Today games aim to be purposely difficult because for some reason gamers love to be tortured, and though many try to capture the essence of difficulty found in classic titles like Battletoads, many miss the mark and just become impossibly frustrating to play. Fortunately JumpJet Rex has hit the sweet spot.
JumpJet Rex is one of two things. It’s a nostalgic romp back to the times where games had just one goal: to get to the end without dying, with that it’s also a speedrunners dream with a huge chunk of your overall score taking into account the time you took to complete the level that causes even the most casual players (myself included) to replay levels over and over to get that perfect score and obtain that final star. It’s this simplicity and challenge that makes JumpJet Rex not only difficult to master, but really rewarding.
Many games as of late have tried to bring back the difficulty of games gone by, and while some pull it off successfully, especially with gamers committed to the title, it can also cause some players to be a little apprehensive as to whether the game is really for them. Personally I’m in the latter group because if a game is too difficult, or can be perceived as “impossible” only a few minutes into the game, I’m done. That was one of the thoughts I had with JumpJet Rex. I was worried it’d be trying too hard to become too challenging too quickly. Thankfully that’s not the case at all.
JumpJet Rex is a really, really simple game that requires the player to do just one thing really, jump and dash. The objective for each level is to get to the end zone as quick as possible by making your way through the level and all of the obstacles you’re faced with. During your way around the level there are a series of rings you’re required to dash through which are often needed to unlock buttons and the final end-zone. Then upon completion you’re rewarded three stars based on the time you take to complete the mission, whether you die or not, and just generally completing the level.
Much like many games involving a star reward system, you’re then required to obtain a certain amount of stars in order to proceed to the next level and eventually move onto the next section. Each section also presents a good handful of levels each with varying themes and difficulties, and finally once all of the levels have been completed you’re faced with a boss. Upon loading up the game, if you’re someone who’s had experience with classic platforming titles on older systems like Amigas, Ataris, and even the Sega Megadrive, you’ll immediately feel right at home. In fact, if we were to go back in time, JumpJet Rex would fit right in to the selection of games available at the time.
The game’s overall aesthetics are presented in a pixelated 16-bit manner, with a chiptune soundtrack to go with it. It instantly throws you back to being in your bedroom as a kid blowing cartridges to get them to work. With that though, they’ve also thrown in some modern aspects into the game, such as the ability to actually do something with the coins you collect. Though mostly cosmetic, players can head to the store and purchase skins, hats, different jet colours, and more to personalise their Rex. There’s also the addition of collectables throughout the game which are then sent to Rex’s room and add even more to the game’s classic mechanics.
One thing I noticed about the game is that it doesn’t feel like the developers have tried too hard to be “retro”, something which you come across a lot when games promise a more nostalgic feel. JumpJet Rex is actually a bizarre game when you actually think about it. Although it looks like a game suited for the late eighties, early nineties, it feels as modern as some of the games we know and love today. It’s difficult to explain, but it just works, which is impressive.
The controls in the game are fairly simple too, just three buttons are required to play the game, meaning that if someone really wanted to an old Megadrive controller would work for JumpJet Rex. There’s the jump button, which can be pressed repeatedly to make Rex get higher, there’s the hover button which allows Rex to use his jet boots to hover to great heights. This takes a little time to warm up, but once you’re off, you can pretty much blast around the levels at some high speeds, though it’s a little uncontrollable at times. Finally, there’s the dash button, this move is used for one of two things, first to dash through the lasers as they’re briefly cooling down, and secondly to attack enemies.
The attack is done by the thrust that comes from Rex’s boots, which takes some getting used to as to attack, you have to use what fires from behind you. Sometimes you can be lucky and simply dash through them, but some enemies will hurt you if you try that, so you’re left figuring out the best way to shoot something out of your butt to disable the enemy.
The developers have done a fantastic job of also making you want to beat your score. Whether you’re into speedrunning or not, you will be after playing this game for some time. And I’m not talking about glichy speedrunning, I’m talking about planning your route, sticking to a time, and restarting the level over and over again if you end up making a mistake. Though speedrunning levels aren’t required in the game, you soon start to itch for that third star, you want to beat the time set by the level. You want to kick the levels ass. Soon enough you’ll be grabbing a dry erase pen and marking your route on your monitor (not advisable).
To add to the challenge there’s also a local co-operative mode where you and your buddy can join together to complete missions quicker, and put your heads together to figure out how the hell to access the secret area on each level.
Overall JumpJet Rex is a thoroughly enjoyable game despite the worry that players might be a little overwhelmed by the idea that it’ll be insanely difficult. Thankfully TreeFortress games have strayed away from the trend of “retro is difficult” and offers a game which can be enjoyed by both casual, slow and steady, gamers and those who want to speed through as fast as they can.