If you’ve got a smartphone (and let’s face it – who hasn’t aside from your grandparents these days) then you will almost certainly have heard of Halfbrick. Responsible for some of the most addictive games this side of Angry Birds and Tiny Wings, they have absolutely exploded onto the handheld market with casual games that are a little more addictive than is healthy. Their first foray into the world of Playstation Vita began with Jetpack Joyride which was released into the Playstation Store wilderness last December for less than the price of a takeaway coffee (although in app purchases can hurt your pocket if you’re inpatient to the tune of up to £10.99).
Jetpack Joyride is an endless runner that has you (Barry) on a jetpack (surprise) with the aim of getting as far as possible before being killed by any of the numerous traps within the game. If this is all that was on offer here things would get old very quickly, but luckily Halfbrick was one of the first adopters of the “endless runner with challenges” game idea that exploded onto the mobile scene in 2011. Basically although you are tasked with getting as far as possible, there are a ton of challenges that are unlocked as you complete them. Similarly to Men’s Room Mayhem you have three challenges available at a time and each time one is completed it is replaced by a new one. Furthermore, each challenge awards you with a star (or later up to three) dependent on difficulty and once you have acquired enough stars you reach a new level of mastery. Once all challenges are complete you can play on or start again. Running along this mechanic are coins that are awarded for completing challenges and levelling up, and they are also scattered all over the procedurally generated stage.
Coins are where Halfbrick hopes you will fork out a little extra. While it’s possible to grab the final gold trophy (obtained by purchasing absolutely everything in the shop and completing all challenges) without paying extra, you’re looking at approximately 25-30 hours of play to get everything. While this may not be a problem for those playing in short bursts as was intended, Jetpack Joyride is not a game to be played for hours upon hours as it would get repetitive fairly quickly. Luckily load times are close to zero so you really can dive in for a quick run whenever you fancy. As you build your stash of coins you are also able to buy loads of different items and upgrades that evolve how Jetpack Joyride plays. The biggest change to gameplay involves the use of vehicles. If on a run you are lucky enough to see a floating cog and you grab it you will be placed in a vehicle chosen at random. They really are varied in how each one plays; from the gravity suit in which you hop from top to bottom of the screen to “Cuddles”, a giant, fire breathing dragon that floats at the top of the screen, or “Profit Bird” who scrapes along the bottom and can flutter upwards. There are also lots of different items of clothing and jetpacks to unlock, vehicles can be upgraded and you can buy items to assist you from the insta-ball that lets you bounce a bit further when you fail, to head starts which shoot you hundreds of meters at the beginning of the game or bomb blasts which exploded your body further after you fail (the latter two being single use items).
Gameplay is exceptionally straight forward simply requiring you to tap the touch screen (or rear touch pad, which is better as your fingers don’t get in the way) to activate the jetpack which sends you upwards. The longer you survive the faster you run so while things start very easy they rapidly develop to a frantic twitch-fest until you simply can’t react quickly enough. Initially you burst out of a science lab and from there on it’s lasers and missiles aplenty until you die. If you get far enough the background also changes to make things seem a little different, though you never leave the lab. Graphics are clean and have been upscaled well but you’ll never forget this was a mobile title first and a Vita port second. There’s only one song playing in the background of Jetpack Joyride and yet despite several hours of play it never got boring (for me at least).
Jetpack Joyride could have been a generic endless runner but it really isn’t. The reward mechanism gives a sense of progression that often titles like this lack and while I’m not really a casual gamer, there is something for everyone here. The variety of items on offer and the little details like spin tokens for a fruit machine that gives perks each time you die (if you’re lucky) and the varied missions (high fiving scientists is a blast) lift Jetpack Joyride above many other similar games and for the asking price it’s worth every penny. It’s just a shame coins are handed out in too smaller number to try and get you to buy more coins.