Insert Credit endeavors to suss out where you should be allotting your video game allowance, sifting out a single title from many and crowning it as The One Game You Need to Get This Week. Don’t consider these reviews, gentle reader. Rather, think of Insert Credit as a mix of hands-on time, informed opinion and intuition.
For the week of September 1, 2011, you should insert credit into: “Jetpack Joyride.”
Let’s talk about elite iOS developers, shall we? Notching recurrent success on Apple’s iDevices is no mean feat, what with the sheer number of code monkeys trying to capture the attentions of folks in the market for new games. Then you factor in all the games that spike into the top of the charts but burn out all too fast. What you wind up is increasing respect for games like Rovio’s “Angry Birds” which has stayed in the upper echelons of the sales charts for months at a time. But, even though “Angry Birds” is the 800-lb. gorilla in the App Store, it’s only one game. It’s yet to be seen if Rovio can deliver another hit, even if it doesn’t reach the heights of “Angry Birds.”
That conundrum is what makes me tip my hat to Aussie developers Halfbrick. They’ve shown a canny insight for what makes for great portable gaming experiences and in the case of “Fruit Ninja Kinect,” they’ve managed to upscale one of their hits to HDTV via the Xbox 360 and have it feel just as good if not better in a new iteration.
Their latest effort shows the same intuitive sense of how to craft addictive yet rewarding gameplay that makes “Fruit Ninja” so satisfying. “Jetpack Joyride” operates on a simple premise: you steal a jetpack and romp through a never-ending high-tech lab, collecting coins and power-ups as you go. It’s an homage to the 16-bit period of home consoles, when titles like “Gunstar Heroes” and “Super Metroid” made the Genesis and SNES must-have machines. Lovingly animated pixel art and a jaunty chiptune theme song will hook you even if you were born far late to experience that era and the simplicity of the action will drag you into a powerful gravity that you won’t want to escape.
Barry Steakfries, Halfbrick’s Zelig-inspired mascot, steals an experimental jetpack which shoots a downward hail of machine gun bullets. You keep Barry aloft by tapping the screen and will need to weave through all manners of electrified zappers, homing missiles and flying laser beams for as long as you can. But even after you die, the gameplay continues. If you’ve collected a spin token, you’ll get a chance to grab extra rewards via a game-over slot machine. You’ll also get missions that level you up when accomplished and each level brings more coins to your stash. Said stash can be used to buy either cosmetic or functional tweaks to Barry’s gear, which gives you yet another motivator for playing.
That’s to say nothing of the various power-ups you get in the game–a Rocketeer-style gravity suit, a Harly-inspired motorcycle or a floating teleporter, to name just a few. Each has a slight tweak on the core mechanic but they all keep you hooked no matter what.
If you compare “Fruit Ninja” and “Jetpack Joyride,” they’re different in not only the way they’re played, but also in how they fit into your brain. “Fruit Ninja” amounts to an on-demand booty call, always there with accessible bananas when you want to stroke some fun into a few idle minutes. “Jetpack Joyride” gives you a relationship. You’re only going to succeed by concentrating and carving away chunks of time form other parts of your life. And the game gives you goals to work towards on multiple levels. You can still hit it and quit it, but the experience means much more if you keep it going as long as you can. It’s a hypnotic little game that pays back the $ 0.99 you spend on it with far more enjoyment that you thought possible.