Review: Jetboard Joust
Publisher: Freedom Games
Developer: BitBull Ltd
Release: May 18, 2021
Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch
Also on: PC
When I first saw Jetboard Joust, my first impression was that this was going to be another retro-style Atari game clone, and I wasn’t sure if it was going to capture the enjoyment I had with those early games. And I like a lot of the retro games because of my nostalgic feelings towards them. If I were to play those for the first time today, I’m not sure they would have the same appeal.
So I went into Jetboard Joust with some feelings of trepidation. However, those feelings quickly faded away, as the game turned out to be an amazing homage to those early retro games but incorporating modern day gameplay mechanics.
The premise of the game is pretty straightforward. Your character is sent to defend five different planets from invading aliens who are trying to capture the residents on the planet. Your weapon is a jetboard that you utilize to cruise left and right in this side scrolling SHMUP.
The game play is easy to pick up. You move left and right on your jetboard. You start out with a basic range weapon and you shoot everything you see on the screen. As you continue to play through the game, new weapons will become available to you, and boy are there a ton of weapons that you can find. The hard part is determining which weapon you want to keep. The guns range from shotguns to buzzsaws to grenade launchers. Each weapon does require you to find more ammo to continue its use, otherwise you’ll be stuck using the basic ranged weapon you start off with. But there’s plenty of ammo to pick up as you play through the level.
The enemies are as varied as the weapons, which was a bit of a surprise. There are enemies that fly jetboards like yourself, and they will swoop down to capture the residents of the planet. Saving all the residents will give you more bonus points at the end of the level. Letting them get captured will result in the enemy becoming much bigger and more powerful. So it’s in your best interest to save the captured residents before the enemy takes them to the top of screen.
Besides the varied enemy types, there are mini bosses that protect the temple in each stage and a final boss that you must defeat in each world. Every stage you play through on a level will have a temple that houses a different type of treasure - either a boost to your jetboard or body armor, more money, or a new weapon or weapon upgrade. To unlock the temple, you must summon the temple guardian (which can only be done once all the enemies have been defeated). Once you defeat the guardian, it will drop a key which will let you unlock the temple and claim the goods inside. One of the best aspects of this game is the risk/reward system; you don’t need to take on the temple guardian as you can just choose to continue on to the next level, but if you want to be able to progress against the boss, you’ll need the loot.
As you progress through the world, you are given options to travel through it via a path tree. Each path will show you what rewards are found in the temple via icons, so you can decide which path will best suit your needs. The paths do cumulate to a final path to the boss, so there’s no concern about taking a wrong path.
The boss battles are challenging and satisfying, as each boss will have different stages they go through as you whittle down their health. They are tough and will require you to understand their attack patterns in each phase.
You do have one additional attack, your joust. This is a limited attack (you start with three, but an upgrade can get you more) and should be used when you are surrounded by enemies or on a boss. The attack will shoot your jetboard forward as you jump in the air, doing a large amount of damage.
The other aspect of the game which makes it more roguelike, is how you can collect money in each stage that will allow you to buy upgrades to your jetboard, your armor, or your weapons. If you die, you’ll need to pay money to be able to continue and recover your downed space suit. Recovering the suit will allow you to collect some of your money that you lost when you died. Yes, the game is technically a roguelike, but it’s very lite on the roguelike aspect and even if you die and you don’t have enough money to continue on the same stage, when you go back into the game you start at the level prior to the one you were just on. The game is somewhat forgiving and with how challenging some of the boss battles are, this is a welcomed feature.
The game is a beautiful mix of retro style art and music. While the designs do have a retro feel to them, the AI and the art direction is much more modern. The game is a multi-tier scroller, allowing for the backgrounds to scroll at a different pace as you coast along the level. The explosions that occur feel so much better than any of the games I’ve played on the Atari and the feedback on the controls certainly doesn’t feel retro at all. Those are the details that elevate it from a mere retro clone to a more modern day game.
Final Grade: A-
If there’s one thing I’ve learned while reviewing games, it's to never judge a book by its cover. Jetboard Joust is a game that didn’t receive as much fanfare as it should have. The gameplay is spot on, the boss battles are intense, and it looks and sounds good. The explosions and the amount of weapons you can select from take a retro style game and merge in modern day features. My only gripe is that it could have been a bit more on the roguelike style of play. But, those of you that want to play a roguelike that’s lite on the roguelike elements will enjoy this game.
Review code provided by Stride PR.