Super Meat Boy, Flappy Bird, Mega Man, these are just a few influences that seem to have inspired JumpJet Rex, a 2D old-school style platformer featuring a space boot wearing T-Rex. JumpJet Rex was recently released on Steam Early Access, meaning the preview slice I experienced was quite early in development. Despite that, JumpJet Rex has some unique aspects and some positive attributes as developer TreeFortress Games continues working on the final build.
Playing as a tiny T-Rex (Let’s call him Rex from now on) it is revealed that a large asteroid is heading towards dino-kind and needs to be stopped to save the dino race. During my time I experienced a total of 12 stages, and only received one minor cut scene delivering the means for our adventure. At this stage it’s hard to tell if the story will be of much importance, but to be honest, in a game like this it doesn’t matter.
JumpJet Rex excels is recreating 16-bit visuals, from the insanely cute character design of Rex, your own personal dino-home and throughout each stage. As you would expect the visuals don’t aim to blow anyone away, they aim to showcase the beauty of classic gaming and it does that wonderfully. Rex is also able to don many outfits, though only a select few were available to be unlocked at this time. I personally loved dressing my Rex in Kano-esque robotic attire, giving my character a cyborg eye in the process. These are merely cosmetic, but the option to alter our character as we see fit certainly offers more customisation than most independent platformers.
The love of 16-bit gaming also came through in the various musical tracks throughout the game, but almost every other attempt at any level would see the audio track drop out completely. I know this game is still early and I hope these audio issues will be cleaned up before release, since the music on offer is an excellent nostalgia trip – when it works.
Platformers are only as good as their gameplay; even the most beautiful platformer can be made or broken if the gameplay is sub-par. Though JumpJet Rex doesn’t offer the precision based gameplay of Mega Man, or the agile nature of Super Meat Boy, it delivers a unique brand of movement that needs to be mastered to succeed. Rex can do small boost jumps that send him higher in the air, a long dash that will send him horizontally across the screen, and the ability to boost long distances in the air, or simply fall down. Utilising boost elements means that your manoeuvres are not always precise, but that aspect actually creates the challenge.
Learning how each boost would help me in each situation was one of my favourite details of JumpJet Rex. In order to get the most out of each level and increase my performance, I had to master each ability. Your performance is based on how fast you can complete a level, with your time being entered on a leaderboard at the conclusion of each stage. To unlock each stage you must unlock stars, these stars are given for completing a stage, doing it without dying and finishing the stage within a set time limit.
Progressing through each stage is made possible by going through a set number of gold rings, which have either been scattered throughout the level, or in other cases need to be revisited constantly within a small area. After facing off against the first boss encounter the stage difficulty rose. Though due to the fact your progress made in each stage stays around even after death, I found the challenge less overbearing than I expected. Some levels have an obscene amount of electricity, heat seeking lasers and enemies that can kill you in one hit. But because your progress doesn’t reset entirely, JumpJet Rex is a lot friendlier on players just wanting to finish each level; the true test of skill comes in the form of speed running.
Speed running each stage became my favourite feature of JumpJet Rex, which is made all the better by being able to download and play against your personal, world best or your own friends ghosts with a simple button press. Downloading ghosts to play against was instantaneous and added a visual representation of how your current performance was going. JumpJet Rex is a speed runner’s dream, which only further emphasises the love TreeFortress Games has for the classic era of gaming.
If you noticed I spoke about a boss encounter earlier, well I actually encountered two throughout this Early Access build. The problem is each encounter felt exactly the same, sure the sprite I was facing was different, but the same methods applied. Dodge the attack, utilise a boost attack, and continue until they were defeated. I did love the visual style of the second boss in particular, but as boss encounters go they were both quite bland and forgettable.
Obviously JumpJet Rex is still very early in development and TreeFortress Games has already confirmed they will be introducing a cooperative mode, mini-games and death match battles, alongside a total of 40 stages when JumpJet Rex releases. The Early Access build of JumpJet Rex has left me quite hopeful that it can develop into a strong platformer, offering a lot of enjoyment to lovers of the classic era of gaming and speed runner aficionados.