In 1991 Jetman saved the world. Then they let you save the world. With your NES.
The game’s a pretty basic affair and consists of five levels, which you can play in any order you want as any Jetman you want, then a final battle inside Vyram’s hideout. Unlike in similar games such as Mega Man or Widget you don’t unlock new powers for beating levels, and the Jetmen aren’t varied enough to make one more suited to a given level than any other, so the question of order is purely academic.
The choosing of your character is a bit less so. Ako and Kaori use their guns and take six hits to die, while Ryu and Gai use their swords and take eight hits. Raita’s the middleman, taking seven hits and using his Wing Gauntlet, which has a different attack animation but about the range and power of a sword. Running out of life takes a Jetman out of the game, letting you retry the level without them. And if you’ve ever watched a show like this and wondered why they always use swords and karate when they have laser guns, this game answers your question. The guns take more hits to kill anything.
After picking your winged hero you fight your way through a procession of Grinam foot soldiers, giant bugs and robotic missile things to get to each boss. Only those first ones were in the show, but if you’re the kind of person who thinks that’s an intelligent criticism you’d be watching the Irate Gamer’s reviews, not mine. It’s pretty standard stuff except that by pressing Start you activate a one-shot screen-clearing attack. It’s a weird decision to assign it to that button, and I’ve used it more than a few times when I meant to pause.
Also, if you scroll an enemy off the screen that doesn’t mean they’re gone. If something was chasing you when you moved far enough to stop seeing it, give it a second and it’ll still be after you.
The bosses are, you guessed it, giant monsters from the show, requiring you to switch from your Jetman of choice to the Great Icarus. This plays a lot like a stripped-down version of any of the Street Fighter II knockoffs that were clogging arcades in the early 90’s. You can punch, jump, block and activate a special move by hitting the Start button. Just how special depends on how far the meter at the bottom of the screen’s filled up (something I’ve taken to calling the Astyanax Mechanic). The bosses don’t offer a lot in the way of variety, and you’ll probably be able to beat them all by finding a strategy that gets you through one fight and sticking with it.
After clearing out the first five levels the final one appears, but it’s just more of the same with a somewhat tougher boss than usual. I personally found it weird that nowhere in the game do you fight the leaders of Vyram, but maybe that’s just me.
Jetman for the NES is no classic by anyone’s yardstick, but it’s at least a fairly decent example of a videogame, which is something you can’t say about way too many licensed games.