Posts by Tag / GAME: Jetpack Joyride (3)

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Jetpack Joyride Minus

It’s the ones you love that can hurt you the most.

On September 1, 2011, Halfbrick Studios released Jetpack Joyride on the iOS App Store. I was already a fan of Halfbrick thanks to games like Fruit Ninja, Monster Dash, and especially Age of Zombies. But Jetpack Joyride was on a whole other level, immediately becoming my favorite mobile game, my favorite one-button game, and my favorite auto-runner. It might, in some senses, still be all those things.

I bought Jetpack Joyride on iOS when it came out. I loved it so much that I then bought it again for my PlayStation Portable in 2012 and a third time for my PlayStation Vita in 2013. And now, I’m… pretty glad I did that. Because after revisiting the phone version in 2017 in order to finally review it, I found it had changed a lot. The game started as a paid purchase with some microtransactions, but now it was F2P with a lot more microtransactions and a daily reward system. It started adding even more engagement rewards in the form of limited-time events, and then Apple’s rules changed and in order to keep playing it I would have had to explicitly consent to Halfbrick harvesting my data. So I stopped playing it. But the PlayStation versions had been left behind by the updates and still hard arguably the superior version of the game. Certainly the less-obnoxious, less-greedy version.

It’s one of the standout examples to me of the failures of the app store model. I bought Jetpack Joyride in 2011. I paid for it. Then it went free to play and made a bunch of changes and became a product I no longer wanted. And on my modern iDevices, I had no recourse. The old version of the app was no longer compatible. (I do still have a first-generation iPad laying around, which does play the old, better version of the game. It also has other quality iOS games that you can’t download anymore, like Mirror’s Edge and Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty.)

So I was - perhaps naively - quite excited when I saw that Jetpack Joyride+ was coming to Apple Arcade. It felt like a poetic example of what I’d hoped Apple Arcade could do for mobile gaming - change the incentives to reduce sleaze. Uncoupled from the need to push microtransactions and prevented from harvesting user data, Jetpack Joyride+ could be a much less obnoxious and more enjoyable experience again.

And, like… it is? Basically? But not how I expected it to be.

On Apple Arcade, a game makes money if people keep playing it - and the relationship is direct through getting a share of those players' subscriptions, not indirect through the IAP to which those players have increased exposure. There’s no way to apply concepts of “fun pain” and “whales,” so you aren’t putting content and quality-of-life improvements behind paywalls. Instead, those are now valuable as more things to earn through play over a longer period of time. They’re ways to keep people playing.

But that’s not the approach that Halfbrick have taken with Jetpack Joyride+. Instead, everything that was tied to IAP or the daily rewards or timed events in the non-Arcade version is just… missing. This is a stripped down version of the already-free game. It’s not Jetpack Joyride+. It’s Jetpack Joyride-.

That’s already sad, but what makes it rude is that it wasn’t even a clean cut. You can still do the daily reward task, and the first time you do it you clearly get the first-day reward, and then it tells you you’ve completed day one of five. The second time you do it… no reward, and you’ve completed day one of five. The third time… no reward, and you’ve completed day one of five. It’s just broken.

It’s still a very good auto-runner and I’m still playing it for now. It’s, what, the fifth time I’ve started the game from zero in the past ten years? But it’s disappointing, and I mourn the loss of the Halfbrick I once loved.

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Alto's Adventure and the Legacy of Canabalt

This is Alto’s Adventure. It’s an endless runner in which you snowboard down a mountain to rescue your runaway llamas, doing tricks and avoiding obstacles along the way.

I love this game. It plays well, but what sets it apart is how lovely and chill it is. So much polish has gone into the atmosphere and it pays off. There’s the obvious stuff, like a beautiful art style and a soothing soundtrack, but on top of that are so many little touches. The sun moves across the sky, setting and rising as you play, changing not just brightness but color warmth and really selling the feeling that you’ve been snowboarding all night and a new day has dawned around you. Rainstorms come and go, with no effect on gameplay but helping the setting feel more like a living world. The sounds your board makes on the snow or when grinding on bunting lines or rooftops are rich and vivid - for me, they’re borderline ASMR-inducing when I play with headphones. And I love the way that the llamas slide down slopes instead of running once the incline is steep enough.

It all comes together to create a profound sense of joyful speed and solitude, coasting down this starkly beautiful yet somehow cozy mountainside. You’re one with the wind and the snow, and all there is is the descent in front of you. Obstacles and opportunities keep coming and you need to react to them just in time - once you learn and internalize how to respond to each situation that can arise, you do so without conscious thought, faster than conscious thought, the experience flowing through you as you flow down the mountain.

Endless runners are a lot like rhythm games in this way - they create flow by presenting you with a series of rapid-fire cues you have to respond to without taking time to think. But in runners, the cues are procedurally generated, so you can’t memorize them and they can last forever. It’s like a song that never ends but keeps growing and changing. A theme with endless variation.

I’ve played a lot of endless runners that tweak the formula in various ways. But somehow, Alto’s Adventure is the one that most reminds me of where the genre got its start. It’s the one that feels the most like a pure descendant of the game that first popularized endless runners, the first one I ever played: Canabalt.

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Capsule Review: Jetpack Joyride

A one-button endless runner. Move to the right, gradually picking up speed, while holding the button/touchscreen to fire your jetpack and move up or releasing it to move down. Pick up coins and avoid a variety of hazards to keep flying as long as you can. That’s the core, and the game wouldn’t work if that didn’t feel good by itself.

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