Latest posts by Phil Hayton (see all)
- Retro Requisition: ‘Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver’ Deserves to Rise from Its Tomb - 12th October 2018
- Retro Requisition: Why It’s Time to Return to the ‘Comix Zone’ - 28th September 2018
- Retro Requisition: ‘Solar Jetman’ Should Take to the Stars Again - 14th September 2018
Retro Requisition would like to draw your attention to a classic video game of old that we shall be formally requisitioning to be reborn, revisited, rebooted, or remastered. We will explain what makes each game such a timeless classic still worthy of attention, pitch what it would be all about and get all realistic by discussing the possibilities of it actually ever happening.
“We, the most awesome and fabulous team at That Not Current, have decreed in all our wisdom and obsession with the wonders of retro gaming, that the following game should be brought back to life and hereby submit this formal request to make it so:”
THE PLAYERS: Nintendo, Rare
PLATFORM(S): Nintendo Entertainment System
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?
Solar Jetman: Hunt For The Golden Warship is a spaceship shooter adventure game, created by Rare and Manchester-based developer Zippo Games for the NES. This game is actually a sequel to the ZX Spectrum games, Jetpack and Lunar Jetman, which share the same character design of an astronaut with a jetpack. Despite the primitive nature of its predecessors, Solar Jetman is actually an action adventure game that could be said to have as much depth as the original Legend Of Zelda, as it features an explorable universe with danger lurking around every corner. The main principle of the game is to find the pieces of the golden warship, which are scattered across various worlds, within the deep caverns of space. You do this by navigating around in a weird, egg-shaped spaceship, that wouldn’t look out of place at the back of your local Ann Summers. In order to control the ship, the player must use a combination of gravity and thrusters to navigate through the corridors of each stage, all while encountering various alien life forms that aren’t thrilled about your trip to their planet.
The detail of which the game handles gravity makes this title really stand out in comparison to other spaceship shooters. The player must pay close attention to both the planets gravitational pull and factors that could hinder manoeuvrability, such as acceleration and inertia. It’s far too easy to lose control of your ship and find yourself hurtling towards the wrong direction, which as much as some players might find this frustrating, it actually adds to the excitement of the space exploration aspects of the game. Once you actually manage to retrieve a piece of the golden warship, avoid the planet’s inhabitant beasties and avoid being turned into space dust, you can progress to the next level via your mothership. This same formula is followed through the various planet stages of the game, with more challenges being added incrementally, such as different enemies, tighter corridors, expanded environments and a stronger gravitational pull. You can also discover secret wormholes within each stage, which leads to a vertically scrolling mini-game in which the player has to collect gems, which makes exploring the stages worthwhile as this acts as the game’s currency. The player can also find items such as fuel within the environment, which comes in handy during the longer sections of the game. While the game presents a significant challenge, it also provides the opportunity to ensure success. The player will be able to visit trading posts every so often, which will allow Jetman to pimp out his hard-boiled craft with weaponry, engine upgrades and fuel efficiency tweaks. These factors help turn what is a fairly difficult game into an exciting challenge, as the power to equip yourself for your mission is in your hands.
Games like Solar Jetman are a prime example of a hidden gem, despite the fact that they might be one of the best titles in their genre. If you think about it, Solar Jetman is actually a rare example of a spaceship shooter that has the qualities of an action adventure game; complete with exploration, collectables, hidden items and purchasable items. Hilariously, this game does the whole spaceship adventure game thing better than the likes of No Mans Sky. The game manages to give itself depth and substance all while maintaining the original feel of early arcade games, like Asteroids, which is a beautiful achievement. The simplistic black backgrounds of abyss paired with bold colours look far more appealing to the eye than a lot of 8-bit titles, that tried to overreach when it came to colour pallets and rendered backdrops. This game keeps a grip of its grandness right to the very end, as once you have collected all the pieces of the Golden warship, the game transforms into a side scrolling shooter, which marks the path to the final boss of the game. Creating such an endgame makes the whole experience even better, adding to that feeling of being on an awesome odyssey that takes you to the far corners of space.
Solar Jetman wasn’t always part of the same series as the ZX Spectrum games, as Zippo Games originally planned to release the game under the title Lota before being ordered by Rare to make it part of their existing series, which was released during their years as developer Ultimate Play The Game. Subsequently, there were also ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 ports planned, however, ceased to be after the game suffered from poor sales. For this reason, Solar Jetman is not a well-known title for the original Nintendo, with its only reappearance in recent years being as part of the Rare Replay collection which was released on the Xbox One.
WHY DOES IT NEEDS TO BE REBORN?
