*Review based on Lunar Jetman’s release as part of Rare Replay*
Lunar Jetman was the first sequel to Jetpac – the first ever game by the developer now known as Rare – and was released the very same year as its predecessor in 1983. Though Lunar Jetman aims to make the Jetpac experience bigger, some frustrating and outdated elements prevent it from being as fun as the original.
While Jetpac’s stages were relegated to single screens, Lunar Jetman sees the astronaut traversing an alien planet, collecting items and trying to stop an alien attack on Earth. Now the screen scrolls along with the astronaut’s movements, which certainly makes the game feel more expansive than Jetpac.
The astronaut can still fly upward with his jetpack, and still shoots lasers at enemies. Though this time around, the jetpack can actually run out of fuel, relegating the astronaut to walking on foot at a snail’s pace.
Because the levels now scroll, you no longer strategize around the fact that you, your lasers and enemies can go from one side of the screen to another, but you may find yourself carefully planning on when and how to use your jetpack’s fuel most wisely.
This is especially detrimental since the enemies now bombard the screen at what seems like light speed. The enemies here are an odd assortment of shapes and symbols, with some flying horizontally, others vertically. Some of them die on impact with the ground, others bounce off it. But the one thing they all have in common is that they’re all considerably faster than the astronaut.
Unfortunately, this proves to be something of the downfall of the game. While Jetpac’s simplicity made for some arcade-style fun, Lunar Jetman instead feels confused; as though it doesn’t know whether it wants to be a similar experience to the original or an action-packed side-scroller. The player character still feels like he belongs in the former, while the enemies definitely seem better suited to the latter. Whatever element of strategy might be had with the new, limited fuel setup is muddled by the fact that the enemies are just too fast and overbearing, leaving everything to feel more chaotic than anything. And with one hit to die and only five lives, you won’t often get the chance to experience any more of the game than grabbing the first few items.
There is one bonus to playing the Rare Replay version of Lunar Jetman, and that’s – much like Rare’s other older titles in the compilation – you can rewind the action at the push of a button, meaning you can undo your deaths as soon as they happen, and try to change what you did previously in order to progress further. Though this can also feel kind of cheap, you’ll probably find yourself doing this quite frequently early on, but even then, there will be a number of instances where there are so many enemies on-screen that you’d really have to abuse the rewind feature in order to avoid death outright.
Lunar Jetman retains the look and sounds (or lack thereof) of its predecessor, and while the limited aesthetics may give it a slight retro charm, the game just feels far too unpolished to provide the same kind of addictive fun as the original. Perhaps back in its day, Lunar Jetman may have wowed players with its increase in scope, but today, it’s something of a case study that bigger isn’t always better.