Games 9/1/11: Jetpack Joyride

Jetpack Joyride
For: iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad (universal app)
From: Halfbrick Studios
iTunes Store Rating: 9+
Price: $1

So-called running games — those games where your character is continually bolting forward with increasing speed and your task is to jump, duck and slide out the way of trouble — have become a little too prevalent on mobile devices over the last few months.

But if you still have room for one more, this probably is the one to get.

“Jetpack Joyride” changes the core formula ever so slightly by strapping a jetpack to the back of Barry Steakfries, who has become to Halfbrick Studios’ games what Mario is to Nintendo’s. Barry’s still dashing forward, but instead of tapping the screen to jump, you’re tapping (jump), holding (ascend) and releasing (descend) to control the jetpack’s altitude and dodge obstacles at every elevation.

On that level alone, “Joyride” is good fun, with responsive controls, obstacle design that takes advantage of the gimmick and the best implementation yet of the humor and visual vibrancy that accompanies Barry’s adventures.

“Joyride” also takes a cue from Barry’s more traditional running game, “Monster Dash,” and includes a handful of vehicles that give Barry a little room for error and give players an extra jolt of variety. The motorcycle makes a return, but the new models — a hopping mech, a squirrelly teleportation device, a gravity suit and a shuttle with the face, shape and squawk of a bird — are creative in both their design and the unique ways they harness the same basic gameplay mechanic.

Ultimately, though, it’s Halfbrick’s dedication to compulsion that transforms “Joyride” from fun curiosity to total time sink.

Coins collected while in flight allow you to purchase power-ups, new jetpack models and new playable characters. A game-wide ranking system awards you for the completion of side missions, which may (fly 750 meters without crashing the teleportation device) or may not (travel 1,750 meters without touching a single coin) coincide with the game’s more traditional goals. Leaderboards and achievements — via OpenFeint and Game Center — provide another layer of stuff to accomplish, and a stat-tracking system will please those who appreciate absolutely useless but strangely fascinating numbers.

But it’s the slot machine, which greets you after your game ends, that provides “Joyride” with its best trimming. Collecting special tokens during a run will unlock spins on the machine, which rewards bonus coins, single-use power-ups, free spins and explosives that give you one last bump for a little more distance (and, if you catch them during the bump, coins and spins).

The holy grail, of course, is the triple hearts spin, which revives Barry and lets you continue your current run like nothing bad ever happened. Getting it is a rare occurrence, but the wait for a third heart after the first two spin that way is sometimes as exciting as compiling a run good enough to make a second chance matter.