Since its release as an iPhone and iPad app seven years ago, Jetpack Joyride has become one of my favourite iOS video games. Created by Halfbrick Studios, it’s a game where your runner is racing across a side-scrolling screen collecting coins Mario-style. Your runner is all the while dodging missiles, zappers and laser beams, collision with any one of which will terminate his run. As the name of the game suggests, your character (Barry) is wearing a jetpack and your only control is switching the jetpack on and off. When it is on, Barry rises; when it is off, he falls. Either way, his forward motion continues, so it is by moving him up and down that you navigate past the deathtrap weapons while collecting coins and gadget upgrades. As you progress, you are rewarded with ‘missions’ that reward you if Barry’s run satisfies their specific conditions.
If it sounds simple, it’s because it is. Its simplicity is part of its intrinsic appeal. Every play of the game starts off deceptively easy because the horizontal scrolling is initially quite slow. The problem is, it accelerates the further you go. You never have any control over the speed (you only ever control up and down movement) so the game gets increasingly exciting as the pace gets ever faster, until its sheer speed defeats you because you are unable to react fast enough to steer Barry past an obstacle that zaps him and sends his body tumbling and skidding to an eventual halt.
Lucky Duck Games has carved out a specialty in taking established video games and converting them into standalone board games. I was excited therefore when I heard that Jetpack Joyride was their latest project but I was initially sceptical about how a game like this could successfully be converted into a playable board game. I needn’t have worried.
In Lucky Duck’s board game version of Jetpack Joyride, designed by Michal Golebiowski, players each create their own individual playing board made up of four sections. They mark their jetpacker’s progress across the four sections by taking pentomino tiles and laying them as a pathway across their boards to complete a left to right run. There are no turns: players just grab a pentomino, place it then immediately take another. Rinse and repeat. Each of the sections includes coins to collect and obstacles to avoid, although ‘hitting’ (having a pentomino cover) a laser beam or zapper results in a 3-point scoring penalty rather than a fatal end of your run. The game is played over three rounds, with players collecting a gadget card at the end of each of the first two rounds to give them either an immunity or additional points-scoring skill for the remainder of the game.
Lucky Duck’s Jetpack Joyride board game is very easy to play but very difficult to play well. On your first plays, you’ll just try to complete a run without your pentominoes covering any of the penalty point obstacles. Then you’ll try to maximise the coins you collect. As your opponents speed up, you’ll also realise the need for speed: becoming first to finish becomes a pressing priority and you’ll begin to worry less about missing a coin symbol or even hitting a penalty-inducing zapper. Only as your speed and confidence improves will you feel cocky enough to go for one of the mission cards that yield a points bonus for completing a section in a particular way (for example, ‘Place 5 tiles in one section’ or ‘Don’t touch the roof or floor in a completed section’). Now you’re really playing!
Playing the game competitively with two, three or four players, Jetpack Joyride generates just as much adrenaline as the video game app, which is quite a remarkable achievement. But it doesn’t end there: there’s a solitaire game here too.
You might think it an oxymoronic idea to play solo a board game version of a video game. If you want to play Jetpack Joyride solitaire, you can just play the app on your phone so why do you need the board game? Surprisingly, the solo version of the Jetpack Joyride board game is worthwhile. It dispenses with the speed pressure of both the competitive version and of the video game and substitutes instead a neat puzzler where you are trying to maximise your score in the face of diminishing resources (pentomino pathways).
Jetpack Joyride launches today on Kickstarter. The version shown on Board’s Eye View is a pre-production prototype, so there could yet be further enhancements added to the finished version. If you’ve played the video game app, you won’t want to miss this board game version; but, like Lucky Duck’s previous video to board game transfers, the game play of Jetpack Joyride could well additionally appeal to players who have somehow allowed the video game original to pass them by.