What at first feels like a competent modernisation of – and homage to – Rare classic JetPac becomes so much more as you make your way through Jetboy and the Randomizer of Doom.

First, a little background: the Story Mode of Jetboy sees Dave, bored citizen of Gaia, trying to liven up his dull existence by taking a trip to the ominously named Doom Nebula. Unfortunately, the Room Nebula is aptly named – and its infamous Randomizer Belts are stuffed full of danger. Can Dave survive the deadliest vacation in history?

The gameplay is fast, furious and very straightforward. You’ll start each stage with just a jetpack – with limited, but recharging, fuel – and no way to defend yourself as you try and collect four pieces of fuel for your ship to blast off to the next world. The fuel, your weapon – which will vary depending on the stage you’re on – and other power ups spawn randomly amongst what are usually fairly overwhelming swarms of enemies, so you have to be quick and precise if you want to escape with your life. You’ll need just two buttons: the thrust for your jet pack (hence the JetPac comparison) and fire for your weapon. Simple.

On most stages, a few hits will kill you – but infinite continues lessen the sting of the very tough challenge somewhat. Each stage is introduced on the world map with some really useful text about the general difficulty, the enemies you’ll find there and also, crucially, hints on how to survive. It’s very easy to gloss over or ignore this information at first, but you’ll need to make sure you’re fully armed with invaluable clues as to what you’re about to encounter.

Every stage has its quirks: game mechanics, enemies and even the general aesthetics – modelled after classic retro console styles – can vary wildly from one stage to the next.

This can feel a bit like both a blessing and a curse – though it makes for a wild, unpredictable and surprising game that’ll keep you playing just to see what’s next, you never really feel like you have a handle on getting good, because everything you learn can very quickly become irrelevant from stage to stage.

The randomised nature of the game can also make it feel a little unfair at times, with overwhelming enemy swarms sometimes making it difficult just to get to your weapon, even when you’ve just entered a level.

There are some stages themselves that can feel incredibly overwhelming in general, but all I’ll say there is that for the most part, you may well find an easier solution to completing it – there’s some incredibly satisfying secrets to discover along the way, including the ability to steal vehicles or mounts in some cases!

This endless inventiveness – and the multiple layers of video game and pop culture references, including visual styles from relatively obscure consoles and computers, as well as the more recognisable ones – give Jetboy a real charm and ensure that it’s compelling even when it’s an absolute nightmare to progress at times. As I’ve previously alluded to: it’s no use trying to git gud at the game overall – you need to try and master each stage as it throws new combos of baddies, mechanics and weapons at you.

Not every stage is ridiculous though – you’ll breeze through one and come unstuck in another – so despite its hardcore nature, it does sometimes go easy on you.

And all that is without mentioning the genuinely excellent soundtrack, or even the Arcade Mode – which you can customise from a visual standpoint – which★ throws random elements at you and sees how many stages you can survive in a row. The further you go on your vacation with Jetboy, the more you discover that you want the vacation to go on forever. Thanks to the Arcade Mode, it can!

Though it took me a little while to warm to the charms of Jetboy and the Randomizer of Doom, once it had its tentacles in me (yep, there’s tentacles and even Cthulhu too!) I found it very hard to put down. Highly recommended.

Jetboy and the Randomizer of Doom is available now on Switch and Steam. Many thanks to GameOverDog for providing me with a game key for review purposes.

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