I've been playing Jetpack Joyride for what seems like a long time, but the other day I encountered something so strange and different that it set my mind spinning. It was just a glitch, but it was something that I'd never seen before, and my Googling revealed no forum threads or other users mentioning the phenomenon.
About to board a plane and having recently become re-enamoured with Jetpack thanks to my new phone's larger display, I was playing it to pass the time. The game is simple: tap the screen to activate protagonist Barry Steakfries' jetpack and steer him up and down to avoid hazards and nab pick-ups. There's some variety, but really that's it. Only this time when I started the game nothing in the environment loaded.
Barry broke through the laboratory wall and took off running at full tilt, like he always does, and the game started normally. But partway through, having locked my phone to get in line and subsequently un-paused it, I found there were no more scientists to high-five, zappers to clip past, or coins to collect. Barry was running through an endless, empty hallway, with no way to lose and no destination at all. And I let him.
I let him run and run for as long as I dared before stowing my phone for take-off. He passed 10,000 meters, more than doubling my actual record, before I had to turn it off. With no obstacles, Barry could never die, and there was no way to end the game except through the pause menu. Thus all records of the glitch were erased. With nothing on hand to take a video, this screenshot is the only proof I have that it happened at all.
Most players probably forgot, but Jetpack Joyride has a plot. Barry starts out as a mild-mannered door-to-door salesman, depressed about his failures and looking like he might stick his head in the oven. When he spies a secret laboratory, he hardly hesitates before breaking in and stealing a jetpack. It's all illuminated in the below trailer.
The incident got me thinking: what is Barry after? Over time I invented my own stories for him, having forgotten the salesman bit. My favourite was that the scientists he decimates on his mad dash through the facility were performing sinister experiments on him, and thus they were acceptable collateral damage during his escape.
But that's not the truth. The truth is that Barry was bored and sad, and he jumped at his chance to be happy. He believes there's something better out there waiting for him. The jetpack is not the thing; it's the means to the thing. It's his escape, not from some underground lab, but from despair.
The endlessly running gameplay is a metaphor for his journey through life. No matter how bad things get, he hurtles onward. It always ends with a spectacular crash, and in truth Barry never gets anywhere. But in failure he finds the hope for success; like light and dark or beauty and pain, one can't exist without the other. Without the threat of failure, Barry must have realised the pointlessness of it all.
In failure Barry finds the hope for success; like light and dark or beauty and pain, one can't exist without the other.
I thought about leaving my phone on through take-off, shoving it in a pocket so Barry could keep running, seeing how far I could get him. But I knew that would be folly, and I couldn't put the little guy through the pain of knowing with lucid certainty that there's nothing waiting for him at the end of that tunnel. In reality there's no end at all, a fact his normally circular journey kept him shielded from until now.
No, I turned it off, and when I started the game again at 13,000 feet everything was back to normal. I later reached out to Halfbrick to find out whether they'd heard of the glitch and what they thought of Barry's accidental immortality, but I never heard back on either front. Perhaps they thought it better left a mystery. One thing is for sure, though: I'm glad Barry can die again (and again, and again, and again, and again…).