By Tyler Lubben / February 1st, 2014
|Title||Jet Force Gemini
|Release Date||NA: October 11, 1999
JP: December 1, 1999
EU: November 2, 1998
|Age Rating||ESRB: T|
I find it funny that, despite being called Rare, there was a stretch of time back in the day when it was not at all difficult to find great and memorable games from this developer. From Donkey Kong Country to Banjo-Kazooie to Goldeneye and Perfect Dark, Rare’s name was synonymous with quality gaming. One game that I almost never hear people talk about, however, is a quaint little sci-fi game called Jet Force Gemini. This 1999 title also happens to round out my holy trinity of fantastic obscure Nintendo 64 games (alongside Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon and Mischief Makers). A deep and highly entertaining run-and-gun title, Jet Force Gemini is equal parts fast-paced combat and exploration, with a dash of Metroidvania for good measure. It certainly deserves more recognition than it received back in the day, so I’ll do my best to do it justice below.
Jet Force Gemini tells the story of a pair of twin siblings, Juno and Vela, and their dog, Lupus. While out patrolling the space around planet Goldwood, they are suddenly attacked by a massive ship, and boarded by its insectoid forces. In the confusion, Juno becomes separated from the others, and is forced to retreat to the planet’s surface. There, he meets King Jeff, the leader of the peaceful race of teddy bear-like Tribals indigenous to the planet. He tells Juno that the evil Mizar has invaded Goldwood – just one of many planets on the villain’s list for galactic domination. Cut off from the Federation, there isn’t much hope for outside assistance to stop Mizar’s campaign. So begins Juno’s journey to find his team and battle to save the galaxy. That’s about all there is to the game’s plot, aside from a few short cutscenes peppered throughout the game, but that’s about all you need with gameplay like this.
Jet Force Gemini is a third-person shooter with some great run-and-gun elements. Players start out with a simple laser pistol, but will eventually amass a large arsenal of different weapons including machine guns, rocket launchers and grenades to combat Mizar’s forces. Players can run freely with the control stick, and aim with the R-button. While aiming, the camera snaps directly behind your avatar, who becomes transparent so you can get right into the combat without your view being obstructed. The control stick is used for moving the crosshair around while aiming, but players can still move using the C-buttons to allow them to strafe and dodge enemy shots. All of the game’s weapons use ammunition, which you can either find in ammo boxes or off enemies after you kill them. In a pinch, however, the laser pistol will go into a kind of auxiliary mode when it runs out. While this means that the pistol technically has infinite ammo, the free shots are much weaker than usual, so you’ll want to find a drop as soon as possible. It’s a pretty tough last resort, but, in the absence of any kind of melee attack, it’s better than being completely defenseless.
Mizar’s insectoid forces can be pretty vicious. Most often, you’ll come across the ant-like Drones, whom often easily outnumber the player, though they’re generally pretty fragile. There are also stronger, but slower beetle-like soldiers with much heavier firepower. You will also run into a variety of different flying enemies that will shoot you from a distance, fly circuits around areas or attempt to divebomb you. While those are pretty much the only enemy types you’ll see, there are some key variations. Drones will eventually start carrying shields, which will either make you have to try to get around them or resort to heavier firepower. The large soldiers also come in a variety of different shapes and colors, which generally indicates what kind of weaponry they use – be it blasters, machine guns or explosives. Snipers can be annoying, as well, but a single shot will knock them out immediately, so they can be dealt with fairly easily. Aiming for the heads of the ground forces will often knock them clean off the body, which players can then collect for bragging rights and unlockables. Explosive weapons will produce spectacular blasts, covering the battlefield with body parts and guts, making combat extremely fun and satisfying. And… you know… they’re bugs, so it’s totally OK. Players will also find Tribals that have been taken prisoner by Mizar’s forces as they explore the game’s many planets. Touching these Tribals will automatically rescue them, but you’ll need to act fast to ensure innocents aren’t caught in the crossfire. The head hunting mechanic also applies to Tribals, though they do little more than serve as a grim reminder of what a horrible person you are for beheading a bunch of cute teddy bears.
The game is a little light on boss fights, with a total of five in its entirety. However, what it lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality. At the end of their individual storylines before meeting up, Juno, Vela and Lupus must each do battle with an enormous insect decked out with guns, rockets and other instruments of death. Rather than running around a 3D plain in these fights, the player is restricted to simply moving left and right to dodge the bosses’ shots while wearing down and blowing off their armor and weaponry. In this way, boss fights actually tend to get easier as you wear them down, which actually seems like a more realistic take on it. It actually made it a more satisfying experience, seeing the bosses fall relatively quickly after wearing down their protection.
Players start out controlling Juno, but, as he advances, he’ll eventually find Vela. Once she has been unlocked, players can switch between the siblings from the pause screen. Vela has her own set of planets to explore, and, again, once she has advanced far enough in her story, Lupus will be unlocked. While each character generally plays the same, they all have a special skill that allows them to reach certain areas that would be blocked off to the others. Juno has the ability to walk on lava, allowing him to traverse areas that would knock Vela or Lupus out of commission pretty quickly. Vela can swim underwater, whereas Juno and Lupus just float on the surface. Honestly, though, I feel like Juno and Vela got the short end of the stick here, because Lupus’s special ability is to use the jet boosters built into his feet to cross large gaps, which also just makes him more mobile than the other two. While each member of the team is locked into the three planets initially available to each of them, the game opens up after a certain point, allowing any of them to go to any of the others’ planets, and giving them access to locations that the original explorer would have no hope of reaching. The members of the team never interact with each other aside from their unlocking scenes. Even if you have two of them visit the same planet, only the character you’re controlling will be present. It’s kind of a missed opportunity, but there is a way to at least get a little help.
While Jet Force Gemini’s story mode is generally a single-player experience, Juno does eventually find a small flying robot named Floyd. Originally one of Mizar’s minions, Floyd had a change of heart and turned on his former master. After Juno puts the tiny robot back together, he will follow the player around wherever they go. While Floyd normally doesn’t do much other than alert you to the presence of enemies, a second player can join in on the action with a push of the Start button, and add a little extra firepower with Floyd’s lasers. In certain areas throughout the game, players will also find special Floyd pads that, when stepped on, will initiate a mini-game in which players fly the little robot through various courses to reach the end, collect items or destroy targets as quickly as possible. These challenges usually reward players with plot-specific items or additional characters for the multiplayer battle mode.
It isn’t all sunshine and rainbows on Page 2
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