Even though I'm a first impressions guy usually, and attempt to cover a variety of games, once in a while I do actually complete a game on my list and actually get a chance to review it. Surprising, I know. And while I did do a first impressions of the game when it was in Early Access, I finally got to at least finish off the speedrunner, JumpJet Rex. Now note, I'm not always the kind of person who specifically likes this genre, as I'm more about completing a level and getting through it's main mechanics than about finishing it in a record time, but even JumpJet Rex was able to grab me with its fluid gameplay and straight-forward mechanics.
There are hitches that occured with the overall experience, a few that can be attributed to JumpJet Rex being in Early Access to begin with. But the game does well within the bounds of its drama and plays well for those looking to shave seconds off the clock and like dressing up dinosaurs. This game is part speed runner and part dinosaur fashion simulator. It's basically the Team Fortress 2 of the speedrunner genre, because we all know the importance of hats and accessories.
The story of JumpJet Rex is rather basic, and basically involves you, Rex, attempting to save your planet from an asteroid that's barreling at your home at record speed. That's about it in terms of the story, and when it comes down to it, it only serves as background noise to the overall gameplay mechanics. But the way they deal with the story is comical at the end, and it can get a laugh or two out of the player. There seems to be a multiple ending mechanic, although what that changes in the end is unclear.
But let's get into the meat of the game here: the gameplay. This is a different type of speedrunner, where in each world you can earn up to three stars. You get one star for just completing a level, one for completing the level without dying, and one for completing it within a target time. You have a variety of abilities to do that with as well: the ability to rocket yourself forward with a dash, an infinite jump that you can use for precision, a butt slam that is probably one of the best butt slams ever seen (it's a dinosaur, come on!), and a rocket boost that will send you straight upward. It's your job to use those various tools to navigate the hazards of each world as best as you can.
There are worlds with checkpoints along the way, and the mission can slightly vary from world to world. Sometimes you need to fly through rings to get to open up the exit, other times it's just a straight dash to it. The basic concept applies to most levels though – open the exit and get to it without dying and as fast as you can. JumpJet Rex also has a co-op mode that allows you to use both of your abilities to get through the stages in question as fast as you can and adds a level of complexity on top of the game that you don't see in most speedrunners.
In terms of controls, JumpJet Rex shines. You never feel like the game is fighting you, and it rewards absolutely precision in terms of its mechanics and execution, which is exactly what the game needed. In the early phases of the game, one could question the reason for the rocket boost, but after what seemed to be a couple of tweaks, it really became clear that it could squeeze seconds off your time when used properly. The hazards that you will face do get generally harder as you get closer and closer to the comet, and while there are some times where the difficulty curve does have some strange peaks and dips, it generally works in terms of progression.
Note, the last stages in particular ramp up the difficulty as expected, and you can easily get frustrated with some of the precision it asks from you in those levels. For completionists, that may drive you up the wall. In particular, the ooze you run into in the later levels can be dastardly. But as for beating the game, you can earn enough stars in the earlier levels that you can still unlock the last stage with them. However, note that for every star that you get, the last stage becomes easier as you get more time for every star you get.
What's also done well here is the level design and its variety. Shorter levels can be a blast as you may just have to fly back and forth between a set of rings while having lightning and lasers fired at you, while other levels are rather open and really require you to keep track of your path and where you've gone. At times, I wished there was a radar for the rings in question due to backtracking, but I do think it adds it's own challenge to the game and don't hold it against the game for it.
And not every level has a straight up solution for completing it. You have to think in terms of how to use the environment and the tools the stage has given you to maximize your time in certain cases, which is actually rather neat and something I haven't seen in terms of other speedrunners like it. That gives JumpJet Rex a unique aspect that I like regarding the planning element of the game that was appreciated for those players who like to be creative in terms of unconventional solutions.
There's also a strong ghost system present here as well. You can run against a ghost of yourself, the leaders of that stage, and even your friends when playing a level, which can give you hints on how to save time or just provide a thrill in terms of the competition that naturally occurs when another "player" enters the fray. It saves the information regarding the customization of your Rex at the time (more on this later in the review), just to add a little bit more character to the ghosts and their own "unique" personality that you're racing against. And even if you die during the stage (or the ghost dies), the game continues on with that run, which is even cooler in my opinion as seeing the ghost all of a sudden disappear can boost your confidence as you race past where it was.
You also have boss monsters ever so often to fight, and you use Rex to basically take what the boss throws at you and throw it back at them in some form. The later bosses are tough in particular with trying not to die, and those stages specifically give you an extra bonus if you get all 3 stars, earning you an unique head for Rex (more on this later). While overall there aren't too many bosses, and their patterns aren't exactly the greatest in terms of complexity, it served as a nice change of pace against the speedrunning sections of JumpJet Rex.
I also love that you can customize Rex in a lot of different ways. In your travels, levels will have coins that you collect, as well as hidden collectibles for Rex and his home base of operations (his pad as the hip kids would call it). You can customize Rex in terms of his skin color, his head, his feet color, and even the color of the exhaust coming out of his boots. Several of the heads pay homage to veterans and classic games of the industry, and those players that were part of the Early Access period now can fly around with Gaben Rex.
As for the purchase of in-game content using coins you find, the game's default rate of earning coin could be a little higher within levels, as it took a while to earn coins to unlock equipment. You don't get any for beating a level either, and while there are hidden areas that enable you to collect more, it felt too "grindy" in several cases.
The visuals and the environments vary from lush forests to icy tundras, to robotic factories (metal structures) and overall does a good job in presentation. The music selection is nice and catchy, and in particular the detail of the ice levels came through as visually appealing at almost every corner. Not only that, the colors always did well in terms of complementing gameplay, as no hazard ever came out of no where and always worked against the background it was going against. There are stages that miss; in particular some of the more green stages felt off in terms of the flora/fauna and their drawing, which was a disappointment to me, and some of the enemies end up feeling like a completely different art style at times, especially in those areas. It's a minor gripe, but something that definitely jumps out at a player. Overall, the aesthetic the game has going for it works on a variety of levels, and never worked against the flow of gameplay in question, but there are sections that do feel like they could use a tiny bit of improvement.
For the price tag in question, maybe another set of levels would have been appreciated, as while you're getting quality content here, those veterans of the series won't have too tough of a time getting through the hazards that JumpJet Rex throws at you. But there is a lot of replayability with the leaderboards, and it definitely was interesting to watch it develop through Early Access. It's not blowing the doors off the genre, not by any means, but it's a very solid and reasonably executed game.
JumpJet Rex was obtained from the developer while the game was in Early Access and reviewed on the PC platform.