Jetpac

Jetpac is an arcade-style shooter made by Ultimate Play the Game for the ZX Spectrum and the VIC-20. Ultimate Play the Game later became known as Rare, a company responsible for a number of hits. One of those hits was Donkey Kong 64 for the Nintendo 64. As an unlockable bonus minigame on DK64 you could play Jetpac. This is the version I’ve played and will be the basis for this little review.

There doesn’t appear to be any plot to the game. You’re a jetman with a jetpack and a laser gun on the surface of an alien planet. There are three platforms in the air. You can move left and right, fly up by holding the jetpack button and fall down when letting go, and fire your laser gun by pressing or holding the fire button in to kill the enemies moving about the area. The screen is borderless so both yourself and the aliens can go off of one side of the screen to show up immediately on the other. The goal is to grab the pieces of your ship, drop them on the base of the ship, and then carry and drop fuel into it in order to blast off to the next planet. The ship parts start out in fixed positions but the fuel crates fall in semi-randomized locations. There are also bonus items that fall from the top of the screen as well that you can collect for points. After you get enough fuel to fill up your ship it will start flashing. Entering it will make it blast off and then land on another identical planet. Now he ship will be completed and merely need refueling, but each planet has different types of aliens with different types of movement behavior. After enough uses your ship will change models and need reassembling. Making contact with the aliens is fatal and running out of lives results in a game over.

So it’s a pretty basic game. It’s easy to play and understand. The visuals are so vibrant and colorful. Everything just pops and they are not afraid to have all kinds of pleasingly loud colors. It’s really a treat to look at for me. The control is pretty tight and things can get hectic so you need to do more than just hold down fire to win. You still need to be careful where you move, especially considering how thin your laser shots are compared to your body’s hitbox. It’s also kind of relaxing and addictive due to the sparse sound design. None of the sounds are harsh or grating and it ends up being a good way to chill out if you’re not sweating over getting a high score. I even made some extra fun for myself trying to see how far I could get on a pacifist challenge of sorts. It can be pretty damn hard to do when you’re not shooting things.

The simplicity can be a bit of a downside if you’re looking for more complexity or game length. It’d be nice if the level layouts changed as you progressed rather than just the enemy types. It also often feels a little empty collecting the bonus items for score when score doesn’t really matter to you. And if it DOES matter to you… well there’s no time limit so you may as well sit on an easy level and just keep picking those up rather than advancing because you can farm points more easily that way. While the control is pretty good I have a couple small gripes there. One is that walking on the ground is slower than flying left and right in the air. It’s a little hard to adjust to so most of the time I end up just flying everywhere instead. The other thing is that whenever you walk near the edge of one of the platforms it seems to automatically make you walk off once you’re somewhat close. I feel like I should have to walk off myself rather than just hitting an arbitrary point on the ledge that forces me off despite having plenty of room to inch closer. If it were closer to the center of the platform I’d be able to adjust more slightly but just because it’s the edge it forces me off at that point. It’s annoying and will easily get you killed if you’re not extra careful of that. I also think the enemy spawns are a little bullshit at times. They usually spawn at the edges of the screen, which is fine in concept but in practice if you’re shooting things near the edge of the screen you can easily be instantly killed by something that just spawns right on top of you. I also think having some music would be a nice touch.

Still, Jetpac is an old game for old systems. Considering that it probably had no music or huge amount of depth due to limitations… I think it still holds up for what it DOES do. It’s a fun little experience that’s satisfying to the eyes and ears and I could see myself getting lost in it if I had this as a kid around the time it came out. It’s not worth dropping significant amounts of money on, but if you get the change to check it out… why not?

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