Did you know that you can download handheld games now? That's amazingly convenient! The only inconvenient part of it is finding the right games to buy -- and that's where we come in, with our Portabliss column. In each installment, we'll tell you about a downloadable game on the iPhone, iPad, Android device, DSi, 3DS, PSP, etc. Today: Jetpack Joyride.
The free NES games in Nintendo's 3DS Ambassador Program arrived at an awkward time, because the standout of that group for me, Balloon Fight, is now getting overshadowed by the many jetpacks of Barry Steakfries. Like Halfbrick's Monster Dash before it (and Balloon Fight's "Balloon Trip" mode long before that), Jetpack Joyride takes the autorunning genre defined on iOS by Canabalt and adds a few kinks.

Unlike Monster Dash, however, Jetpack Joyride is deep, with a mess of power-ups, vehicles, and mechanical and aesthetic additions. I was repeatedly taken aback by how fleshed out Halfbrick has made its latest iOS game, and repeatedly charmed by the studio's presentation. Nods to past Halfbrick titles abound (beyond the main character's return from previous iOS games), and the inclusion of an entire vehicle poking fun at the iPhone's most popular franchise lends an extra layer of levity to the already cheeky proceedings. Barry Steakfries has a jetpack (one of many that can be purchased) and he's trying his best to fly out of a never-ending corridor filled with scientists. Unfortunately, between the missiles being fired at him, the lasers that occasionally slide up on him, the fatal electric wires scattered about, and the ever-increasing speed of his journey from left to right, things aren't going so well.

Carefully placed vehicle drops allow Barry to momentarily drop the jetpack in favor of something entirely different. One suit turns the game into VVVVVV, allowing for on-the-fly gravity switching, while another has Barry teleporting all over the screen, trying to avoid electricity. The motorcycle from Monster Dash even makes a return -- Barry sees it as an opportunity to whip out his boomstick as well.


This is all without mentioning the in-game marketplace, where you can upgrade vehicles, buy new jetpacks, get various clothing and visual items to alter Barry, and purchase "Utilities" for the coming game. Those "Utilities" (read: power-ups) effectively act as buffs, potentially reanimating him from death, or launching his dead body further down the corridor to earn a bit distance, or granting double coins during the next round.

Earning power-ups is handled via slot machine, played after each round in Super Mario Bros. 2-style, and pulls are earned by grabbing floating chips throughout the levels. If you really want, you can buy coins with real dollars and use that to level up sooner (which grants you ... more coins), or to buy buffs and other items in the game's store. However, the speed at which you earn coins means you'll never feel like you have to get into the microtransaction game.

So, hey, there's a lot going on in Jetpack Joyride if you hadn't noticed. I've been explaining it with this handy analogy: Doom is to Halo, as Canabalt is to Jetpack Joyride. Halfbrick's game moves the concept of Canabalt forward, far enough for it to become the new standard. Other than Danny Baranowsky's incredible soundtrack in Canabalt, Jetpack Joyride one-ups Canabalt so much it'll be hard to remember a time when having just one mechanic was enough.

Halfbrick has shown with each of its games that it understands how to take the best aspects of previous titles and blow them out, turning the App Store into a gameplay iteration test unit of sorts. Like Monster Dash, there are a handful of mechanics in Jetpack Joyride that could easily stand alone as games unto themselves, and I expect Halfbrick will recognize that (if some folks at the studio haven't already).

Jetpack Joyride is available from the iOS App Store for $0.99. We're always looking for new distractions. Want to submit your game for Portabliss consideration? You can reach us at portabliss aat joystiq dawt com.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.