*Review based on Jetpac’s release as part of Rare Replay*
1983’s Jetpac is well known for being the first-ever video game by British developer Rare, then known as Ultimate Play the Game (gee, I can’t imagine why they changed that name). Though its utter simplicity means time has exposed something of a shallowness to its experience, Jetpac still retains enough old school fun to make it worth a look for those with a fondness for retro gaming.
Jetpac really is as simple as they come: Stages are single-screen affairs (as was the norm at the time), and your character is an astronaut who can fly through the air (via his jetpack, of course), and can shoot baddies with a laser gun that can only fire forward. The goal of the first stage is to grab the missing pieces of the astronaut’s rocket, and return them to the ship, and then to gather enough fuel to take the rocket to the next stage (the fuel boxes are purple, and the more fuel the rocket gets, the more purple it becomes). Subsequent stages ditch the first segment and go right to the fuel collecting, with enemies trying to stop you at every turn. All the while, random collectibles fall from the sky, and can be gathered for extra points.
Again, it’s all very simple stuff, but you’d be surprised how addicting the game can be, and you may find yourself wanting to restart as soon as you get an unfortunate game over.
There is a fun element of strategy to this simple gameplay though, as the enemies of different stages behave differently. The first stage’s enemies resemble fireballs, and simply fly straight, while the enemies of the second stage (which resemble the old Fry Kids characters from McDonald’s) zigzag around the place. Additionally, the levels have something of a Super Mario Bros. 2 quality in that if you walk into one side of the screen, you’ll appear on the other side. This also applies to the enemies and your lasers. Combine these elements with the fact that your character dies in one hit (though you start with five lives), and you’ll be strategizing different ways to navigate past enemies, grab the items, and complete the rocket as fast as you can.
There’s really not much more to it than that. The graphics are as simple as you’d expect from 1983, though there is an attempt to liven things up by the enemy sprites appearing in a variety of colors (which, from what I can tell, doesn’t alter their behaviors). Unfortunately, there is no music to speak of, which is a shame, considering how catchy video game music could be even back in the day.
Whether or not one enjoys Jetpac depends entirely on how much they appreciate gaming’s early years. What Jetpac lacks in depth, it makes up for in a surprising level of addictiveness. If you’re simply looking for some good old-fashioned, arcade-style gameplay, you could certainly do a lot worse.