21st Nov2019

RETRO-spective: Jet Force Gemini

by Xenia Grounds

As far as shooters go, it’s not my favourite genre. I have nothing against them but I’m a very story-focused gamer and shooters can sometimes be light on that. However, like anything in life, there are exceptions to the rule. I grew up with a Nintendo 64 as a kid which would spoil you with great shooters, especially from a company known as Rareware. There was Goldeneye and Perfect Dark but the one that really stuck with me was Jet Force Gemini which has recently turned twenty years old.

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Jet Force Gemini centres around twins Juno and Vela and their military dog, Lupus, who are part of a space military squadron called Jet Force. At the beginning, they’re the survivors of an attack by space tyrant, Mizar, but they don’t get away for long. In the midst of the ambush, the three of them are forced to separate on their way to Mizar’s Palace but they all share the same mission of freeing a teddy-bear like race known as the Tribals from Mizar’s cruel slavery.

In JFG, you play as all three characters. Each character has their own advantage. Juno can walk through lava, Vela can breath underwater for infinite periods and Lupus has a jet-pack so he can fly short distances.

You go to a variety of worlds to free the tribals from the ruined and zombified Twarfret, fiery Eschobone and the enemy battle cruiser, Skhemet. Each world has their own atmosphere so they’re all memorable. You may get sick of the colour blue though because a few of them have a very strong blue colour palette. I’d argue that the OST is what really makes these worlds stand out because I remember every single track incredibly clearly to this day. It ranges from the military brass of Jet Force to the Saturday Night Fever-esque disco playing in the Big Bug Fun Club.

The gist of the combat is you run and gun your way through the worlds while freeing the Tribals. However, you may come across certain paths that you can’t open on your first time in these levels. During the second half, every world is available for each character so previously inaccessible areas are yours to explore. For example, during the first world, Goldwood, there’s an underwater section that you pass over on your first go as Juno but you get to later when Vela can go to Goldwood. There is a little bit of a collecting to do while you go through these worlds to increase your health and finding supply crates to increase the amount of ammo you can use for certain guns. Lastly, there’s finding the keys (Red, Green, Yellow, Blue, Magenta) and it can be a little eye-rolling having to go through a large part of a level just to find a single key but it’s a necessity nonetheless. The Green and Magenta key are the most guilty of this since I think you can only find them on particular worlds.

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The second half of the game is where one massive key problem enters which can really drive gamers to the point of insanity. That would be freeing the tribals. After facing Mizar the first time, he gets angry enough to threaten Earth with an asteroid strike. You’re meant to collect twelve spaceship parts in order to get to the asteroid fast enough to stop him. This is a fine condition to get to the final level but the requirement for one part is freeing all the tribals. Freeing all the tribals really should’ve been an optional thing for completionists rather than compulsory. Tribals are very easy to accidentally kill in JFG and they’re often hard to find or in the open during the heat of battle. If a single tribal is killed then you have to restart the level from the very beginning and some of these levels are either very long or hard enough to get through as it is so it can feel very cheap. It took me a long time to do this because it was so frustrating and I know I’m not the only one who had a rage quit moment or two. This was before walkthroughs were easy to find so collecting tribals did add many hours to JFG. I think the only other part that gave me a really hard time was the Floyd mission to get the earmuffs because it takes multiple tries to finish it under the time required.

Since we’re on the topic of Floyd missions, let’s talk a bit more about those. During your first time exploring Tawfret, you come across an AI squadron called Floyd who betrayed Mizar because of self-aware morality and was quite literally blown apart in the process. Like most things in JFG, fixing him isn’t an optional task. You need him in order to access Mizar’s Palace and to get one of the spaceship parts. One of his biggest contributions is the missions. They’re mostly pointless except to get medals for the multiplayer to unlock certain things. It’s basically a race to get from Point A to Point B as fast as you can. On a side note, if you happened to have a second person with you then they could take control of Floyd and help you shoot down enemies. Too bad he doesn’t do that without player input.

As far as bosses go, there’s only one that would be tough and that’s Mizar. At least, his second fight is. I wouldn’t say because of tactics but because of one move (the electric beam) of his which takes away so much health and isn’t very easy to dodge when you can only move from side to side, have to perfectly time your jump and that beam moves faster than you do. It’s incredibly cheap and I guarantee if it wasn’t for that then the final boss would be ridiculously easier. I’d argue the second toughest is Lupus’s because it involves more than one boss to kill so you actually have to use more strategy so you don’t run out of ammunition. Juno’s first boss is a pushover. You can probably get through it just by using the tri-rockets. Vela’s isn’t as much of an easy battle because that thing tends to move around a fair bit near the end of the fight which makes aiming a bit harder but if you save your homing missiles for that part, it isn’t much of a problem.

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It’s been a long time since I’ve touched JFG’s controls so I can’t say anything on how well they’ve aged but I imagine it wouldn’t be very well because some of them aggravated me as a kid. One of them being manual targeting which is mostly used for taking out snipers. The problem is you’re frozen in position while you’re doing it so snipers can easily hit you. Another issue is you’re fighting the camera because your aim snaps back into centre as soon as you let go of the analog stick. In those moments when you have to deal with moving targets, expect to get a little annoyed.

Jet Force Gemini is far from a perfect game and is a product of its time in some regards. However, I think this is an underrated gem for a few reasons like its focus on exploration, the great OST, the fun multiplayer and a challenging if somewhat flawed single player campaign. If you have an Xbox then I recommend trying out the Rare Replay version of JFG if you can. It’s a simple and enjoyable space shooter in the end.

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