Jan 9, 2012

Pro's and Con's review: Jetpack Joyride

Format: iOS
Developer: Halfbrick
Publisher: Halfbrick

If you haven't picked up Jetpack Joyride for your iDevice yet, pick it up because it's a ton of fun! If you are looking for a little more info than that, read on! As usual, in this Pro's and Con's review I'm going to go through my thoughts on  Jetpack Joyride, an endless running (flying?) game for iOS devices, from a professional's point of view and as a consumer. So on with it!

Pro's take:
The first thing I want to get into about Jetpack Joyride is how it keeps the player coming back with a devious set of delicious dangling carrots, the missions. Missions are, for all intents and purposes, your run of the mill achievements except for one very important difference, they aren't all available to complete from the get go. In fact Jetpack Joyride also boasts a full list of traditional Game Center achievements, but these do almost nothing for player retention compared to the missions, why is that? I have some thoughts on that. You see the GC achievements are tucked away in a list accessible from a menu, it's up to the player to seek them out and find them, your three active missions, on the other hand, are shown to you whenever you complete one, reminding you that there are always fun things to strive for. Completing a mission replaces it by a new one and earns you stars towards ranking up, which earns you coins. By constantly reminding you of your missions, having them contribute to an overall rank and by having the little mission completion and rank-up animations look and sound satisfying, Halfbrick creates a really compelling reason to keep playing beyond trying to best your distance record. My only beef with the missions is that some run counter to the main goals of the game making you feel like you wasted your time when you fail them.

Another, very simple, mechanism I really appreciate in the game is the fact that the game's main collectible, coins (think Mario etc.) is also a currency you can spend in the game's shop for upgrades and stuff. What's great about this is that you never feel like a bad run was a total waste because even if you don't complete a mission and don't get a good distance, you've, at least, picked up a few coins!

Finally, I have to point out something Halfbrick is doing under the hood that I totally wasn't expecting. After playing the game on my own 2nd generation device, I had the chance to see it on a 4th generation iPod Touch and to my surprise, there are more visual flourishes if the game is played on a beefier device! Backgrounds have more detail, effects use more particles, coins animate, and the whole thing looks sharper thanks to the retina display. What I really appreciate from a development point of view is that Halfbrick took the time to make sure the game scales well to different devices ensuring a great game play experience for all players even those with older devices.

Con's take:
Man oh man, Jetpack Joyride is a helluvalota fun! It looks really good, sounds really good and makes it super easy to just jump in and play. Part of the fun are the top notch controls. It's really easy to get a feel for handling the jetpack and all the vehicles you can activate in game play really differently yet intuitively. A great example of what you can do with a game in which your only input is to touch the screen.

In the end, it all comes back to getting you to come back and man does Jetpack Joyride nail this. It's like a perfect storm of compulsion fueling mechanisms that make the game so easy to come back to and so hard to put down. First of all, you know how you start playing? Just touch anywhere and BAM your little dude crashes through the wall and is off to a jetpacking start. This means the game is perfect as one of these games you pull out while waiting for a bus or for your buddy to get out of the john. A warning to those with older devices though, it does tend to take about 30 seconds or so for the game to get past the load screen on my 2nd gen iPod Touch, but I assume this isn't much of an issue on newer devices.

Jam together how easy it is to get playing with the mission system mentioned above and you've got a game that exemplifies "just one more try!". It happened so many times that I completed a mission only to receive a replacement that had me saying "Oh, I can totally just play until I get THIS one.", time and time again.

I've written a short article that will appear on the blog about the one red mark I give the game, so I won't get into it too much but it's worth mentioning. As I mentioned, some of the missions feel like chores. Mostly the ones that urge you to play poorly, like reaching a distance without collecting coins. I have a problem with these in particular because failing them usually means I had a pretty crappy run having neither gotten very far or collected many coins. As I mentioned above, collecting coins seems like the great fallback goal that makes every run count, so missions that ask me not to collect coins seem to be asking me to waste a run. Thankfully, most of the missions are totally rad, like high-fiving scientists, and have a good mix of things to try to achieve during a single run versus cumulative goals across many runs.

So, Jetpack Joyride, awesome? Yes! If you want a great mobile game that you can pick up and play at any time, and that does a great job of making you come back for more, then Jetpack Joyride is a no brainer, especially given it's $0 price tag (as of this writing), just don't expect some galaxy spanning epic.

Image from Halfbrick

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