Jetpac Refuelled embodies the essence of what made all those old-school games back in the day so fun.
Known as Ultimate: Play The Game, the game Jetpac launched the studio into mainstream success. And once you get your hands on this game, it quickly becomes obvious why: Jetpac is one of the most entertaining arcade-styled games I have played in a long while, and you can see for yourself, as Rare included a perfectly emulated version of the original in this 400 Microsoft Point package. ($5.00 US)
The object of Jetpac is a simple one: Grab the pieces of your rocketship, assemble them, grab canister of fuel to, well, fuel the ship, and then blast off to another planet. Along the way, you'll fend off alien lifeforms that interfere and you'll collect lost treasures to help you finance your trip. The original version of Jetpac is surprisingly smooth in its gameplay. Just from looking at it, you might expect it to jerk a little bit, but it runs beautifully. The graphics are definitely old-school, but they are certainly not hard to swallow. They feature some pretty neat effects for the day, and there's a fair bit of color to go around.
The reimagined concept of the game, though, it what causes the game to truly shine. The basic concept remains the same: Assemble your ship, blast aliens as you fuel it, and then get the heck out of Dodge, or the Callisto Station, if that's your inclination. There are a couple of wrinkles in the formula, though, as one would come to expect from a title like this. Added is the EMP charge, which is just a fancy name for your run-of-the-mill smart bomb from days of yore, but which features a stellar screen-distorting effect that's truly a sight to behold. Also new to the gameplay is the ability to power up your phaser between various power levels of three distinct shot patterns. These do a great deal to enable you to better fend off aliens, which naturally allow for longer gameplay. The catch is the new oxygen system, but don't let that worry you. It's fairly forgiving early on.
The length of the game is nothing to scoff at, either. While the original had 16 stages of identical design, excepting the changing aliens, Jetpac Refuelled has 128 individually rendered stages with changing layouts and enemies. The remake also accommodates multiple enemy types onscreen at once, and several individual enemies as that. If you stick around any given planet too long, the screen will begin to flood with enemies, so getting that fuel to your ship quickly becomes imperative.
Also new to the game is multiplayer, which works in a bit of a different manner than single player. The object is to compete with an opposing player to build and fuel your ship first. You'll never run out of lives in this mode, so that's one worry you don't have to deal with. The catch lies in fueling the ship. While you can pick up the parts for your ship independently of the other player, you will be fighting over the fuel pods. As you carry them off, if the opposing player pelts them with enough firepower, or blasts them with EMP, you'll drop your cargo for them to haul off, but you can return the favor. It's not the typical "kill the opposition" gameplay most people are used to, and to be honest, I found it a refreshing change resulting in a real competition. Only one issue marred my experience, and that was a bug that disallowed me from picking up the vital pieces of my ship to begin building. Hopefully, this isn't a common issue, but it didn't last for too long, so it wasn't a huge deal.
As for the way the game looks: ABSO-FREAKIN'-LUTELY ASTOUNDING! The environments must be lush on an HDTV, and while I can't see them for what they are, they're so finely detailed that my mind can definitely fill in the blanks. The enemies are seemingly hand-drawn with a nice aesthetic touch, and the planets themselves are stunningly rendered, with multiple planes of depth that give off a nice scaling effect when you zoom in and out. The effects of your Jetpac pilot are nice, too, with his legs dangling with the Jetpac's momentum, his phaser producing wonderful spectral effects with a healthy dose of particles to boot. All-in-all, the graphics are gorgeous, and the game runs at a rare-these-days 60 frames per second consistently. I guess they've earned their name here.
The achievements are also pretty well spread out. You have your requisite low-entry achievements, such as "Launch from level one in single player Refuelled", to "Beat all 128 stages in Refuelled", to some for the old-school Jetpac, and even a couple for multiplayer, which encourage competition, like "Score 500,000 points in a game of multiplayer", and "Play with another 'infected' player on Xbox LIVE". Just how well the infected achievement pans out depends on whether an infected player chimes in right away, or later in the game's lifespan, as demonstrated by Small Arms' rapid distribution of its version of the achievement. If it isn't made available to the first few people who play the game, but rather withheld, it becomes more of a rare achievement, thus making it valuable in encouraging multiplay.
Bottom line: I'm just stunned by the quality of the product as a whole. It's smooth, it's gorgeous, it's simple-yet-challenging, and it's, most of all, very, very fun. This game reminds me what was so great about all of those games back in the day when the plot didn't matter, the budget didn't matter, what console it was on didn't matter...it was all about the gameplay. Jetpac Refuelled is an outstanding example of what a modern-day coat of paint can do to a successful old-school concept when executed right. If you've been on the fence about picking it up, stop hesitating and nab it!