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Game Info:

Jetpack
Developed By: NowakGames
Published By: NowakGames
Released: Nov 11, 2020
Available On: Windows
Genre: Action, Arcade, Platformer
ESRB Rating: Not Rated
Number of Players: Up to two players
Price: $9.99

Thank you NowakGames for sending us a review code!

It’s pretty crazy to see how far video games have come since they’ve been commercially available in 1972. From 2D 8-bit games of the past to massive 3D games containing trillions of polygons. Although I was born in the 90s, I’ve played many games that originated from the 70s and 80s. Jetpac in particular came out in 1983 on the ZX Spectrum by the company we know as Rare. I did not have a ZX Spectrum, but I was introduced to the game in Nintendo’s Donkey Kong 64, as it was a minigame contained in said entry of the Donkey Kong franchise. The goal of Jetpac is to fly your little astronaut around a 2D plane collecting pieces of your ship, and then fuel to fly away. Various aliens would try to ram into you, so armed with a blaster, you would defend yourself. This would pretty much repeat until you lose all your lives. Believe it or not, this was a critically acclaimed game way back in the 80s.

Like many things in life, some people are unable to let go of the past, and NowakGames takes the Jetpac concept and does a half-remake and half-reimagining of the gameplay and concept. Now known as Jetpack (or JETPACKs in game), It’s time to take a trip back to the past and experience the gaming your parents experienced, or even yourself did when you were a kid.

Jetpack still retains the basic gameplay and presentation and adds a few more concepts to it. First of all, there are two game modes. Old school is what you would expect it to be, but not quite. There’s actually a brief story to Jetpack. Aliens attack the Earth. Only armed with a blaster and jetpack, you must fly around vaporizing aliens and saving colonists. At least six colonists are required to be saved before fuel can be collected to leave the planet. Old school mode may play the same as the game it is inspired by, but there are 18 levels to be completed, each with its own style and sometimes even gimmicks to explore. One level you might have to avoid meteors while saving the colonists and other levels may be covered by darkness, with only your character being illuminated. The latter gave off a survival horror kind of feel as at any time an alien may surprise you and instantly eliminate you.

Jetpack
Highlights:

Strong Points: Imaginative gimmicks that spice up level variety; multiple difficulty levels; breathes new life into an old classic
Weak Points: Inconsistent level difficulty; stiff movement; annoying menu music; new school is the weaker game mode compared to old school
Moral Warnings: Violence and explosions

At the end of every level, a Space Invaders-styled level is played and if you shoot down all the enemies with your ship before they reach the bottom of the screen, you are rewarded an extra life. Each level contains different types of enemies with different patterns. To help out, Jetpack grants you many different power-ups such as a shield to protect you from one hit, a projection of your character that collects one colonist/ship/fuel for you, and an upgraded blaster. The power-ups end up making the gameplay loop feel fresh, but only one power-up (with the exception of the upgraded blaster) can be held at a time, and the only way to pick up a new power-up is to use up the older one.

New school takes the concept of endless runner games and applies them to Jetpack, making it a 2D side scroller. Fuel, ship parts, and colonists still have to be collected, and the game mode simply goes on until all lives are lost, unlike old school mode which has a definitive end. New school has no set difficulty settings and simply going further is the challenge, with the pace of the game speeding up after each level. It’s nice for a change of pace but it's obvious that it simply acts as a topping to the main course.

How NowakGames handles difficulty is done nicely for the most part. Levels in old school mode can be attempted an infinite amount times but losing all of your lives resets your score. There are also three difficulty levels, with normal being the default setting. On normal, you’ll start off with four lives. Hard and insane are unlocked by completing old school mode on the previous difficulty. Hard and insane not only add more enemies to the levels—they also add certain gimmicks that were part of some of the later levels as mandatory features. Hard makes you start with three lives while insane only lets you start with two. On the other hand, the levels themselves have an inconsistent difficulty to them. I found level 2 of old school to be substantially harder compared to level 3, and level 7 to be way easier than even level 1. Maybe a part of it has to do with how objects and enemies spawn. In Jetpack, they spawn instantly and have a randomized pattern as to when they spawn. This can lead to some cheap and frustrating deaths, especially on the higher difficulties as enemies are already on the move the millisecond they appear on the screen.

In all of the game modes, the astronaut controls a bit stiff, almost like they have trouble moving. If controls were more responsive and a bit more floaty, I feel the experience would be better received. The stiffness might be an accurate representation of the games during the 70s, but is it really necessary? Other than that, the rest of the controls are a simple two-button layout either with gamepad or keyboard sufficing.

Jetpack
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 74%
Gameplay 15/20
Graphics 8/10
Sound 5/10
Stability 5/5
Controls 4/5

Morality Score - 93%
Violence 6.5/10
Language 10/10
Sexual Content 10/10
Occult/Supernatural 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical 10/10

Now as Jetpack is a retro game, it has retro graphics. Aliens have one tone in color and explode in a burst of color almost like a firework, while the astronaut is mostly white and blue. The level layout and backgrounds have a good amount of detail to them. In the options menu, there are many different visual settings that emulate the retro look. You can have scanlines and white borders at the corners of your monitor or TV to reflect the CRT style. There’s a bloom effect as well to imitate the "glare" that CRTs gave off. Messing with the visual features is delightful and they can be changed at any time.

One thing I do not miss from early 80s games is the sound effects and pre-NES era music. I did not know music could be this annoying. In a way it does reflect that period well, however, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Please, if retro sounds are to be desired, emulate the YM2612 (Sega Genesis/Mega Drive) sound chip or even the Ricoh RP2A03 (NES/Famicom) sound chip. I know it wouldn’t be “accurate” but some liberties must be taken. The beep and boop sound effects themselves from enemies and weapons aren’t bad, they can stay.

Moral warnings are very few as this is such a basic premise. The only thing I saw is the violence. Enemies and the player explode when they are killed. The story is simple so no language or sexual content is present, and no unethical decisions are made.

I was surprised by this new vision on an old classic. NowakGames didn’t simply just take an old property and re-release it—in many ways they made it better. Jetpack is an enjoyable experience for people who long for simpler times. The initial experience isn’t very long, taking less than an hour to beat. However, there are a fair number of reasons to come back such as multiple difficulties, beating high scores, and simply replaying levels or playing new school mode. It’s also pretty good morally too. Even though its weaker points are pretty weak, they do not detract from the overall experience. For anyone wanting to “modernize” an old property, take a look a NowakGames’ Jetpack.

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Cinque Pierre

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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