For all the wow factor of big-name games, there’s a rich history of forgotten gems worth digging up. Games You Oughta Play is a review series dedicated to showing off sweet games you never knew you needed in your life.
“One million years ago, dinosaurs invented space travel.”
If the intro to JumpJet Rex doesn’t get you at least a little excited, you should check your pulse and make sure your withered heart hasn’t quite given up on life yet.
The titular rocket-equipped reptile is tasked with saving the dinosaurs from a certain meteor, and of course the solution is to navigate a series of increasingly malicious levels and fight the occasional boss. This is the sort of game that’s just pure fun in that way only games can be: a refined dose of good, old-fashioned platforming action that provides a steady challenge and comes wrapped in a stupid amount of charm, even if a retro-looking platformer isn’t exactly spellbindingly original in itself.
The game’s progression system is pleasantly old-school too. Each level has three stars up for grabs: one just for beating it, one if you can get to the end without dying, and one for speeding through within a certain time. You need stars to unlock levels but you don’t need every single one, so you can master whichever levels you enjoy most rather than feel the need to force yourself through ones you dislike. It helps that the levels are very short, which brought back memories of the PS2 cult classic Stuntman and its vicious “one more go” cycle of self-abuse, though JumpJet isn’t quite as masochistic as something like Super Meat Boy unless you’re the sort to whom 99% completion just isn’t enough. The level design also gets a lot of mileage out of fairly minimalist mechanics, slowly introducing new and more fiendish obstacles throughout the whole space odyssey.
Getting to grips with Rex is almost as enjoyable as it would be to physically cuddle the adorable little git. He can boost all over the place at quite a lick and luckily the controls allow for split-second redirection, which is absolutely essential for the time trials. Interestingly Rex never gains any more abilities than the ones he starts with, which might sound disappointing but it means the game could be balanced with precise knowledge of what tools the player will have any given time; you can’t just grind away to bump up your stats and earn a cheap victory. It’s pretty much the definition of “easy to learn, hard to master,” a game design philosophy I’ve always admired.
To top it off, the game as a whole has enough little touches to make it feel like a labour of love, from the option to watch “ghosts” of leaderboard-topping players race through levels to letting you customise Rex’s appearance by buying items or uncovering secrets. Even the achievements made me chuckle more than once. Platformers are a genre largely abandoned by the AAA game industry beyond endless Mario iterations and the fascinatingly terrible attempts to make Sonic the Hedgehog relevant again, so it falls to independent developers to build on old ideas rather than let gaming forget its history.
P.S. Dinosaur with rocket boots.
JumpJet Rex is available now on PC, Mac and Linux
(all rights go to TreeFortress Games)