My Future's So Bright I Gotta Wear Rocket Boots.
Getting to see games like TreeFortress's JumpJet Rex reminds me why I love this job, getting to talk to people passionate about the games they create, and that passion showing through in the work. I met with the guys from the developer in a hotel room in San Francisco. They gave me a brief overview of the game's controls and I dove in.
JumpJet Rex is the best kind of throwback, a 16-bit-era action platformer with a classic chiptune soundtrack. No one task is too difficult but it pits the player against the clock to achieve higher degrees of skill. As Rex, you're flying around the galaxy in a pair of jet-boots in an attempt to stave off dinosaur extinction. It's a fun premise, and TreeFortress has fine-tuned the controls and matched the level design to boot.
Rex has four abilities: Jump, Dash, Upthrust, and Drop. Jump and Dash fire a projectile in the opposite direction, and dropping gives you another attack as you crush enemies beneath you. Upthrust is faster than the short-range jumps, but leaves Rex undefended and is harder to control. Your goal in each level is to get Rex through the requisite number of rings as quickly as possible. Playing through the levels—as fast as you can, or without perishing—is a matter of timing and figuring out which techniques work the best.
It's a tribute to the levels I played that the game never feels frustrating, even when it was particularly challenging. The devs also let me skip ahead and play the bosses, who felt referential to series like Mega Man and Contra. Again, neither was too difficult on their own, but the game is designed for speed-runs which heighten the difficulty significantly until you learn the correct patterns.
Playing against ghosts, either friends or from the leaderboards, gives the game a competitive edge, and TreeFortress plans to add more multiplay content beyond the planned 4-player co-op. There are plans to incorporate party games, fun challenges, and an Arena Battle mode.
All in all, JumpJet Rex looks fantastic for a game that began as a Gameboy game-jam. The devs told me their game was thankfully not totally faithful to 16-bit era limitations (like the number of sprites on screen without flicker), and that Rex had originally been an otter before the enthusiasm for dinosaurs took over. Rex is a smart choice for TreeFortress, whose prior game Bardbarian did well on Steam but was a little hard to describe.
One of the fun things about JumpJet Rex is the high degree of collectibles and customization. Finding secrets or completing difficult levels can yield decorations for Rex's lair. Coins allow Rex to purchase customizable skins, some of which reference iconic classic videogame characters (like the aforementioned Mega Man). Rex's body can be mixed and matched from his head, body, boots and jetstream styles. Playing through the game regularly allows him to collect parts of each of these from the bosses as well.
I enjoyed my short time with JumpJet Rex. TreeFortress is releasing the game on Steam Early Access on January 14, with 12 levels currently playable for $9.99, with two Steam Keys per purchase. They plan to release the completed game—with about 40 levels—around March 1st for $14.99, and with a version including two keys and the soundtrack for $24.99. They are looking forward to the community helping them fine-tune the title.