The votes have been tallied and the people have spoken. Jetpack Joyride is 2011’s Best App Ever.
Halfbrick’s latest title was one of the most-hyped iOS games of the year: we were reporting on it back in March when the game was originally known as Machine Gun Jetpack. Back then, the concept was the same: Halfbrick protagonist Barry Steakfries flies at a high speed through tunnels on a jetpack that fires bullets so quickly that it propels him upward. It’s the kind of concept that’s completely ludicrous but instantly intriguing. After all, when it was just a powerup in Monster Dash, it was entertaining enough, but now a full game is built around it? That’s exciting. Afterward, the game became more extensive, adding a variety of new jetpacks and powerups along with the eponymous jetpack.
This is why the game was so extensively covered on the site, making a pre-release post announcement, and then running a 5-star, Editor’s Choice review on launch day when the game came out. The game was talked about on The Portable Podcast multiple times, with glowing praise. Finally, we named it one of our top games of the year.
So what made Jetpack Joyride such a hit? Maybe it is that the game is extremely easy to get into. The controls require no real explanation, just tap to go upward, let go to go downward. No virtual buttons were necessary at all, just tap anywhere on the screen. It works perfectly on the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.
But it’s also the way that it compels players to keep playing that makes it so addictive. The objectives compel players to play the game in a particular way, and to make a specific session have a goal to it, from trying to skim so many red lights, to running on the ground for so long. They introduce variety to a game where the goal is the same each time out: get as far as possible without dying.
Jetpack Joyride‘s use of currency is also especially modern: gaining coins for upgrades and new costumes is something that a variety of games are doing now, but is one that Jetpack Joyride excels at. There are the different levels of items to buy, from the simple costumes and jetpacks to buy (who doesn’t love a Fruit Ninja-inspired jetpack?), to upgrades for the powerup vehicles, to finally the extra-distance bombs and second chance lives for high rollers. These generally require money to purchase reliably, but they can be earned in the game itself through the tokens collected and used in the slot machine.
In many ways, the game is about luck, as sometimes a high score requires that a second chance be earned in the slot machine, or a powerup be earned at the right time, or even just that a laser barrier show up a pixel later in order for the player to not die. It can be frustrating, but the fact that luck could easily turn back in the player’s favor is part of what makes chasing that high score so gratifying.
But if all these secondary elements were taken away, if there was only one jetpack and no upgrades, no coins, nothing but pure skill involved, then it would still be one of the best games of the year. It’s just that simple to get in to, and that desire to play just one more time, dive into just one more session is based not just on a desire to earn more coins, it’s because the game is fun at the heart of it. Plenty of games have snazzy costumes and upgrades to unlock, but they aren’t as addictive as this one is.
In many ways, the success of Jetpack Joyride is exactly like how Fruit Ninja has succeeded from a gameplay standpoint. Both are games that are not limited by the touchscreen, as both use direct input for control. Fruit Ninja has 1:1 actions with the tracing finger on the screen, and Jetpack Joyride responds whenver the finger is on the screen. They are not held back by the need for virtual buttons, and that direct user interaction is part of why the games have been such smash successes, and why people voted Jetpack Joyride 2011’s Best App Ever.
In fact, the success of Jetpack Joyride is currently resonating throughout the App Store. Games like Sea Stars and Seal Force both take obvious direct inspiration from Jetpack Joyride in not just gameplay but in structure. The endless runner is certainly very popular nowadays too, as Temple Run‘s current success attests to.
I personally have had great experiences with the game. I first got to play it about a week before it released, which was also a day I had jury duty on. Jury duty was not very fun, but getting to play Jetpack Joyride during any chance I had to take a break? My growing addiction to the game was probably more memorable about that day than being selected for a long trial. It’s the power of gaming, and it’s the fun that a game like Jetpack Joyride can provide that can be memorable, and it’s why it is a worthy choice as Best App Ever of 2011.