A really patchy Action Adventure offering from Rare.
Jet Force Gemini is an interesting little gem tucked away in the Nintendo 64 library, without a shadow of a doubt. However, as much as I can acknowledge its position as an often overlooked gem I can’t rightly recommend it now. Much of the Nintendo 64 library has aged well. Games like Super Mario 64, Top Gear Rally, Body Harvest and Perfect Dark remain as fresh and entertaining today as the day they were released.
Jet Force Gemini however, has not aged well.
That isn’t to say Jet Force is a total washout. After all, there is a good section here for a reason. There’s a good section because every game has a long list of positives and a long list of negatives (or maybe not in some cases...Ocarina of Time, Shenmue etc.).
The “good” list for Jet Force Gemini is looooong.
Allow me to demonstrate.
Rare were undeniably the most prolific second party developer on the Nintendo 64. Their games constantly refreshed and revolutionised genres.
Jet Force Gemini was an attempt to merge their two distinct styles; mature and childish, into one game. Therefore Jet Force Gemini sits in this interesting little niche all of its own. It’s a game that is, in essence, very violent. However, it maintains a pastel coloured, childish veneer which makes all of the violence seem humorous and cartoonish. In a way, it’s genius as it appeals to literally every type of gamer. This would later raise problems, but that’s for another section.
The game attempts to fuse many different types of genres into one contiguous gameplay experience; run and gun, platform and shooter. It works in each individual respect with varying degrees of success. None of them are perfect, but they all pretty much work on their own.
There are three characters, with only one being playable until the two others are met later in the game. Juno is the first character and has the ability to walk over lava. Vela can swim and Lupus the precocious hound can activate little rockets on his paws to float over gaps. Depending on where you are in the story with each character dictates how far you can go with others. It’s an interesting gameplay dynamic and this non linearity bodes well in extending the length of the game.
The basic gameplay experience is pretty similar for each character. You work your way through levels collecting little koala things called Tribals (there’s this whole song and dance about this intergalactic insect tyrant called Mizar trying to take over the galaxy and these little Tribal guys sent the Gemini crew a distress call. A classic and somewhat cheesy “let’s topple the big angry dictator” type story), upgrading your weapons and collecting heads along the way. Yes, you collect the heads of your fallen enemies. Remember when I mentioned before there is a certain mature element to this game?. It manifests itself with splattery explosions, dismemberment and the execution of hostages in equally gory style. Yes, I said gore. Blood flies everywhere, granted it’s pink and green but it’s still blood.
It’s hilarious, over the top cartoon violence at its best.
Graphically, Jet Force is a pretty strong game. Running in widescreen mode the super crisp textures and great character skinning lend to the sumptuous visuals you’re treated to in this particular cartridge.
Enemies look great and the particle effects are quite competent. I’d say the most impressive thing you’ll notice about the graphics in Jet Force is the sheer scale of things being rendered. Huge outdoor environments go for miles in every direction with complicated cave structures and mountains looming in the distance. Interiors are filled with huge, well textured pillars that light up the expansive halls with some impressive lighting effects. The amount of graphical frippery on display here leaves your inner graphics whore very satisfied.
You can’t really fault the way Jet Force looks. It’s just outstanding.
There is tons of play to be found in Jet Force. It’s a long game, full of things to do. Backtrack and find all of the capacity upgrades, do all of the robot missions, play the various mini-games. However, the most enduring feature that will keep you coming back to this game is the multiplayer option. Whether you’re playing as Floyd (the handy robot sidekick) or duking it out in the death match mode (with tons of enemy models to pick for your character in addition to the hero characters) there are tons of things to do in Jet Force beyond the lengthy single player game.
The problem with Jet Force Gemini is that it’s a lot of really incohesive, good ideas. It just doesn’t gel. You try to do one thing and the game makes you do something else. That, or the awkward and unwieldy control scheme wrenches control away from you and gets you killed (which happens a lot).
It’s seems like Rare was really going out on a limb, experimenting with lots of different ideas. The issue is, there seems to be more experiment here than actual cohesive gameplay experience.
Let’s start with the controls. They’re not great. Remember how I mentioned that there are three distinctive types of regular play?; run and gun, shooter and platform. Well, each one works pretty well on their own, however once you start combining them you run into trouble. For instance, you are happily running around exploring when you come across a group of enemies, now, you know what to do. You begin firing, however as soon as you begin firing the game transitions to the forced “shooter perspective” which turns you translucent and kicks in this reversed control scheme that totally disorientates you. It’s really jarring and really irritating. Try aiming precisely and you run into further problems. The analog control is really twitchy for the precise aiming mechanic. It’s very, very difficult to lay your crosshair over something, and keep it there until you kill it. Most likely, your target will move, meaning you have to try and aim again while also side stepping with the C-Buttons to stop from being torn to pieces by the bastard AI.
So that’s run and gun and shooting, what about the platforming?. It’s not great. It works, in the sense that you can jump on platforms relatively simply but it isn’t always that simple. Vela and Juno control fairly well despite a slippery delay when stopping however the camera is astonishingly bad. It’s lazy, and makes platforming a chore. You have to constantly snap it to your characters back and even when you do this it’ll just end up floating slowly away anyway, or you’ll have to just re-adjust it again when you move 4cm to the right because the slippery control almost makes you fall off a ledge into a pit. Also, who the hell gave Lupus such a wide turning circle?. Actually, a better question, who thought platforming with a dog would be a good idea?.
There are these bursts of brilliance and the game really shines. Then it just stops being fun for a little while, then does something cool, then drops back down to first gear. Levels degenerate into “kill x amount of enemies until door y opens” and “collect red key”. I’m not even kidding, they incorporated the monolithic coloured key system from Doom into this game. Who the hell likes looking for a bunch of random coloured keys to open a door?. Give me a puzzle to open a door, make me kill more enemies, just don’t make me go looking for another goddamn coloured key.
Then there’s the final nail in the gameplay coffin. In order to properly finish Jet Force Gemini you have to collect every single idiotic Tribal in the game. Every single one. I’m not even kidding here. You need to go back to every single level and collect every single one of those suicidal idiot koala freaks or you can void your completion and go and play something that doesn’t force you to tear your own hair out from frustration to finish it. They run in front of an active firefight, or better yet, just stand there waiting to get their heads shot off. Eventually, it just ends up being more fun finding the Tribals you can find and blowing them to pieces with grenades or the Tri-Rocket Launcher.
Look, I’ve written a lot already so I’m not even going to mention the atrocious frame rate, monotonous level design, lack of spoken dialogue and cringe worthy music. Oops, I guess I did. Well, there’s those things too.
So anyway. Jet Force Gemini is just very hard to play in the sense that it makes you want to stop playing it after a little while. I’m pretty darned good at my gaming and I have a fair amount of patience however there a lot of negatives here that really hurt the gameplay to the point of making it a chore to progress through.
I might have sounded unfairly critical here however I’m just being honest. When it comes to Jet Force Gemini I just don’t think it deserves to be called a classic.
The Bottom Line
Jet Force Gemini feels like an experiment. It’s a lots of different ideas doing different things at the same time. For the most part, it works. You can play the game, however after a while the glaring problems become really grating. The game plods along, looking great and offering a distinctly unique progression mechanic and an initially compelling fusion of gameplay styles. After a while the samey level design, incohesive controls, boring sound and tedious replaying of levels begins to take its toll.
I could only recommend Jet Force to library completionists and Rare fans. To everyone else reading this review, there are many better games you could be playing on the console. I never thought I would say this about a Rare developed Nintendo 64 game, but it’s just not very good.