The Donkey Kong Country games are immensely popular, so one would think there would have been more imitators. Just what was it that made those 2D action platformer games such timeless classics? Some would say it was the soundtracks, but many would also agree it was the fast pace and rhythmic hopping and bopping that made the action so satisfying.
The two Donkey Kong Country games developed by Retro Studios would add their own take on the series by doubling down on stage gimmicks and set-pieces. Their sense of flair made these games stand out from the Rare games, and lived up to their legacy. Anyone who wanted more Donkey Kong Country had no other options. Until now.
The first impression that Jet Kave Adventure gives is that it might be some throw-away shovelware that tries to ape off the great gorilla, but 7Levels have done their homework. Despite a much smaller budget, their humble caveman game makes an impressive showing at being a worthy alternative to Donkey Kong Country, and also introducing its own ideas.
Jet Kave Adventure
Platforms: Windows PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S (reviewed)
Release Date: September 17, 2019 (Nintendo Switch), January 15, 2021 (Windows PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S)
One day Kave strikes out while on the hunt and comes back to his tribe empty-handed. After being exiled, an extra terrestrial crash lands and seeks a volcanic crystal that is apparently a power source. Told mostly with visuals, the plot is set in motion where Kave has to thwart this alien from disturbing a nearby volcano, and hopefully prevent an extinction event.
The story of Kave is that of Prometheus who stole fire from the Gods. But instead of fire, it’s a jet-pack, and instead of Gods, it’s a weird cyborg alien. The plot is mostly an excuse to have an amusing platformer with a jet-pack, but Jet Kave Adventure puts the effort in to tell it the best way it possibly can.
There is even a bit of subtext that strongly implies that the shopkeeper lady is not actually a cavewoman and is from the future. This character sometimes has narration, runs the shop, and is designed very differently from the other cavemen. It’s a little detail that adds flavor to a game that is very much of its genre, where most would not bother.
Controlling Kave feels very tight and responsive. This Neanderthal is fast on his feet, and always moves at his top speed. He can stop on a dime, and his boxy frame makes it easy to aim his jumps, allowing for a light thud as he connects to the ground.
Kave’s range of movement feels flexible so he can be controlled in air very naturally. His melee spear attack swipes very fast, and also has a very wide radius. He is capable of hitting enemies behind him so hard, they instantly vaporize, leaving only their bones in an adorable PG fatality manner.
The main gimmick of Jet Kave Adventure is the stolen jet-pack. This was inspired by Diddy’s barrel jet-pack as featured in Donkey Kong Country Returns and Topical Freeze, but the boys at 7Levels designed an entire game around this power-up and made it a part of Kave’s core abilities.
On top of Kave’s natural platforming abilities, the jet-pack endows him with brief hovering that drains a quick recharging fuel gauge. There is a separate charge that allows for one large rocket boost, that comes with a slow motion trigger to permit enough reaction time for the player to accurately aim Kave’s trajectory.
Where the layer of depth lies is in understanding Kave’s invincibility frames when he uses the rocket boost. This becomes crucial for evading seemingly unavoidable hits during boss battles, or for charging through a gauntlet of spiky threats. Mastering the timing of the recharge cool-down can make it so a skilled player can flawlessly negotiate any hazard, and doing it feels good because it looks cool.
Jet Kave Adventure will throw all kinds of challenges at the player in rapid succession to keep the action stimulating, and to allow a flowing and steady rate of platforming. Mixing up actions like wall-jumping, to vaulting from bamboo, and right onto a collapsing floor is the kind of rhythmic platforming action that fans of Donkey Kong Country would appreciate.
Jet Kave Adventure was originally released on the Nintendo Switch, and it shows. It’s not ugly, but it is very obviously made for lower specs than the average Xbox One game. It resembles a high end mobile game, with low poly models and simple textures that aim for a painterly style.
The art style is very broad and generic. Typing in “caveman” in a search engine would probably net a more interesting design than the typical oafish and hunched Kave. He has no real personality or range of expression. If it weren’t for the jet-pack, there would be nothing defining about him.
Enemies fare a bit better than the protagonist. The various kinds of enormous insects look like something out of a Metroid game, and the dinosaur designs have some unusual, yet striking ideas. For some reason, the Allosauruses are depicted with two heads and defecate tremendous day-glow turds.
Sadly, there are not enough enemy types in Jet Kave Adventure. The game is very short- spread across four zones, with nine levels each- and the scant enemy types get spread thin. The lack of variety is felt with the recycled stage gimmicks that overstay their welcome, like the terrible hang-gliding minigame.
This is where the budget is felt most; the bare thin variety makes Jet Kave Adventure feel more tedious than it actually is. The four zones go on for too long, and could have been divided up into six. The problem with that is the developers would have had to find another way to squeeze out another prehistoric themed area in a game made up entirely of a prehistory setting.
When the jungle got old in Donkey Kong Country, Rare threw in snow levels, factories, and mines. Jet Kave Adventure is far too limited and it wears down on the experience, making stages blur together. The lack in variety is compounded on when a game like this is also too easy. There is never a shortage of checkpoints or food to restore lost health.
Throughout the game, Kave will collect sea shells which is caveman currency. The level select screen has a shop where upgrades to health and the jet-pack can be purchased. These will make an already easy platformer even easier. Upgrades like being able to carry more throwing stones are almost useless, since there is never a moment when Kave will be short.
The balance was not carefully considered. Too many worthless upgrades to abilities most players will forget they have, and upgrades to the jet-pack and spear length are so nominal they are barely noticeable. Bosses also abide by very simple patterns and expose a weakpoint after completing a chain of processes; there is rarely a moment where Jet Kave Adventure will make average gamers sweat.
The low difficulty suggests this is a game aimed for children who may find the intensity of Donkey Kong Country games too spicy. It would have been appreciated if the harder “arcade mode” was available from the start. This post game unlock brings back the lives system from ye olde 2D action platformers, and requires Kave to spend his shells on 1ups.
Running Jet Kave Adventure on Xbox Series S won’t net tremendous benefits except for load times. The gameplay is very tightly polished as is, and there were no glitches or bugs experienced through the entire playthrough. Jet Kave Adventure is a finely crafted and carefully designed platformer that is only held back by being made by a small team with limited resources.
For $14.99, this is a worthy diversion for fans of Donkey Kong Country. Jet Kave Adventure may not have the memorable David Wise music; or any memorable music at all, but the fundamentals of what made the gameplay is present. On its own, Jet Kave Adventure is a perfect gateway game for kids who are interested in 2D action platformers.
Hopefully 7Levels will become more daring with their art department. They are clearly a talented team who can crafted excellent and satisfying gameplay, and can polish their product to a spit shine glimmer. With a bit more personality, Jet Kave Adventure could have gone from a competent Donkey Kong Country knock-off, to a bonafide comparable classic.
Jet Kave Adventure was reviewed on Xbox Series S using a review code provided by 7Levels. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.