8-bit Heroes: JETPAC - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

Home Top Ad

Post Top Ad

8-bit Heroes: JETPAC

Get ready to assemble that rocket!

You may well remember Ultimate Play The Game, the publisher of such classic ZX Spectrum titles as Sabre Wulf, Atic Atac, and Knight Lore. You might not know that, after the company was sold to US Gold in 1985, the brothers behind the Ultimate label formed Rare, the company that famously released the classic SNES and Nintendo 64 titles Donkey Kong Country, Goldeneye 007 and Perfect Dark.

Their origins lie way back in 1983 with a little game designed for the 16k ZX Spectrum that went on to be a huge commercial success; the Spectrum version alone selling more than 300,000 copies to a market of less than one million Spectrum owners at the time, and providing the fledgling company with a turnover in excess of £1 million. That title was Jetpac.

Founded in the Leicestershire town of Ashby-de-la-Zouch in 1982 by brothers Tim and Chris Stamper, their friend John Lathbury, and Tim's girlfriend (later wife) Carole Ward, Ultimate Play the Game was initially located in a house next to the family-run newsagent. Both Tim and Chris had worked in arcade game development but were tired of working for others. They claimed at the time to be "the most experienced arcade video game design team in Britain". Big talk for a couple of twentysomething nerds who had taught themselves computer programming, fortunately they had the chops to back it up.

Jetpac puts the player in control of Jetman as he rebuilds his rocket and fills it with fuel in order to explore different planets, while simultaneously defending himself from hostile aliens. The game world is presented in a horizontal wraparound and consists of three platforms which Jetman can maneuver onto. For bonus points, the player can collect valuable resources which occasionally fall from above.

After the first level, the rocket stays assembled and just requires refueling. However, every four levels the rocket resets (giving the player an extra life) and the replacement has to be built before it can be refueled for takeoff. Although the core gameplay remains unchanged, each new rocket has a new design with a higher number written on it, and the enemies change forms each level (cycling back to the first after eight levels). Each alien also has a different pattern of movement which means they have to be dealt with in a different manner.

The difficulty of Jetpac was perfectly pitched, gameplay was easy enough to pick-up but tricky to master, making it ideal for both novice and experienced players.

While developing Jetpac, the Stamper brothers closely studied the burgeoning Japanese gaming market and had started to practice developing games for their then-upcoming console, the Famicom (released in Europe and the US as the Nintendo Entertainment System), predicting that the ZX Spectrum had a limited lifespan. This may be why Jetpac was one of the few Spectrum games also available in a ROM format, on a cartridge similar to the Famicon/NES, and for use with the ZX Spectrum Interface 2. This ROM meant the game loaded almost instantaneously rather than the normal method of cassette loading which took minutes.

The fact that Jetpac was released for the 16k ZX Spectrum which made it playable on both memory sized formats available (16k and 48k), unlike most games, clearly contributed to its huge success upon release in May 1983. It also came out at the same time for the Commodore Vic-20, and the following year on the BBC Micro, and was critically acclaimed on all formats. Crash magazine praised the graphics and presentation, citing that they were of "the highest standard" and added that it was "difficult to find any real faults" with the game. Computer and Video Games (CVG) similarly praised the graphics, stating that the presentation was "superb" and the gameplay was considered addictive. Jetpac went on to win the title "Game of the Year" at the 1983 Golden Joystick Awards.

Jetpac's popularity spawned two sequels; the equally well received Lunar Jetman and, later, Solar Jetman for the NES. The original game was included as an unlockable bonus in Rare's Donkey Kong 64, and it's been included on various virtual consoles and re-released systems across the years.

Jetpac is still just as addictive today as it was nearly 40 years ago . Thanks to its massive sales, it will always be remembered for kick-starting one of the best software houses to have existed. One which gave us many 8-bit Heroes.

Did you ever play Jetpac? Let us know your memories of this 8-bit hero in the comments below, and view all our 8-bit Heroes articles here.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post Top Ad