Solar Jetman

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Solar Jetman: Hunt for the Golden Warpship
European cover art. The cover mis-spells the game as "Warship"
Developer(s) Zippo Games, Rare
Publisher(s) Tradewest
Designer(s) Ste and John Pickford
Artist(s) Lyndon Brooke
Ste Pickford
Composer(s) David Wise
Platform(s) Nintendo Entertainment System, PlayChoice-10
Release date(s) NES
  • NA October 1990
  • EU 26 September 1991
Genre(s) Shoot 'em up
Mode(s) Single player

Solar Jetman: Hunt for the Golden Warpship is a shooter video game developed by Zippo Games and Rare and published by Tradewest. It was released in North America in October 1990 and in Europe on 26 September 1991 for the Nintendo Entertainment System. The game is the third instalment of the Jetman series and was later re-released by Nintendo for their NES-based PlayChoice-10 arcade system. In the game, Jetman must manoeuvre his small craft through caverns of various planets whilst searching for pieces of the Golden Warpship.

The game was developed mostly by Mancunian developer Zippo Games under the name of Iota before being ordered to change the game into a Jetman title by Rare. Ports of the game for the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and Atari ST were completed but not released due to poor sales of the NES version. The game received mostly positive reviews upon release, with critics praising the game's presentation and graphics, but criticism was directed at the game's hard difficulty. It was later included in Rare's 2015 Xbox One retrospective compilation, Rare Replay.


A still image of gameplay. Jetman must manoeuvre his pod through various planets with ranging gravitational pulls

The game is a multi-directional shooter that is presented in a horizontal wrap around, in similar vein to Gravitar and Thrust.[1][2] The player controls Jetman's pod in either a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction. The pod is subject to inertia but not drag physics depending on the level of gravity of the set planet. The constant pull of gravity changes every level, which makes stable flight challenging and manoeuvring the pod more difficult as the levels progress.[1]

Solar Jetman has twelve planets and one hidden planet, each with its own gravity and system of enemy-infested caverns. The goal is to navigate these caverns with small jetpods launched from an immobile mothership, on each world bringing back a piece of the Golden Warpship and enough fuel to journey to the next one. Items are collected with a tow cable that makes flight more difficult, and released over the mothership or deposited in small wormholes deeper in the caverns. Points are earned by retrieving valuables and destroying enemies, and can be spent after every other stage to buy power-ups for Jetman's pod. If a pod is destroyed, Jetman will eject out of the pod and will walk around in an agile but vulnerable spacesuit.The player may be able to return to the mothership in order to collect a new pod. If the player dies outside of their pod, a life will be lost.[1]

Development and release[edit]

We wanted to make our own games. We already designed and developed Ironsword, and didn't really want to do any more of that kind of work. But if we were going to do a sequel to anything, it may have well been something we liked, and I think we liked the original Jetpac.

Ste Pickford in a retrospective interview with Retro Gamer[2]

Rare was founded as Ashby Computers and Graphics by brothers Tim and Chris Stamper, along with Tim's wife, Carol, from their headquarters in Ashby-de-la-Zouch in 1982. Under the trading name of Ultimate Play The Game, they began producing multiple video games for the ZX Spectrum throughout the early 1980s.[3] Jetpac, the first instalment in the Jetman series, was released in 1983 to critical acclaim. Throughout most of the 1980s, the company were known for their reluctance to reveal details about their operations and upcoming projects. Little was known about their development process except that they used to work in "separate teams"; one team would work on graphics whilst the other would concentrate on other aspects such as sound or graphics.[3]

Solar Jetman was the first game to be released under Rare. During the late 1980s, the Stamper brothers sold the rights of Ultimate Play The Game to U.S. Gold and shifted their focus from the British home computing market to broader home console gaming.[2] Rare became one of the first western developers to be granted a licence by Nintendo to produce games for the Nintendo Entertainment System, during which Rare began employing more staff and expanding their operations in order to develop more games for home consoles.[2]

