In Jetpack Joyride the player controls Barry, a young man who steals an experimental jetpack from supposedly evil scientists and has to escape the lab. The game scrolls automatically, making Barry advance from left to right at ever increasing speed. The backgrounds alternate randomly, interspersing science labs with warehouses, gardens, etc.
Barry can use his jetpack to stay in the air for an unlimited amount of time, as long as the player keeps tapping (for short distances) or pressing the screen. Though the scientists are classified as enemies, they do not attempt to harm Barry and can be knocked down themselves by various means. The hazards consist of zappers (immobile or rotating around their own axis), missiles that randomly shoot from the left side after a short warning, and lasers that often occupy the entire screen, making the player manipulate Barry's altitude to avoid them. Contact with any of these hazards will end the run, forcing the player to restart from the beginning under normal circumstances.
Barry can also collect coins scattered through the stages, as well as vehicles and upgrades that randomly appear as icons in the middle of the screen. These upgrades consist of a mecha that stomps scientists; a speedy motorcycle; a mechanical bird; a robotic dragon with a fire attack; a gravity suit that allows Barry to walk on the ceiling; and a "freaking crazy teleporter" that changes altitude in an instant. All these devices have different controls and are usually harder to navigate than a jetpack-riding Barry; however, they also protect him from instant death.
Spin tokens can be collected in the stages, each leading to a slot machine mini-game after the run is over. The player has a chance of winning money prizes and various power-ups, such as bombs and blasts that throw the already dead Barry a short distance forward (for a possible better record); head starts, which make Barry automatically rush through a portion of the stage during the next run; "second chance" (revives Barry immediately); and double coin (each coin counts as double during the next run). Most of these power-ups can also be bought in the store for coins; in addition, the player can upgrade vehicles with magnets that attract coins, as well as customize Barry's jetpack, clothes, haircut, etc.
Though the main goal is always to survive for as long as possible in a single run, the player is also encouraged to complete various "missions" that eventually increase his or her level, leading to coin rewards and achievement badges. These missions range from collecting a certain amount of coins or running a certain distance to more elaborate tasks such as near-missing zappers, staying in the same vehicle for a set amount of time, and so on.