The game is a multi-directional shooter in the vein of Thrust and Gravitar. The player's craft is subject to inertia but not drag, so to stop moving in one direction it needs to thrust in the opposite way. The constant pull of gravity makes stable flight impossible and steering a skill in itself. Solar Jetman has twelve planets and one hidden planet, each with its own gravity and system of enemy-infested caverns. The goal is to navigate these caves with small jetpods launched from an immobile mothership, every time bringing back a piece of the warpship and enough fuel to journey to the next world. Items are collected with a tractor beam/tow cable that complicates flight much further, and released over the mothership or deposited in small wormholes deeper in the caverns. Points are earned by retrieving valuables and destroying enemies, and can be spent after every other stage to buy power-ups, both pod-specific and permanent. The most vital ones are found on the field. If a pod is destroyed, the pilot ejects in an agile but feeble spacesuit and can be returned to the ship or a wormhole for another craft. Losing a spacesuit costs one of four lives.