While I was on vacation, I decided to give Jetpack Joyride a try: the GDC talk on it was interesting enough, Miranda liked it, several people on my Twitter feed liked it, and the iPad was the main device I had with me to play games on.

And: it was all right. I rather enjoyed it for a few hours, kept it up for a few hours after that, and then put it down. The basic gameplay is solid: a well-done one-button design, with some potential to get into a groove, and the vehicles are a good idea that is well executed.

The aspects surrounding that core gameplay, though, I’m not so sure about. It comes with a series of Tiny Wings-style challenges, and that was really useful for a while: it gave me different techniques to experiment with, different metrics to try to optimize for. That kind of mixing things up I generally approve of; I was happy to play through the game through the fifteen levels of challenges that it gave me.

And then I finished those fifteen levels, I got a badge, and the challenges started over again. I don’t think the new set of challenges were identical—there seems to be some randomness involved—but they had the same flavor, and I took that as a sign that I’d seen a good range of the challenges, that I wasn’t going to get more novelty there. This isn’t to say that restarting the challenges was a bad idea—better to do that than to have no more challenges available at all—but if the novelty of the challenges had been the main draw so far, then I’d need to look elsewhere for a draw.

I’d been hoping that the badge system would be a draw, a more advanced set of challenges once I’d proven myself to no longer need training wheels. That turned into an active disappointment, though: maybe I’m missing something, but as far as I can tell, you get a random badge every time you complete 15 levels. And I have zero interest in trying to get to level 1875 in the game: if that’s what I’m supposed to be going for, then I might as well stop after level 15.

But that isn’t necessarily what I have to be going for: like I said, the core gameplay is good. The problem, though, is that the core gameplay isn’t pure, and isn’t pure in a specific way. The distance you travel isn’t simply a function of how well you react to the random set of challenges the game throws at you: it’s that plus how well you do in the slot machine at the end of the game plus how many in-game coins you’d spent on power-ups to give you extra chances for advancement at the end of the game. So if I want to optimize my score, I don’t just have to hone my skills, I don’t just have to hope for a combination of honing my skills and being in a groove, and I don’t just have to hope for a combination of honing my skills, being in a groove, and being given a random level design that is particularly palatable to my strengths and weaknesses: I have to also hope that I get lucky draws on the slot machine. And if I really want to optimize, I should purchase some powerups and pick judicious times to use them. These last two aspects are something I have no interest in, and they reduce the draw of the core gameplay for me.

So: decent game, I’m happy to have put a few hours into it, and I’ll probably even pick it up when I have a few minutes to kill at random times in the future. But it’s not providing what I want out of games (out of art!) these days, I’m glad I stopped when I did.

Post Revisions:

This post has not been revised since publication.