Great Old Gaming Gems – Solar Jetman

Welcome to the third instalment of Great Old Gaming Gems! Today we’re going to be firing up the ol’ trusty NES for a bit of Solar Jetman action.

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Solar Jetman: Hunt for the Golden Warship , for that is its official full title, came out in the October of 1990. A multi directional, exploration, gravity based shooter, rescue things, game it’s a bit of a hard one to define the exact genre. The core gameplay of thrust based and shoot is similar to games like Asteroids. But unlike Asteroids the planets you explore have gravity that with gentle thrusting must be overcome.

This extra element takes what could be a simple shooty game and turns it into something insidiously difficult but also, to my mind at least, totally addictive.

The story has you, as a member of the Federation of Space Loonies (yes really), having to locate the missing parts of the titular Golden Warship. That’s it as for as the story goes. Each level is a HUGE world to explore and that’s HUGE by today’s standards and that is frankly gigantic by the 8bit eras standard. Each world starts with your Mothership landing on an the alien world and that’s it. You’re free to begin exploring

You then jump into your little blue rocketship to explore the not only the surface of the planet but also the many, many,  caves and caverns that litter the landscape. This is where that horribly difficult but frustratingly addictive gameplay comes to the surface. This is a game that has new players wanting to throw their controller at the screen but if you stick with it, and master it, it’s frankly brilliant.

Each of the worlds are filled with enemies whom must be shot. Your little blue pod has only a small amount of health. You can upgrade the shields however but that leads to other problems entirely as we’ll get into in a moment.

If your blue pod is destroyed the game is not over as you eject out in your spacesuit, equipped with a jetpack, to escape back to the mothership. The good side of this is that the spacesuit is very easy to fly. The downside? One hit will kill you stone cold dead. In theory as long as you can fly the spacesuit back to the mothership you have an infinite supply of little blue pods to get into to fly again. In practice? That difficulty level will leave you somewhat frustrated

While exploring the worlds you have to find parts of the Golden Warship to drag back to your mothership. Here you meet the other part of the gameplay mechanic. Inertia. Your little blue pod goes from being exceptionally difficult to fly to being nigh on impossible. The inertia of the object dragged will pull you into cave walls, the floor, you name it. There is a nack to pulling objects but even I as a fan of this gem have to admit it’s a bit… flawed.

The difficulty of this game can not ever be overstressed!

But if you can get past that? It’s a great game!

The graphics were exceptionally good looking for a NES. Colourful worlds and enemies abound. The thing what I think is most special about the game is the 3D effect on the blue pod. As you rotate around it’s like a 3D model rather than a 2D sprite. Groundbreaking given the 8bit system its on! The screenshots on display here do not do this game justice. It blew me away aged 8 by the 3D effect and now aged 33? It impresses me just as much today. Perhaps even more so given the limitations of the NES.

Now this game also has a few other things to mention. One being the developer. A certain company called Rare. Rare of Goldeneye fame. THAT Rare.

So this game was an early example from a developer that was destined for greatness!

But what if you want to play today I hear you ask?!

Well sadly this one hasn’t made a revival onto the virtual console but we live in ever decreasing hope. Instead you’re a slave to eBay where thankfully a copy can be had for around a fiver.

Curiously a version was announced for the Commodore 64 way back in 1990 that never saw the light of day. Until recently that is. That version is I believe considered abandonware so you can download it and being in a legal grey area rather than it being out and out illegal. If you fancy giving that a try Google is your friend!

Be sure to check back next week for another edition of Great Old Gaming Gems!