It’s crazy to think that it’s been three years since we last saw Jett Rocket. Three years may not seem like it was that long ago, but a lot has changed during this time. As a result, not only is the planetary inspector only just making his handheld début on 3DS, but his creators at Shin’en Multimedia no longer have to worry about the pesky 40MB size limit that Nintendo had previously imposed on WiiWare titles. With the restrictions lifted — and the 3DS’s graphical grunt behind it — Jett Rocket II: The Wrath of Taikai looks very slick. Of course, what you probably want to know is how well it plays.
Jett’s latest adventure sees him on a mission to rescue a group of robots that have been kidnapped by an evil machine known as Kaiser Taikai. The aim of the game is to work your way through a number of stages, collecting solar cells (the in-game currency), freeing hostages and sending this mechanical nuisance back to where he came from.
One of the key differences this time around is that the gameplay is a lot more varied. As you work your way through the story mode, the stages regularly switch between 2D- and 3D-based gameplay, although sadly this doesn't automatically make for a better experience. It's the 3D stages that are the issue here: enemies and hazards are in seemingly short supply, making the majority of the open areas too easy and not especially exciting to explore. Thankfully, it's a completely different story when it comes to the 2D levels, which are much more tightly designed; here, precise platforming is required to make it through the many unforgiving gauntlets of gun emplacements, lasers and Thwomp knock-offs. These parts command quite a lot of skill — and sometimes extra lives — mainly because taking a hit knocks Jett back a fair distance. It seems a bit cruel when compared against the overwhelming amount of hand-holding in today's games, but it's fair to say that it makes it a much more entertaining experience.
To make things even more difficult, Jett's available moveset is very limited, allowing him to either jump or perform a spin attack. However, using these in conjunction with one another enables you to pull off a double jump, and one which will damage any enemies you come into contact with. Shin'en's decision to opt for this basic setup pays off, as it prevents the controls from ever getting in the way. Some of the most challenging areas of the game require you to go through them in a very particular way, so the fact that Shin'en's has managed such tricky level design with such a rudimentary control setup is very impressive. There are additional items that you can pick up, including a jetpack and hovering platforms, and these additional elements help to increase the overall challenge.
This design philosophy carries across the boss battles, which can prove to be quite difficult at times. Staying true to the tried-and-tested formula, bosses change their attacks as they take more damage, and while this in itself is far from revolutionary, it’s well-executed here and forces you to play in a precise manner. When you consider that the game features both 2D and 3D elements, it’s a shame that there isn't more of a natural switch between the two, as this could have potentially resulted in some exciting gameplay opportunities.
In a bid to throw even more variety into the mix, Shin’en Multimedia has included bonus mini-games in-between worlds and stages. The ones that follow a boss encounter are designed as an easy way for you to rake in solar cells, and include activities such as skydiving and jet skiing. They’re fun little diversions — and it’s nice to see the game’s engine being put to other uses — but after you've played them once there’s really no need to go back. Otherwise, there are optional mini-games in-between stages that provide you with the chance to boost your health and extra lives. Playing them requires solar cells and success isn't guaranteed, which again makes for a refreshing change. The activities aren't the most exciting part of the game, but they at least require a certain amount of skill and can come in very handy when the core stages are giving you a hard time.
When it comes to the game's visuals, Jett Rocket II - The Wrath of Taikai lives up to Shin'en Multimedia's typically high standards. Character models and environments are detailed, and the game also runs at 60 frames per second, even with 3D enabled. It’s incredibly smooth to play, although the frame rate performance would be more noticeable if the gameplay was faster paced; Jett’s movements are incredibly lethargic, not to mention that there’s very little action happening on-screen at any one time. Moreover, the art style just seems generic; as far as gameplay is concerned, it feels inspired by classic titles, but the world and characters are lacking in identity and personality. The soundtrack is upbeat and in keeping with the genre, but we'd be surprised if you'll be able to remember a single tune by the time you reach the end of the game.
Jett Rocket II: The Wrath of Taikai is a relatively short-lived experience in terms of how many levels there are. Nevertheless, if you fancy yourself as a bit of a completionist, there are a number of collectibles to be found and a new mode is unlocked upon finding all of these.
Jett Rocket II: The Wrath of Taikai is a game that, for the most part, is fun to play and nice to look at. It tries to deliver a varied gameplay experience, and although it isn’t too hot when it comes to the 3D levels and shallow mini-games, it makes up for this with tightly crafted 2D levels that can be deviously challenging. From a visual standpoint it's certainly smooth, colourful and detailed, but the overall presentation comes off as generic and lacking in personality. As a result, Jett Rocket II: The Wrath of Taikai does a good job of paying homage to classic 2D and 3D platforming games in terms of gameplay, but it fails to quite deliver the same charm or appeal.