The true story of Jetpack Goonies

Yesterday’s blog post made me think fondly of Jetpack Goonies, and I’m not the only one — the topic came up in the comments, too. I love that you guys remember the dumbest, most insignificant things I write. Now that I have the excuse, let’s look at this exciting image I cropped from VG Maps:

The premise of the Jetpack Goonies concept is simplicity in itself: You’re a Goonie (Mikey, I guess), and you have a jetpack, and you can fly. Simple, right? The idea follows on from The Goonies II, which I played somewhat obsessively for months; I borrowed it more or less indefinitely from a friend, who could never finish the stupid thing and therefore decreed he hated it. I only finished it myself because I discovered an essential undocumented feature: To complete the “adventure zones” (first-person mazes), you needed to hit a button (Start? Select? I don’t remember) to bring up a second screen of tools. This fact was never mentioned in the manual or game. Once I figured out how to open the back half of my inventory, the game wasn’t too tough to complete. But man, talk about leaving out crucial details.

Anyway, the genesis of Jetpack Goonies can be seen right there in the composite screenshot above. The Goonies II was a free-roaming game of exploration and discovery, with each screen leading to the next. But the construction above bothered me: Why was there such a disconnect between the edge of the cliff and the boundaries of the cavern the cliff ostensibly contained? Successfully navigating The Goonies II requires logical  (albeit mirrored) navigation of contiguous spaces; it sandwiches together two maps that interconnect with one another, and while you’ll warp across the map from time to time, these shortcuts are clearly indicated as such. Otherwise, you’re moving laterally within the front and back maps, and along a hidden z-axis between those self-contained zones. So when I started to think about how the image above supposedly links together those two screens, it began to bother me.

Look, all nerds are inherently obsessive about something. Some people fuss over frame-counting in fighting games or how to min-max an RPG character. I put too much thought into virtual spaces. I guess that’s why I’m so fixated on metroidva… er, free-roaming action platformers.

So, as I began thinking about this little inconsistency, I wanted to play a version of The Goonies II where I could jump down from one screen to the next without dying. But hey, why jump, I figured? Why not fly? What if Mikey’s new tool in, say, The Goonies III was a jetpack? And I took out my trusty graph paper and began to draw new Goonies maps.

These maps were based around the existing game’s general layouts, but the twist came in that Mikey wasn’t limited to navigating strictly on foot. He could fly. And that meant this outdoor area here — the dreaded boomerang-eating bridge — suddenly became a portal to a new portion of the game. From here, Mikey could fly to explore the outside of the caves, to venture to the roof of the Fratelli’s cabin, to see what existed just on the other side of the cabin walls. The uppermost areas of the game map showed the faintest sliver of blue sky beyond the bounds of the cabin and its attic; with a jetpack, Mikey could finally see what was out there.

(I also gave Mikey a gun — not to go all Shadow the Hedgehog, though. It was added expressly for the purpose of shooting those stupid flying skulls on the bridge. The slingshot just didn’t cut it.)

And so Jetpack Goonies was the first symptom of my video game sickness: The same weird obsessive compulsion that drives me to explore every map icon I see in Skyrim. 132 hours in and I’ve still barely touched the main plot, you know. It’s pretty shameful.

11 thoughts on “The true story of Jetpack Goonies

  1. There are game design tools out there, you know! Just sayin’.

    I always feel compelled to mention Vs. The Goonies each time this game is brought up, because that one had a more arcade feel, with cleaner graphics and less cryptic gameplay. I never got why you were being pursued by cartoon mice and foxes, but with Japanese games, you just have to shrug and accept it.

    Also, while we’re on the subject, have you ever played Dr. Chaos? Imagine The Goonies II, but with horrible Lovecraftian nightmares replacing most of the stock creatures. Near the end I fought what appeared to be a lion as imagined by a berserk mental patient. That game was thirty-one flavors of screwed up.

    • I’m not exactly drowning in free time — certainly I don’t have enough to make a video game.

  2. Jetpack Goonies sounds fun! Would the jetpack have some kind of limitation, like you have to find fuel for it or something, so that you can’t just fly around everywhere?

    I myself never beat Goonies II, it was a little too cryptic, and I only rented it from time to time, so it was difficult to remember what to do or where to go by the next time I’d played it. Awesome music though.

    • Yeah, play mechanics are usually only fun if they work within boundaries — risk/reward and tradeoffs and all that. I saw the jetpack as having extremely limited duration. It was pretty much the Wingboots from Faxanadu, except I hadn’t played that game yet at the time!

  3. This seriously needs to be made into a game. The Goonies II was a great, under-appreciated gem of the NES library, and adding a jetpack? My head boggles with the possibilities.

  4. Just looking at the VGMaps map of The Goonies II’s front area, I saw a few instances of bottomless pits on upper areas which would logically be only a two foot drop when you see the floor below has ceiling where an open pitfall should be. That’s as sloppy as the ladder descending into water that doesn’t actually lead into water I noticed while replaying Castlevania: The Adventure Rebirth.

      • Yeah, that kind of thing bugs me, too. Especially in the Castlevania games. I always appreciated the fact that Mega Man games subverted this element by letting you jump/drop down in almost every case like this.

  5. You know Jeremy, since first hearing about Jetpack Goonies on Retronauts, I have always wanted to extend a developer hand to you and offer my time and abilities to making Jetpack Goonies a reality. But I would only do it if you handled design duties. Let me know if you’re interested. ;) But realize that working on this would push back the creation of the Retronauts fangame I have been churning in my brain for the last 5 years worth of bay area commutes.

    • Thanks, but unfortunately I don’t have time at the moment to PLAY games, let alone create them. Maybe someday….

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