Solar Jetman is yet another title that shows just how diverse a gaming genre can be. It’s contrasting themes of both arcade shoot em up and explorative adventure makes for something that can’t be placed under a generic banner. Its innovation and diversity showed us that games can be more than just jumping on the heads of enemies or shooting a constant stream of oncoming foes, being a game that ignited a sense of deep space wanderlust. There have been games before and after Solar Jetman which have done the whole space exploration thing, however, I can’t think of any that could be described as a cross between Zelda and Asteroids. Bringing games like Solar Jetman back will help insight appeal within the spaceship shooter genre, which faded away after the industry moved towards 3D environments. There are many shoot em’ ups that could make a fantastic return, but bringing back one of which contains more than cool lasers and sound effects would help engage the minds of the modern gamer – not that a game needs anything more than some ‘pew pew’ sound effects to keep me entertained.
Space exploration isn’t a new concept to gaming by any means, however, it takes a certain formula to get it right. The best example of a failed, modern attempt to create a grand space adventure is the 2016 game No Mans Sky, which promised too much while delivering far less. The fact that No Mans Sky only managed to achieve the same quality of gameplay that an NES game managed to do in 1990 is never a good sign. Solar Jetman, on the other hand, was a title that chose not make itself look as flash as other games from the later years of the original Nintendo in order to enhance the mechanics and features of the game itself. It’s a shame that games like Solar Jetman have been left in the past, as many gamers would likely love this style of game, yet haven’t heard of it or played it, which is something that could be amended if the game was revitalised and brought back to our boxes.
WHAT WOULD WE WANT TO SEE IN ANY REBIRTH?
With the risk of sounding like a broken record player, this is another example of a game that could blossom if given some tender, loving, technological care, considering it managed to be innovative on a console that probably has less power than a modern day toaster. Overall, the main structure of the game wouldn’t have to be altered too much, which means that the more intricate mechanics could be refined and expanded. Adding some roguelike elements to the explorable planets and procedurally generated environments could be a defining key in giving Solar Jetman an overhaul. Randomly generated level structures, enemies, items and hidden areas would give the game the edge needed to stand out in a modern market while protecting it from being slotted into a generic genre type. Some multiplayer aspects could also help the game flourish, as many simplistic titles have found their own style through expansive cooperative gameplay with friends and strangers alike. Adding some more strategic elements to the mechanics could also do wonders for grabbing the attention spans of the sophisticated gamer, with games such as Faster Than Light providing a perfect accompanying format that could bring the best of both worlds to our potential spaceship shooting, cavern exploring extravaganza. Successfully using these elements would help to fill the deep corners of Solar Jetman’s world with varying paths, treacherous encounters and unique adventures with every play session.
Visually, the developers could probably have a lot of freedom, as the original didn’t really dictate a specific style. It would be nice if a modern take on the game still kept the Spectrum like colour scheme and simplistic sprites, while using modern techniques to achieve visuals that might have been out of 8-bit reach, but would still not look like another Unity engine built, indie game. While it would be best to maintain the vertical top down aspect of the original game, different styles could still be implemented during different sections of the game, as within the bonus stages, in order to break up the potential monotony. While graphical fidelity can take a back seat, it is still important to make sure that the game looks stylish and unique enough to stand out in a world where even the amateurs can make an acceptable looking game from within their hormone filled, teenage bedrooms.
As for a potential plot for the game, adding further comedy elements could help it retain its original feel. As the creators of the game were, in fact, English, I can imagine that humour similar to the likes of Monty Python and The Young Ones would make for a perfect pairing with Solar Jetman’s goofy protagonist. If only Rick Mayall was still with us to provide some hilarious commentary whilst flying through cosmic canyons, we could have had a game that could spark a resurgence of comedy within mainstream gaming. To be fair, there are still a number of great comedians that could be great for a game like this, such as Peter Serafinowicz, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and a huge list of others that could lend their hilarious train of thought to this potential comedy goldmine. Just imagine Dylan Moran complaining about the monotony of space as your little egg shaped ship bounces around the levels, it’s a masterpiece waiting to happen.
IS IT LIKELY?
Well I mean, Donald Trump winning a presidential election was pretty unlikely, so I suppose it wouldn’t be the shock of the century if Rare decided to revive the series from their back catalogue. The series hasn’t been forgotten about yet, as it was actually featured on the Rare Replay compilation for Xbox One, alongside the better known Pierce Brosmathon and Vulgar Squirrel Simulator. That being said, Rare are a very different beast now that they’re the under collar and leash of Microsoft, as the only true revival to come from them in recent years from their golden years was the likes of Conker: Reloaded on the original Xbox and the horrific mutilation that was Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts And Bolts on the Xbox 360. Perhaps the style and format of Solar Jetman will be giving the love it deserves by a company other than Rare, allowing an unlikely combination of genres reach great heights. So really, the likeliness of Solar Jetman making a return soon is on par with Kanye West becoming president in 2020, which based on the current climate probably means that we can start getting excited.