Solar Jetman: Hunt for the Golden Warpship is a multidirectional shooter video game developed by Zippo Games and Rare and published by Tradewest in North America and Nintendo in Europe. It was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System on October 14, 1990 in North America and on September 26, 1991 in Europe. The game is the third installment in the Jetman series and was published by Nintendo in 1990 for the NES-based PlayChoice 10 arcade system in the USA. In the game, Jetman has to maneuver his small vehicle through caves on different planets while looking for parts of the Golden Warship. The game is presented in a horizontal side view and has different gravitational forces for each planet, exposing Jetman's craft to various forms of inertia. Similar to its predecessors, Jetman has to fill up his vehicle with fuel in order to get through the levels. The game was mainly developed by the Mancunian developer Zippo Games under the name Iota before Rare ordered the game to be converted into a Jetman title. The game's ports for Amiga, Commodore 64 and Atari ST were completed but not released due to poor sales of the NES version. The game received mostly positive reviews when it was released, with critics praising the game's presentation and graphics. However, the criticism was directed against the difficulty of the game. It was later included in Rare's 2015 Xbox One retrospective Rare Replay.
The game is a multi-directional shooter presented in a horizontal side view similar to previous installments in the Jetman series. Set after the events of Lunar Jetman, the game involves series protagonist Jetman on his quest to collect all parts of the Golden Warpship, a mythical starship capable of interstellar travel. The player steers Jetman's ship either clockwise or counterclockwise. The ship is subject to inertia but not drag physics depending on the set planet's gravity. The constant pull of gravity changes each level, making stable flight difficult and making the pod difficult to maneuver as the level progresses. Solar Jetman has twelve planets and one hidden planet, each with its own gravity and hostile lair system. The goal is to navigate these caverns using small jet pods launched from an immobile mothership. Each planet will bring back a piece of the Golden Warship and enough fuel to get to the next. Items are collected using a tow cable that makes flight difficult due to the item's drag, and released over the mothership or deposited in small wormholes deeper in the caves. Points are earned by retrieving valuables and destroying enemies, and can be spent after every second level to buy power-ups for Jetman's pod. When a pod is destroyed, Jetman is ejected from the pod and found walking around in an agile but vulnerable spacesuit. The player may be able to return to the mothership to collect a new pod. If the player dies outside of their pod, a life is lost.
Solar Jetman was jointly developed by the Mancunian developer Zippo Games and the Leicestershire-based company Rare. Founded by brothers Ste and John Pickford, Zippo Games was best known for developing Ironsword, a sequel to Rare's 1987 game Wizards & Warriors. Impressed by the success of Ironsword, Rare bought Zippo Games and commissioned them with further development projects. This decision was viewed by Ste Pickford as unfavorable, as he wanted to concentrate on the independent development of games. After the buyout, the Pickford brothers began on Jan. June 1989 with the development of Iota, a game designed by programmer Steve Hughes as an arcade shooter inspired by the Atari ST game Oids. Despite initial creative control over Iota, Rare ordered Zippo Games to convert the game to a Jetman title in the middle of development. In the late 1980s, the Stamper brothers sold the rights to Ultimate Play the Game to US Gold and shifted their focus from the UK home computer market to wider home console games. The company was one of the first western developers to be licensed by Nintendo to produce games for the Nintendo Entertainment System. During that time, Rare began hiring more people and expanding its business to develop more games for home consoles. 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. In a retrospective interview, Ste Pickford stated that he took inspiration for the mechanics of Solar Jetman from a ZX Spectrum game, Scuba Diving, and admitted that the pull of Jetman's pod was reminiscent of the way a diver maneuvered . Solar Jetman took about a year to develop, starting from a standard two-man team to a multi-person workforce as the game eventually got bigger. Shortly after its release, Sales Curve Interactive announced the Solar Jetman ports for the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Atari ST, and Commodore Amiga, all of which were developed by Software Creations and published by Storm. The versions Commodore 64, Amiga and Atari ST were complete and the ZX Spectrum achieved a playable demo status before the project was canceled due to the poor sales of the NES original and the version that was perceived as unsuitable for the home computer market. The Commodore 64 version was then discovered and made available for download. Despite the cancellations, Solar Jetman was re-released by Nintendo in 1990 for its NES-based PlayChoice 10 arcade system.