Review: 'JumpJet Rex' (PC)
This is one small step for dino, and one giant leap for sauruskind. JumpJet Rex is a retro action platformer where you play as the first dinosaur astronaut. Rex's casual space exploration becomes a call from his species to save them from an asteroid bearing down upon the planet. Will Rex be able to save the dinosaurs? Or will they go extinct? The answer depends on whether you can guide him and his jet boots skillfully enough to survive.
Gaming culture love-letter
When you start this game you are placed straight within Rex's Headquarters. It's rather barren, but this hub allows you to get a feel for the controls and gives you samples of what you'll be looking for in the main levels. There are some coins, and a box with the word "Rex" on the roof; collecting that box adds an item to your headquarters which you see appear in the room below. Without any hand-holding, it conveys that you should look for these boxes in the levels to make your headquarters much more homey.
What you have already there communicates what kind of personality the protagonist has. The stereotypical gamer hangout fair is used in a heavy-handed but quite humorous way, from the unkempt state of the headquarters, to the parody vending machines emulating the Doritos and Mountain Dew brands. It's clear that the designers were going for nods at the culture.
Some of the ways you can customize your dino character allow for you to tie-in your nerd fandom of choice. The heads are the more expensive and expressive customizations. There's everything from a head that looks like Scorpion from Mortal Kombat, Team Fortress 2 characters like the Scout and Engineer (to be expected for a Steam release), the colored eye masks of the Ninja Turtles, and much more. There's even one you can get if you get all three stars on the first boss the makes your head shaped like a certain hedgehog's. Colors are not included; you'll have to unlock those on their own; but, hey, if you don't have them, you can always make a super-original fan character out of it.
I do love the parodies and little nods here and there. However, some encroach too far and try too hard to signal retro receptors. I mean, when you're selling a game as your own, are you really allowed to utilize the iconic Nintendo Game Boy boot up chime juxtaposed with your own logo? And is it really okay to use the Mega Man boss powering up noise when showing your own boss's life bar? Sure, borrowing sounds from other bigger fish doesn't seem so bad when I'm dealing with fan-made creations that I'm downloading for free. It seems a bit strange when I'm hearing these iconic effects from an original game I'm paying for.
The minor sound exploitation grievance aside, there's enough of an original game here that I didn't feel I was paying for some basement creation. It's graphically and mechanically polished enough to stand on its own, even though with the staff size here it could very well have been developed in a basement; I can't remember the last time I saw a credit screen that could fit on one window. So if they developed this in a basement then no insult was meant. I guess what I'm trying to say is, the location is irrelevant, because it was developed well.
The levels are short, but that is part of their design. The point of each level is to push you to challenge yourself to complete them in a more eloquent manner. Each level has four goals. Three goals will give you a star for completion; the first is just for getting to the end of the level, the second is for getting to the end of the level without dying, and the third is for getting to the end under a target time.
So what is the fourth objective? Well, the funny part is that the game doesn't display any major hints as to what it is. However, there are a few clues. The main one is that there are coins and an award that are easy to access at your home headquarters, which I mentioned before. The coins are in a handful of straight lines, and when you collect the last one you'll notice text saying "Got them all!" will appear. This will actually occur in any of the levels when you collect all the coins as well. Collecting every last coin is the fourth objective you can accomplish on each stage. The game indicates that you succeeded on this objective by showing a golden border around the level instead of its default blue.
So despite the levels being short, you'll probably be playing them between two and four times if you succeed at each objective the first go, which is unlikely in later levels. That's if you don't try competing with yourself or your friend's ghosts to push it to the limit. Just load up a friend's run from the Internet and run against them. You can also play together at the same time, though me being a solitary kind of animal I can't give a review on that aspect of the game or how it impacts gameplay.
Limits can really be pushed when you learn little quirks and side effects of your jets and how they impact objects within the world that can cut time significantly. However, after you get deep enough the game clearly knows you should know these tricks because it'll be impossible to make par time without them. I'll leave the player to discover these mechanics on their own. Like any good astronaut, it is all about the discovery. Discovery of new places and discovery of one's capacities.
This game is a very fluid platformer, which ran very well for the most part. I did notice that your death sprites remain permanently if you "Start from Checkpoint" upon dying. This is kind of cool, as you can see all the piles of ashes/bodies from all your failures. However, I think it also causes slow-downs in performance if you dies many times, particularly in utility-intense levels such as the Seedmour boss level. This may be something to fix, as performance lag really affects one's abilities to be as precise as necessary. Which creates more bodies. Which causes more lag. Which creates more bodies.
Of course, dying less against that boss also fixes that problem, I suppose.
Barring that, most of the game's animations and mechanics were quite responsive, even without using a gamepad of any kind. Any mess ups really are the fault of the player. And the quick cartoony death animations not only make sense in the context of what killed you, but don't get in the way of you going for another round quickly: whether you decide to try again from a checkpoint or from scratch.
The game is as challenging, or as casual, as you want it to be. This despite an advertisement that made this seem like this was going to be "Nintendo Hard". I'm pleased that it was not. I like hard games, but I like it when I'm lured into the difficulty; when I say "I enjoyed playing this game on an easier setting, so I want to extend this play; I will challenge myself to try to get more stars on these more difficult levels."
It may be controversial to say, but many NES "retro hard" games forced challenge when the player may not have wanted it in the first place. How many kids went, "Oh, this is a cool game about butt-kicking toads and/or ninjas!" only to find themselves hitting a brick wall over and over again? Of course they did this without knowing what they were getting themselves into. Thank you very much, Internet, for not existing! You don't know how lucky you kids are today to know the infamy of Battletoads difficulty. All we got was a cartridge. Maybe a warning from a friend if you were lucky enough to have one.
I think the game is tough, especially toward the later levels, but it's more gracious a curve than the games of old. If someone was looking for one of those, they may have found the game oversold to them. In this modern age, though, I think having the option to play it easier, then having the option to play it hard, is essential. There's a lot of competition eager to take those who're frustrated or bored if you go to either extreme.
If you're a fan of fun platformers that test your precision, but not your patience, you'll find this one a very satisfying game. If you're looking for an intensely challenging experience, you may be disappointed, as this probably isn't the hardest offering in the genre.
What you will like is the cool things they do with the Star collecting mechanics at the end game. While they used the whole Super Mario-esque "collect stars to win" gimmick, how the stars end up being utilized at the game's end was unique to the premise. The story also ends on a solid note that I found a great twist on my perception of the world I was engaged in.
So what are you waiting for? Fuel up your rocket and jet!
…though, come to think of it; what long extinct creature does dino oil contain anyway?