JumpJet Rex makes 16-bit platforming cool again
JumpJet Rex acts as the continuation of a distinctly mid-90’s branch of game design. A 16-bit arcade platformer, TreeFortress Games’ prehistoric space escapade merges the divergent sensibilities of the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, into a game that is as smart and enjoyable as Super Mario, and as undeniably cool as Sonic the Hedgehog. First order of business: JumpJet Rex puts a dinosaur in space. Through a feat of Cretaceous engineering, dinosaurs developed space travel, and just in time, as a meteor has just been spotted with “extinction” written all over it. Outfitted with the best jetboots and novelty headwear money can buy, Rex must race back home to earth or become the last dinosaur alive.
JumpJet Rex knows, with absolute conviction, exactly what it is. It’s a game where a dinosaur can and should wear an eyepatch. A game where collectible golden stars are the key to everything, and the best way to the exit is whichever makes you look the coolest. JumpJet Rex understands the earnest appeal of Sonic in his prime, blown out to a degree only the insertion of dinos could bring about. He hasn’t inherited the blue hedgehog’s patronizing finger wag, but it isn’t hard to imagine Rex as Sonic’s coolest unnecessary side character.
But lest TreeHouse Games’ jet hopping reptile be too heavily compared to Sega’s functionally irrelevant mascot, JumpJet Rex also borrows liberally from other notable 16-bit platformers, while allowing itself space to develop its own personality. JumpJet Rex is about speed, but for the sake of precision more than novelty. Even if you neglect to go after the speedrun star attached to each level, JumpJet Rex has a way of making quick movement feel imperative. Partially, this is on account of most levels being designed almost like race tracks, whether linear point-to-points or arena stages that task you with collecting a certain amount of rings as quickly as possible. Mostly, though, you want to move fast because it feels cool to do so.
JumpJet Rex controls like an absolute dream, allowing you to dash and hop around obstacles like the world’s premiere jet fueled acrobatic dinosaur (which you likely are by default). By opting for a less rigid movement system than most platformers, JumpJet Rex allows for a great deal of personality in how you navigate levels, a quality that begins to show more and more when you start attempting more difficult runs and need to develop personal strategies to clear them.
Playing JumpJet Rex is incredibly rewarding because it successfully blurs the line between playing as the developer intended, and playing however feels best to you, lessening the frustration of sussing out a level’s path and turning it into a sort of reflex puzzle. The last few stages (and the very last one, most especially) do an agonizingly good job of disrupting this recipe, being both several orders of magnitude more challenging and tedious, but if nothing else these levels can almost always be brute forced without any real penalty for doing so. It's a crude compromise, but it gets the job done.
JumpJet Rex's last few stages were an unfortunate end to an otherwise shockingly entertaining experience, but it speaks well to the game that even after such a miserable time beating my head against its final level, I’d still happily jump right back in to everything before it. That might be a bit like cutting the mold off a slice of bread and making a sandwich with it, but if it still tastes just as great, I can’t complain too much.