Reviving a Rare Classic With Super JetPak DX

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Tan Montana
By Tan Montana on January 19th, 2021


Jetpac is the first of a small franchise, an arcade-style shooter video game developed and published by Ultimate Play the Game (now Rare) and released for the ZX Spectrum and VIC-20 in the early eighties. The Zx Spectrum would be the home computer that would light a passion for game development in a young Quang Nguyen. And 2020 would be the year that afforded Nguyen the time to release a new Game Boy game, Super JetPak DX.

The History of Jetpac

The original Jetpac was a simple enough arcade game with the challenge you’d expect for games of the era. The player takes control of one astronaut who dodges alien baddies while collecting pieces of his ship to blast off to the next level, all in the constraints of a singular small zone. The hitboxes and collision are pixel tight, and the game itself requires the frantic reflexes required from games of the time and their difficulty levels.

Upon its initial release, Jetpac was hailed by software and game reviewers alike as being a perfectly concise arcade-style game. More than that, it was a credit to what more and more people were learning- the home computer could emulate arcade-style game experience with perfection. This is what captured a young Quang Nguyen’s love for the game when he first played it as a youth. And so a project 21 years in the making began.

A Game by a fan for the fans

The love for Jetpac wasn’t exclusive to its newfound developer, as made evident by the explicit backing of the crowd of excited retro players eager to play the game again. And while Super JetPak DX is still Jetpac, it very much has improved upon the original gameplay, graphics, and design. It keeps all the franticness of the first game while updating it to look like- well, to look like it would of years ago as a Game Boy release. Which is to say it looks great. 

Nguyen’s project was a success, affirming that there is a future for modern releases on older systems and the more and more popular demakes that release with increased frequency each year. As well as creating a collectible addition with a box, the game was even personalized from cartridge to cartridge to express thanks to backers in title credits within the game. If that doesn’t show dedication to the craft, I don’t know what would. 

Jetpac in 2020

The new lifestyle that came with the year 2020 afforded Nguyen the opportunity and challenge of making his own Jetpac for a retro system. The game works on standard Game Boy systems all the way up to the first DS and even comes with a conventional Game Boy cartridge box and information booklet. The talent and time needed to make this game happen fell mostly onto one very dedicated man’s shoulders, but the local Retro community was quick to help get involved after hearing about it. The community provided everything from music to the graphics and art for the manual and box, thus ensuring that Super JetPak DX was a professional-looking and successful release for the Game Boy.

Gameboy IN the future

The project is an enormous undertaking compared to the procedure that would usually be given to a project like this. A simple ROM would have surely been more than enough to please any fans of the original. Nguyen’s dedication to making the game a fully realized Game Boy title with a box, art, and instruction manual, is a testament to his love and passion for Jetpac. Last year was a strong year for the Game Boy and homebrew rereleases in general. That says something about challenging times and where often they can take us. 

Nostalgia isn’t just a powerful feeling that provides familiar comfort but frequently an affirmation that the things you loved were loved for a reason. Super Jetpak DX was clearly a project of love for a game that defined someone, and to revive and share that passion onward is a noble goal that I long to see achieved in many other titles.  

Tan is a Tabletop RPG writer with a deep love for give-'em-a-chance indie games and music made on a ten-year-old laptop in Audacity. They drink their seltzer warm.


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