Funky fresh!

  • Developer: Mitchell Corporation Data East (thanks to @gingerbeardman on Twitter for the correction on this!)
  • Publisher: Mitchell Corporation
  • Release Year: 1992
  • Available On: Arcade
  • Genre: 2D Platformer (single screen), Beat ‘Em Up

Oh, Funky Jet, you deserve better than utter obscurity! No re-releases, no sequels, no love or acknowledgement from the company that owns you, and the few that do acknowledge you don’t typically have much to say. On Backloggd, it has an average rating of 2.3 (out of 5) and the only written “reviews” are just shitposts! I was the first person to add a cover/title screen on IGDB AND add the game/submit a time to HowLongToBeat, too! Those aren’t the biggest barometers, I know, but I’m surprised what little sentiment that exists for this game is so middling and unenthusiastic because it’s quite a solid one with a lot to like. I suppose the name “Funky Jet” doesn’t really tell you anything about it, does it? Is it a game about flying jets that are funky or is it a game about a funky person named Jet? Could it be a racing game or something that emphasizes speed in some way? Turns out, it’s none of those things! Funky Jet is one of those games that has a strong concept right from the jump once you pop it on to figure out what it is – what if you mixed a single screen platformer with elements of a beat ’em up and then gave the player a jetpack? Sounds pretty cool, right? Well, it is, and through the entirety of its short runtime, Funky Jet makes for a smooth experience that doesn’t ask much of you and is consistently enjoyable. If you’re looking for a game to refute age-old sentiments that arcade games were “always unfair, were meant to take your money over anything else (etc)”, this is a good one to use to make your case, so take notes!

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might remember Mitchell Corporation as the fine folks behind the fascinating Tokyo Crash Mobs, a game I thought was pretty cool if a bit too demanding for its own good. Knowing that, it’s interesting to see how different the design philosophy behind Funky Jet is in comparison. Both games belong to entirely different genres, obviously, but what I find interesting about the comparison is how both games choose to build upon their respective foundations and how they manifest the classic “easy to learn, hard to master” ethos with their design choices. Tokyo Crash Mobs takes the established Puzz Loop formula and crams as much as possible into it: you have different board layouts, two playable characters with different objectives, different ways of interacting with the “pieces” on the board, all kinds of gimmicky power-ups, and multifaceted pieces that find ways to make your already difficult life more difficult in ways ranging from sudden movements to obfuscation of vital information. It takes a simple puzzle game formula and raises the ceiling to new heights by making it as taxing and complex as possible, whereas Funky Jet does something similar and ends up on the opposite side of the intention spectrum. Funky Jet adds onto the single screen platformer – things like health bars, a wider range of base mobility, and resource management through the use of a specific power-up – but it does so in a way that makes the genre even easier to approach than it was before. Tokyo Crash Mobs is fun, but it demands patience and determination in a way that feels like an exam for experienced Puzz Loop players, whereas Funky Jet is just happy to be here and wants nothing more than for you to have a good time regardless of skill level. It’s an interesting look into how your chosen platform can determine your intentions and target market; arcade games needed to be as flashy and approachable as possible to get peoples’ attention, whereas in the modern era of digital purchases and an overabundance of competition, you may be better served staying loyal to people who are already into what you’re putting down.

You can play stages in any order, but there isn’t really a point to this that I can think of, unless you want to practice a particular stage first, I suppose

If you know your single screen platformers, Funky Jet is going to look familiar at first glance, but when you get down to brass tacks and actually start playing, it becomes obvious that it’s quite a different beast thanks to the addition of that beat ’em up-adjacent stuff I mentioned before. You still have your single screen with platforms to use and enemies to eliminate strategically for maximum points (duh), but really, that’s where the similarities end. In these kinds of games – think like Bubble Bobble, Snow Bros, Nightmare in the Dark, Joe & Mac Returns – you’re typically just a little guy, someone who has what they need to succeed but also has to be careful. You’re not the most agile protagonist nor can you take more than a single hit, so you tend to approach most situations with some degree of caution. Enemies outnumber you and you need to take advantage of the environment in specific ways to make the most of your moveset. Falling down or tricky arrangements of platforms can make mobility a time-taxing challenge, which can snowball into additional problems depending on the game. Funky Jet says nuts to all that and adjusts the balance of things so that the enemies should be scared of you!

