Halfbrick Studios is the iOS developer that brought us Fruit Ninja, which has helped cement the studio as one of the premier iOS developers, alongside the likes of Rovio (Angry Birds), PopCap (Plants vs. Zombies, Bejeweled), and EA (too many titles to list). So when they make a new game for the platform, we should all be at the ready. And dagnabit, their latest is a flustercut of an amazing game.
Jetpack Joyride is so simple it’s just dumb. Playing as Barry Steakfries, players traverse an ever-changing maze of incoming missiles, ensnaring electrical fields, and scurrying scientists because he’s has too much of being an office grunt. The video trailer/introduction below explains it with the precision of a Pixar mini.
This developer hasn’t only discovered how powerful touch is (which they clearly did with Fruit Ninja), Halfbrick has made the simplest possible game without making it boring. All players have to do is tap on the screen with one finger to control Barry’s elevation, going up or down, and the game does the rest. As a one-button game, Jetpack Joyride exceeds perfection because it’s built to last.
Let’s look at the gameplay a bit first. Barry uses a chaingun jetpack to propel himself into the air, all the while “escaping” from a never-ending research lab that is bent on stopping him. Electrical traps are set in place to stop him, missiles fly at him, lasers pop out of nowhere to cut him down, and Barry has zero defense against any of these. Instead, he uses his speed to go over or under the overwhelming onslaught, going faster and faster all the while. That said, Barry does have some help. He can collect coins, which can later be used in the store to purchase (mostly useless) vehicle upgrades, different jetpacks, clothes, and in-game bonuses. There are six vehicles in-game, which start slow and accelerate quickly while acting as a one-hit shield for Barry. If he gets hit in-vehicle, he’s safe, but that vehicle, be it the Mr. Cuddles dragon, Gravity Suit or Bad As Hog motorcycle, blows to smithereens.
Alone, this game would be fun for possibly 20 minutes, at most an hour. But it’s all the extra bits that make Jetpack Joyride a work of art. At the end of each round, players can spend collected tokens on a slot machine where they can win money, more tokens, a second chance to continue where they left off, a bomb to ricochet Barry’s corpse just a tad further to help set a high score, or a bonus for the next round like a head start or double coin value. Or, if players don’t want to use the slot machine, they can cash in their tokens for $50 each.
Then there’s the missions. There are always three missions available to complete in-game to rank up. The ranks have no inherent value, but at each new ranking players earn more money for getting there, along with a new title. Missions range from the standard “collect so many coins” to the odd jetpack against the roof for 400m or high-five 25 scientists in one game. These missions give each round more meaning and make them far more fun than just trying to get a high score, even if some of those missions are inherently dangerous and will almost guarantee death, but even then it’s worth it. Completing the missions becomes a drug in itself, far more addictive than the longer-form and more tedious high-score objective.
The final piece to the puzzle, depending on how interested you are in collecting everything, is the ridiculously overpriced store. Everything in the store, from clothes to jetpacks, is priced so highly that even after two complete game playthroughs (meaning I completed all the missions, achieved the highest rank, and did it again twice), I have enough money only to buy six of the seven available jetpacks, and a pair of nerd glasses with nothing else to spare. It’s a completionists wet dream/nightmare, because the game is in itself so addicting that it actually feels natural to want to get the money to buy everything, even though players are lucky to get $500 in one round.
What’s particularly ironic about the whole situation (of virtual items, that is) is Halfbrick’s simple payment solution. Gamers who must have the money without putting time into the game can simply buy money, from $20,000 to $1,000,000. It’ll only set them back $13 in real, hard cash, which will buy everything in the store. In fact, the $250,000 coin set ($5 in real money) would do that too. But Halfbrick also offers a counterfeit machine, where for just $1 they can double all in-game coin collections. I never buy in-game DLC like this, because it is in a sense cheating, but this is the first time where I was so tempted that I had the only reason I didn’t was because the in-app purchase confirmation came up and reminded me that I was paying real money for fake money.
Since starting Jetpack Joyride, all of my friends have purchased it and now we all compete for high scores and high rankings. It’s replaced, in my circle of compatriots, Doodle Jump as the time-waster of choice. And whenever I start playing, I have to be careful because one round always turns into at least ten. I’ve lost hours to this game. It’s dangerously good.