Jettomero is the videogame equivalent of Justin Bieber waving a fidget spinner and covered in marmite. You’ll either love it or hate it. Defying any particular genre conventions, what initially intrigued me about Jettomero was to see it described as a meditative game. Well, what is a meditative game? And should you play one?
Traditionally, games involve the completing of challenges and objectives. These tasks should always be possible to achieve with the correct allocation of player skill, time, and dedication. However, there can often be a great deal of stress, anger and the occasional thrown controller for the player along the way. Increasingly, there is a growing roster of games that avoid the idea of risk and reward entirely. There is no mission to complete, instead the player is left just to play. It could be argued that various titles, such as Flow, Cloud and Journey, have all attempted to achieve a zen-like experience for the player with varying degrees of success. Now, it’s the turn of Jettomero.
Created by Gabriel Koenig over a number of years, Jettomero casts the player as the eponymous robot on a self-imposed mission to save the universe. He does this by visiting procedurally generated planets, stomping across their surface and occasionally doing battle with giant brightly coloured monsters. The absence of challenge is achieved through Jettomero’s invincibility – the monsters that he faces can only slow down his progress and are easily defeated with QTE button prompts. Whilst impervious, Jettomero is also incredibly clumsy. Controlling him is akin to trying to go for a walk with a toddler on reins; you can sort of dictate the direction you’re going in but ultimately, you’re just along for the ride.
Movement is mapped to the left control stick and rotation of the planet beneath Jettomero’s feet is controlled by the right stick. Strangely, for a ‘zen game’, the planet strolling component of the game is actually rather stressful. Jettomero never goes entirely where you want him to, which is because his animation is procedurally generated, so he will react to climbing up a hill or being buffeted by a planetary defence cannon in ways that cannot be anticipated. The cost of this decision is that it leads to the loss of precision control, but it does make Jettomero feel more ‘alive’. Matters aren’t helped with the camera’s restrictive view of the environment and it’s often difficult for the player to be certain in which direction they are headed.
Upon each planet are human settlements that, despite the player’s best intentions, are often impossible for Jettomero to avoid. On his quest to save the universe, Jettomero unintentionally causes chaos and destruction for the tiny people beneath him. But it’s okay, as every time he brings a building collapsing to the ground he’ll offer a heartfelt apology, such as, “I didn’t mean it”, “I mean no harm”, “I need to be more careful”. Despite these apologies, the humans constantly attempt to destroy Jettomero, to little affect. On each planet there are yellow crystals to be found, which can be transformed into fuel to send Jettomero blasting into space. There are also little flashing red beacons that when discovered unearth new parts to customise Jettomero’s look. If you haven’t seen a giant robot with a bow on his head, wearing a cape and clad in flares then you haven’t lived.
This section of the game though, as mentioned, caused me a modicum of stress. The absence of challenge and purpose, combined with frustrating controls, lead to me feeling slightly uneasy. It’s when Jettomero blasts into space that a more meditative experience is achieved. The clumsiness of dealing with gravity are forgotten as Jettomero blasts through the cosmos. As planets, stars and suns glide by on the way to the next planet or worm hole, he glides, weaves and spins with delightful abandon and ease. It’s here that I felt a sense of peace and tranquillity, comparable to what I can experience during my daily meditation.
One final aspect of the game’s mechanics to comment on is a slight and simple puzzle game at the end of each ‘section’. These require the player to decode a word puzzle in order to unlock access to a part of Jettomero’s memories. They play out in a comic book style and the story is, surprisingly, both captivating and tragic.
Graphically, Jettomero is delightful. It has a quirky, brightly coloured comic book aesthetic, clearly influenced by the work of Jack Kirby and Mike Mignola. It’s certainly visually arresting, which is why the game includes a well intentioned but rather fiddly photo mode. There’s also a delightful soundtrack, that is chilled and funky, really setting the sci-fi and relaxed tone of the game. Well worth listening to on its own, the soundtrack is something that Koenig is justifiably proud of.
The game is slight in length, clocking in at around three hours, but with no traditional narrative and a new procedurally generated universe created on every re-visit, I didn’t find this of any particular issue. What I must mention is the superb trophy implementation. Avoiding tedious trophy gathering tropes such as ‘finish on hard mode’, Jettomero instead rewards the player for having the creativity of attempting weird and bizarre stuff. After trying things like, ‘seeing what happens when an invulnerable robot flies into the sun’ or ‘what happens to a giant robot when it stands on an erupting volcano’, I was delighted to see that the developer was a good few steps ahead of me.
Jettomero: Hero of the Universe is a unique videogame experience and one that you will likely either love or hate. It is not a title that will challenge you with compelling play, but it will provide you with the chance to play. It’s attempts to be a ‘zen experience’ are only half-successful, thanks to some frustrating controls, yet there is an arresting charm to the game that cannot be denied. If you’re looking for a videogame to experience alongside your meditative or mindfulness training, then Jettomero is eminently suitable.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4