Funky Jet stars two little guys (there’s zero plot or context in-game, not even in the attract mode), but don’t be deceived; these guys come packing entire health bars and boxing gloves big enough to wallop anybody! Granted, these health bars can deplete quickly in the face of tougher foes, but being able take more than one hit at all feels like a rarity in this subgenre. Said health bar complements the game’s intended flow very nicely as well since your means of attack requires you to get close and constantly put yourself at risk. Instead of shooting some kind of projectile, you only need to start punching away. This shakes out like a combo in something like Final Fight would and it feels impactful every time thanks to some chunky sound effects and great animations that show your hapless foe(s) visibly distressed with eyes bulging as you knock ’em around.

They might look goofy, but these kids don’t mess around!

If you’re so inclined, you can treat each foe as an individual obstacle to overcome, but the real fun comes when you make a spectacle out of things. Reminiscent to me of something like God Hand or Breakdown (more than a decade before either of those games came out, of course), punches in this game hit HARD, and anything you hit goes flying faster than even the funkiest of jets. Not only is this fun to do, it also serves as this game’s primary scoring mechanic like snowballs in Snow Bros or fireballs in Nightmare in the Dark. Launch a dude into other dudes and they’ll all come along for the ride, crashing into the nearest wall or unsuspecting punk waiting at the end of the line. This domino effect will destroy any regular foe and deal heavy damage to bosses, earn you a bundle of points, and even make power-ups appear, so it’s something meant to be lined up as frequently as possible. The more carnage caused, the more benefits are reaped, ranging from better boxing gloves with more range and power, increased movement speed, and a surprising amount of healing items. To aid in this, you also have a move that’ll take enemies in front of you and move them behind you, which is great for setting up chains of guys to knock out. Get good at barreling through foes and advancing far into the game on a single credit isn’t as tough as you’d think!

Compared to its equivalent in other similar games, I think this is such a smartly designed mechanic both on Funky Jet’s own merits and in the context of arcades. Learning how to line up chain reactions in these kinds of games can be a bit tricky if you’re not used to it, so being unable to do it consistently can be dis-empowering and make people feel like they’re playing the game “wrong”, which is probably a fast way to make people not want to play your game in arcades. In Funky Jet, the scoring mechanic is so natural that it’s both easy to do quickly on demand and possible to do without thinking about it at all. If you just want to play this like a beat ’em up and treat any multi-KOs you get as a happy coincidence, you can do just that and you’ll likely still do it more times than you’d expect. The later levels are full of so many guys at the same time that it’s basically impossible not to score multiple KOs in one go! This means that power-ups won’t dry up for less experienced players and they won’t run the risk of missing out on any Gamer Treats. Funky Jet’s heroes are also innately competent enough that power-ups aren’t necessary for the player to feel like they can fend for themselves, which encourages sticking with a run instead of dropping it at the first sign of trouble. One could argue that all of this is perhaps catering a bit too much to the player, but I would disagree. Funky Jet wants to put on a show where you’re the star and everyone is going to want to watch as you smash guys around and raise hell. Arcade games need to draw attention to themselves and sick stunts of muscular proficiency and flashy animations to accompany them are a great way to draw eyes over to the funkiest players. It’s your world and everyone’s just living in it! Playing Funky Jet well is power fantasy in the purest sense and there’s always the sense that the game just wants you to have fun. Don’t sweat the details if you don’t want to, just keep making those punks regret showing up to work!

There’s one particular power-up that I think is handled in a clever enough way that it deserves special mention. As you knock enemies out, there’s a chance you’ll find an item that resembles a battery or something (kinda looks like a Pez dispenser to me…). Collect five of them and a jetpack will drop down shortly after, and if you snag it, you’ll activate an invincibility mode that has your character swing his arms around constantly and destroy anything in his path. It doesn’t last long, but it’s usually just long enough to clear out a level, so it’s basically a “get out of jail free” card if you get one at the right time. The key words there are “right time” and that’s what makes the mechanic so interesting to me. The jetpack pieces you earn carry over between levels and they’re easy enough to spawn that it’s possible and likely that you’ll end up activating the jetpack at the worst possible time. Naturally, it sucks to waste something so powerful and precious, but if you’re smart about it, you can rig things so you’re always getting the jetpack when you want it. Just keep an eye on your stock and don’t collect that last one until the start of a level or boss fight! This isn’t exactly the deepest revelation, but it’s another example of how the game is generous about allowing casual and more serious playstyles to coexist. Trained players will be keeping an eye on their item stock and make use of the power-up to skip levels they don’t want to deal with, but casual players can just ignore such thoughts and treat it like a pleasant surprise when it happens. Regardless of what you do, everybody wins eventually!

