Since the success of 2010's Super Meat Boy, we've seen plenty of developers offer their take on Team Meat's bite-sized chunks of painful platforming.
And really, who can blame them? It's a format that works incredibly well. At their best, these masocore side-scrollers give players a true sense of mastery over harrowing challenges while making trial-and-error gameplay—a staple of the 8-bit generation—manageable through nearly instant restarts. It's a format developer TreeFortress Games knows well, and while their latest creation, JumpJet Rex, doesn't exactly turn this concept on its head, it still offers some interesting twists on what's recently become an established genre.
As expected, JumpJet Rex tosses players into the role of a tiny character—this time around, a totally rad dinosaur—forced to navigate screen after screen of intimidating jumps, deadly traps, and vicious enemies, but this hero is a little more versatile than you'd expect. Rex can perpetually double-jump, of course, and also comes equipped with a dash move designed to send him rocketing across the screen, hopefully away from danger. These abilities have an added effect, though: They send a projectile shooting out in Rex's opposite direction, which serves as his only offensive move. It's pretty easy to wrap your mind around blasting an enemy from above, but when you essentially have to be moving away from them to attack their sides, things get a lot more complicated.
With JumpJet Rex, TreeFortress is defintely shooting for versatility. Just as Meat Boy occassionally mixed things up with its strange, warp zone levels, JumpJet Rex also plays with the masocore platformer format. Some levels are linear treks through standard platforming levels, others offer an unguided search for gold rings (the game's overarching goal), and, if you're in the mood for pain, the "gauntlet" stages pull out all the stops to end the reptilian hero's life. And JumpJet's large bosses feel like levels in and of themselves—they require a ton of trial-and-error to get a grip on their strengths and weaknesses, but thankfully, they retain all the damage inflicted by Rex after he dies. In my hands-on session, I had a particularly painful experience with a boss until I found a small window of time to send my double-jump projectiles raining down onto his head—after a few tries, I managed to figure out how to dip in and out of this vital area without suffering yet another one-hit death.
To hammer home JumpJet's focus on mastery, each level offers a number of optional challenges that can be taken on individually—which reminded me a lot of the great Joe Danger and its sequel. If you'd like to go for the speed challenge, for instance, you can leave any notion of collecting coins behind. And JumpJet rewards your skill with achievements that alter Rex's tiny sprite: you can buy a ton of costumes and heads using currency found within the game, but some of them only unlock after you finish a particular challenge.
Above all, I get the feeling TreeFortress Games understands their chosen genre could be on the verge of ubiquity, so they've really taken some extra steps to keep players engaged with sheer variety. It's already pretty robust in its Early Access state, with features like co-op and party modes in the works for the final release. Again, it may not turn a lot of heads, but I don't think JumpJet Rex is aspiring to that—its developers just want to make a challenging twitch platformer centered around an adorable dinosaur. And that's definitely an admirable enough goal for me.