posted by delb2k
For most iOS games, the basic fact is that they live or die by the controls implemented by the developers. The more complex they are, the tougher it can be to really hit that sweet spot of enjoyment; bad controls have killed many excellent concepts since the inception of the Apple App Store. Halfbrick Studios realized this more quickly than most with their first title, Fruit Ninja, as they successfully created a compelling experience consisting of simple swipes across the screen. The studio’s latest release is another game where ease of use appears to be the main mantra invoked, and once again the results are nothing short of extraordinary addictiveness.
Jetpack Joyride sees the player taking on the role of the bizarrely named Barry Steakfries, who decides to steal a jetpack from a research facility. Barry then promptly uses it to navigate from left to right through a series of obstacles in an attempt to cover the greatest amount of distance possible. Barry’s adventures are reminiscent of the mechanics used in Semi Secret Software’s Canabalt, with the tapping for jumping replaced with tapping or holding to create downward force to propel the player upwards out of the way of any impending dangers.
Where the game excels is in how well it controls. It may sound odd, but after a few plays it becomes second nature to know what the effect of each tap will be and how the jetpack — for want of a better term — handles. Slight tapping just sends out a tiny spurt, whereas a longer hold steadily increases the amount of force projected downwards. Barry can be very nimble in the tightest of positions, and any failings reflect a player failure far more than a control issue.
However, this in itself does not endear any longevity for the game. Leaving it at this point would simply result in a series of incidental attempts to try and get ever further through the lab with very little incentive provided to keep coming back. To avoid this, the developers have provided a range of goodies to play with as well as implemented a clever leveling system to provide compelling reasons to keep playing.
Each level is reached by completing objectives to earn stars, with a set of three objectives available at any moment. Some ask for a task to be completed in a single run while others allow for cumulative results over a series of plays, but all provide a reason to return. Each is designed to ask the player to either play the game differently or improve on collectible targets (for example, collect X amount of coins in a single run), and it is this which provides the most compulsive element. Every turn provides a chance to achieve a target and continue increasing in rank, allowing the endorphins to always find a way to kick in and incur the desire for one more shot. More importantly, it means none of the time that is spent in the game feels wasted, because there is always something to achieve that is more than simply extending the distance traveled.
The routes are also littered with different objects, including vehicles, coins, and spin tokens to provide items to collect as well as obstacles to avoid. Vehicles provide a new means of transport through the level and effectively become an extra life in themselves as only the outer shell is destroyed on impact. Coins provide currency to purchase in-game store items and the spin tokens are possibly the second greatest stroke of greatness in the title.
These provide the chance to take a spin on a slot machine once Barry has met his maker, conferring a range of either instant benefits or ones applied to the next run taken. Items like bomb drops are used to fling the avatar further forward to increase distance, or in the best case grant a second chance, resurrecting the fallen joyrider to continue where he left off. It provides something different and welcome to the experience and means that mistakes do not necessarily have to come with punishment; players will find themselves crossing their fingers for some good luck.
Overall, the title provides dozens of reasons to keep coming back, but gives sessions that are short enough not to require hours of dedicated time. In truth, it is an almost perfectly designed iOS game: short and horribly addictive with an inventiveness rarely seen within the genre it has entered. For that it deserves a lot of credit, and a lot of success.
9/10. iPad version tested.