I should probably clarify something before it becomes confusing: the item I was just talking about looks like a jetpack, but as I mentioned at the beginning, your characters have jetpacks strapped to them at all times and they’re not just for show! Now, this doesn’t mean the game is fast-paced, but what it does mean is that you have more flexibility in your approach because you don’t have to limit yourself to left and right like some kind of normie. Here, you can fly up and down, which, now that I think about it, kinda takes the platforming out of the platformer here! The benefits to having this jetpack should be obvious; you can easily get around without having to adhere to the laws of physics, you can sneak up on enemies, and you can line up chain reactions on a dime since you can pop in from any direction to get things going. It’s pretty great and makes for a consistently paced experience, no lulls in the action or awkward periods where you have to try to get back somewhere after falling here. This is naturally a huge advantage, but Funky Jet is smartly designed and has enemies and levels alike designed to both encourage and counter possible jetpack maneuvers. The enemy with the mechanical arm can stretch it out to an impressive degree, stamping out direct approaches and making aerial approaches from above trickier as well. The obvious move here is to stay beneath them and pop up from below to surprise them and get hits in, but depending on where they’re placed, this can become tricky fast. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are these guys that hop around and try to low kick you with their incredibly long legs. These guys can catch you coming in from below or within walking distance, so you’ll need to use your jetpack to float at least a bit in order to dodge their kick. It’s little things like this that add up and make Funky Jet greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a power fantasy, but it’s also a game that encourages knowledge and smart approaches, and I imagine someone who’s really good at it can get through most levels without a scratch.

Funky Jet is good fun, but how exactly is it funky, you ask? Well, uh, I’m not totally sure, honestly, but I like to think I have some ideas! Funky Jet has a lavish presentation full of color and smoothly animated characters, but one particular flourish I love is how each level starts with the enemies snapping in sync with each other and the music. Makes it seem like a stage play or dance-off that’s about to begin and that’s pretty cool and stylish! The jaunty tunes that accompany each stage also incite a fun energy that helps one not take the whole thing too seriously and give it a, well, rather funky vibe. Whoever composed the game (there aren’t any credits in-game, unfortunately) did a great job with giving the game a constantly welcoming presence even as you work your way through a bunch of guys who want you dead. The game also uses its presentation and the single screen format to tell a bit of a story. Each stage has a background that’ll slowly scroll to the right and show you more of it as you advance through the screens that make up the stage, culminating in a boss fight in front of a more lavish yet also gaudy building that looks designed to keep anyone unwelcome out. This is well done and all, but it does lose its luster once you realize that every stage except the last has the same background, only with different colors. They also reuse this fight against a football player-looking guy in each world and it’s almost unchanged each time, which feels like a waste in light of the game’s short runtime. I wonder if this football player guy is supposed to be tied to the story in some way… The final stage is a nice change of pace, at least; it takes you through an interior of some kind with a tremendous number of enemies, ending with a fight against the big bad where he uses a jetpack and big boxing gloves just like you!

The sheer audacity of this level had me cracking up for a good 5-10 seconds at least

When you boil it down, I suppose Funky Jet isn’t much more than a fun 30 minute jaunt with some lively visuals, but it achieves that humble goal with such aplomb that I can’t help but think it deserves much more credit than it gets. The formula it strives to improve upon is a tricky one to touch since it’s the kind of thing that was practically perfected from the jump, but Mitchel Corporation really found a way to make it their own. It’s kind of genius how they took two genres with such straightforward fundamentals and figured out that they’d work together so well. They even found a way to strap a jetpack onto your character and still make it feel like a balanced experience! Both single screen platformers and beat ‘em ups rely heavily on aesthetics and ease of access to get people into them, and Funky Jet finds a way to maintain those qualities while introducing juuuust enough in the way of unusual mechanics to give it a distinct identity that works in its favor. This is the kind of game you can just pop on and run through quickly and have a great time, as if you were walking into an arcade as a kid and stumbled upon it. It’s really a crying shame that it has yet to receive any kind of modern port because I think people would get a kick out of it and appreciate what it was going for in comparison to its competition. If Snow Bros can come back, why not give Mitchell’s underdog a chance too, right? Games like these are rare nowadays, so I bet some people out there would be grateful to have another one to either run through or sit down and master. Funky Jet isn’t just funky, it’s fresh too! Funky fresh! Sorry, I had to say some kind of cheesy line about the title at some point…

More Screenshots


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