The game was developed in-joint by Mancunian developer Zippo Games and Leicestershire-based Rare. Founded by brothers Ste and John Pickford, Zippo Games primarily focused on developing Ironsword, a sequel to Rare's 1987 game Wizards & Warriors. Impressed by the success of Ironsword, Rare commissioned more development projects for Zippo Games, a decision which was viewed unfavourably by Ste Pickford, as he wanted to focus on developing games independently.[2] The Pickford brothers started development of Iota,[4] a game which was conceived by programmer Steve Hughes to be an arcade-shooter inspired by the Atari ST game Oids. Despite having initial creative control over Iota, Rare ordered Zippo Games to change the game into a Jetman title halfway through development.[2]

After development switched to Solar Jetman, the Pickford brothers received little input from Rare, with Ste Pickford later speculating that the Stamper brothers had confidence in their abilities, despite being entrusted with their most "revered" series.[2] In a retrospective interview, Ste Pickford stated that he drew inspiration for the mechanics of Solar Jetman from a ZX Spectrum game, Scuba Diving, admitting that the gravitational pulls of Jetman's pod were reminiscent of the way a scuba diver manoeuvred. Development of Solar Jetman lasted around a year and started from a standard two-man team to a workforce of several people as the game eventually grew larger in scale.[2]

Shortly after release, Sales Curve Interactive announced ports and screenshots of Solar Jetman for the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Atari ST and Commodore Amiga, all developed by Software Creations and intended for release on the STORM label. The Commodore 64, Amiga and Atari ST versions were complete and the ZX Spectrum reached a playable demo state[1] before the project was cancelled due to poor sales of the NES original and perceived unsuitability for the home computer markets. The Commodore 64 version has subsequently been discovered and made available for download.[5][6] It was later included in Rare's 2015 Xbox One retrospective compilation, Rare Replay.[7]


Review scores
Publication Score
CVG 94%[8]
Mean Machines 94%[9]
Total! 92%[10]

The game was received positive reviews from critics upon release. Reviewers of Mean Machines praised the game's playability and gameplay, stating that it was "second-to-none" and the different gravity pulls of each planet provided "unique challenges".[9] Richard Leadbatter of Computer and Video Games similarly praised the gameplay, comparing it to that of Thrust. Leadbatter found the gameplay challenging and stated that the addition of power-ups boosts the game's playability.[8] Steve Jarrett of Total! asserted that the gameplay was simplistic but addictive as exploration of the game's twelve planets would "set the player at it for weeks".[10]

The graphics and sound were also praised. Reviewers of Mean Machines stated that the graphics were "simply brilliant" and presented an "artistic accomplishment", whereas the sound was similarity "excellent".[9] Leadbatter stated that the sound and graphics were "functional" rather than outstanding, despite stating that the graphics appeared "fast and smooth".[8] Jarrett regarded the graphics as simple but "dead smooth" in appearance, also praising the smooth animation of the enemies and the movement of the player's ship.[10]


  1. ^ a b c d "Solar Jetman preview". CRASH Issue 86 (Newsfield). 1 March 1991. Retrieved 6 May 2006. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "1983: A Spaceman's Odyssey - The History of Jetman" (PDF). Retro Gamer (Imagine) (96): 50. November 2011. Retrieved 22 August 2015. 
  3. ^ a b "The Best of British - Ultimate". Crash. Retrieved 13 August 2015. 
  4. ^ Whitehead, Dan (4 August 2015). "Rare Replay review". Eurogamer. Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  5. ^ "Review - Solar Jetman". Games That Weren't. Retrieved 21 December 2012. 
  6. ^ Fisher, Andrew (December 2013). "The Commodore 64 Games that Time Forgot". Retro Gamer (122) (Imagine Publishing). p. 56. 
  7. ^ McWhertor, Michael (15 June 2015). "Rare Replay for Xbox One includes 30 Rare games for $30 (update)". Polygon. Vox Media. Archived from the original on 16 June 2015. Retrieved 16 June 2015. 
  8. ^ a b c Leadbatter, Richard (March 1991). "Solar Jetman review (CVG)". Computer and Video Games. Retrieved 1 September 2015. 
  9. ^ a b c "Solar Jetman - NES review" (PDF). The Mean Machines. Damo & Daz. p. 43. Retrieved 1 September 2015. 
  10. ^ a b c Jarrett, Steve (January 1992). "Solar Jetman review - Total!". Total! (1): 16. Retrieved 1 September 2015. 

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