I first thought of the sliding arena from Defender on the Atari when I started destroying the countless waves of enemies in Jetboard Joust. Flying from left to right while glancing up at the rectangular map gave me a sense of movement and control as I protected the bottom of the screen from the incoming enemies from above. It’s a fun and accurate comparison because Jetboard Joust feels like the best version of the classic arcade-style titles from decades ago, but without the age or frustration points of the time. Jetboard Joust is how we remember these games even though our memories are fuzzy. I love it when games do this and am always excited to see developers blend retro gaming memories with everything we’ve learned in the years since.
Jet Set Radio History
Jetboard Joust doesn’t have a lot of story and it doesn’t need it. This is a pure arcade-style game. If you’re looking for concentrated game mechanics without anything mixed in besides pixels, sound effects, and music then you’re in for a treat. You control a little guy on a jetboard that moves up, down, and side to side. Enemies come from above and try to abduct the citizens below while also trying to destroy everything around them as well. You have access to an arsenal of weapons that grows as quickly as your dedication allows; new weapons and upgrades can be acquired and purchased after and in-between levels, allowing you to deal damage more effectively and in different ways. It’s really fun trying out different weapons and strategies as you unlock them. There were times where a weapon didn’t seem super good to me until I realized I wasn’t using the movement and attack patterns that benefitted the most from it. Changing up my strategy was just as exciting as unlocking and switching out weapons.
Your jetboard has a special limited power that gives you temporary invulnerability and wipes out any enemies in your path. It can help you escape tight spots while also taking out enemies in the process. It’s also just super effective if you want to deal some quick damage when dealing with more difficult or frustrating enemies. There are a lot of different enemies and they also possess a variety of different attacks. This isn’t a game that allows you to stand still or button-mash. You’ll definitely need to pay attention, dash to different parts of the screen, and pay attention to your shields and weapon health.
Arcade action — without the quarters
Weapons degrade over time but items and upgrades can affect their health and abilities. There’s a strategic side to switching to your base weapon to preserve the health of special weapons since the former lasts forever. It does less damage and has a simpler attack pattern, but it’ll save you on resources if you repair and upgrade weapons before their condition gets too poor. There’s a rhythm and flow to resource management and strategy and it keeps the game interesting. It doesn’t allow you to get too comfortable and the balance between everything keeps the experience exciting.
It wouldn’t be a retro-inspired arcade title without some difficult boss battles. The game has several and they all pack a punch. But like the rest of the game, they can be conquered with practice, patience, and determination. They’ll push you to your limit and you will be defeated sometimes but it’s easy jumping back in and trying again. It has the charm and framing of arcade games but without most of the issues or the appetite for quarters. The game’s roguelike elements combine very nicely with the game’s arcade roots. The ‘just one more’ energy is incredibly strong and you’ll easily end up pouring hours into the game. It’s hard to put down, especially as your power and abilities increase, both as a character and a player. Jetboard Joust is a lot of fun and something I’d recommend for anyone who is a fan of arcade titles or games that refresh and update older gameplay concepts, like Shovel Knight and Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair. It’s available on Nintendo Switch, itch.io, Steam, and Atari VCS.