has this jazzy, almost new jack swing quality. Which would make sense in a platformer, or even a racing game, but a more straight-ahead, driving rock or electronic piece would fit better with the pace of the game. You can turn off the music and sound effects and listen to your own music.
Jetpack Joyride is free for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad.