Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux, and Xbox One (reviewed)
An asteroid is coming and the world’s only hope is the world’s first dinonaut. JumpJet Rex is a tough paltformer that has you controlling a T-Rex with rocket boots on. He works his way through obstacle-laden stages that put an emphasis on precision and memorization. The rocket boots offer a very subtle but necessary degree of control. You can dash forward, jump up, hold a button and rocket straight up, and also butt-stomp your way downwards more quickly.
Initially, these methods might seem superfluous since the basic rocket-aided jump will get you through the stages with no problems. Once you start getting to some of the more demanding stages, you’ll need to have mastered Rex’s moves to merely get through them. The controls are solid and you’ll rarely ever find yourself screwing up because of them. Did I blame the controls a few times for something I flubbed myself? Maybe. Once you feel confident in them, you’ll be blasting about with ease, rarely having rage pop up at anything other than your own slip ups.
The stages start off simply enough, giving some time to get acclimated to the controls and encouraging you to take the time to get comfortable with them. A little too quickly though, the stages take a sharp climb up in difficulty. This wouldn’t be much of a problem, as JumpJet Rex is not only generous with its checkpoints but also gives you unlimited respawns. The issue lies in the gating of progress. Stages require a certain amount of stars to access them and merely finishing a stage will only grab you one of the three stars each stage has. You’ll find yourself backtracking through completed stages to earn the stars for completing them in the target time as well as for finishing them without needing to respawn.
That’s largely where JumpJet Rex’s biggest issue lies. The early stages are designed, and designed well, to help you get a feel for the controls. Too quickly though, the difficultly spikes and you might find yourself woefully unprepared for the challenges ahead, that’s if you’ve managed to collect enough stars to face them at all. I ended up going back through nearly every single stage to squeeze out as many stars as I could before my patience with myself ran thin and I’d move on.
And really, that says more about me and my own abilities than the game itself. Only further in did I ever feel like the levels were being unfair as they added enemies that started firing at you. These bastards really make you work for the stars to the point that you nearly have no chance at getting the target time and the no respawn stars in the same pass. It’s not a big issue in earlier stages as they’re smaller, but the later levels get comparatively longer and require an almost instant restart for the smallest mistake.
The only other issue I had was with the bosses. They’re well designed, but the skills required to best them quickly and without dying are totally different than what you need to get through the rest of the game. They feel like something different than the rest of JumpJet Rex. Again, they’re actually pretty well designed and I enjoyed them, it was just a mental block on my part that had a hard time separating what I had been doing up until then. They’re not terribly difficult but do require a bit of different thinking from the rest of the game.
Getting to a more positive note, the music and art are a delight. You can customize your T-Rex’s look, ranging from different hats to wear (I went with a top hat and monocle), shoe color, and jet stream color. The options are a bit on the steep price, using the coins you pick up in the game as currency, meaning you better be sure of what you’re buying. You’ll get enough for a few changes with regular play, but you’ll really have to grind out levels for some coins if you want to buy a lot of them. Thankfully, they’re just aesthetic choices and don’t have any effect on the game aside from how cool T-Rex looks.
While the coins add some rewards to multiple playthroughs of the levels, there are also hidden items and bonus coin areas to find in most of the levels. The bonus items don’t do much save for being decoration for the interior of your rocketship. While they don’t really add anything to the game, they’re a nice aside if you need to take a break from trying to get one of the stars in the level.
The music is of the chiptune variety, so your enjoyment of them will depend on your enjoyment of chiptunes in general. Personally, I enjoyed them. They’re catchy and, even with as much as you’ll be hearing them, rarely get old. Danimal Cannon, the composer of JumpJet Rex’s soundtrack, did, what I feel, is the most important job of any game music by making it endlessly loopable without it becoming annoying. I found it infectious enough that I found myself timing button movements to the music without realizing it. A good sign of the music being catchy, although not the best strategy when it comes to actually trying to play the game well.
JumpJet Rex is really good and the only thing that truly holds it back from greatness is the level gating. Seeing JumpJet Rex through to the end is a tough task because of it. While I appreciate the decision, some of the time requirements border on ridiculous, leaving little choice but to trek carefully through each stage to get through it without dying. JumpJet Rex has one slightly aggravating design choice, but it controls well, looks and sounds great, and, probably most importantly, is fun. Really, can you ask for much more from a platformer?