Rated: 4 / 5
Back in the day, the first time I heard about this N64 game was from this promotional VHS tape all subscribers of the magazine Nintendo Power got for free, in the mail. Back then, I thought this was one of the most awesome advertisements ever. Today, this is some of the cheesiest most hilarious overacting (to the point it’s sad in some cases) I’ve ever seen in my life. But in any case, this is what got me hyped about playing this game.
When it comes to the N64, I personally don’t think there are that many great games on it, especially when it comes down to games standing the test of time. There are games I want to love, like Body Harvest, but the puzzle-like nature of it past the first 20 minutes got infuriating to me. There’s other games that could’ve been good like Mission Impossible, but they would only work with the slick controls systems like X-Box and PS2, and even GCN, could provide (which was 1 game generation away, as things trended completely from 2D gameplay to full-on 3D). Most N64 games were too ambitious because it didn’t have the graphical capability, or decent control scheme, and smooth enough gameplay (let alone camera angles), to handle the games it put out there. But when it knew how to work within its limitations, it was solid. It revolutionized FPS console games with Goldeneye and Perfect Dark, just as it revolutionized 3D platformers with Mario 64 (though the latter hasn’t aged that well for me). And in one case, it even improved on a game it ported over from the PC in one regard, Starcraft 64. Sure the graphics are nowhere near that of the PC version, plus it lags; but it seriously improved upon the AI in some stages, making it more difficult than the PC version (this is a good thing in this case). And Starfox 64, probably the definitive N64 game that holds up the best to this day.
Jet Force Gemini, however, stands apart from the rest by being a solid 3rd person shooter, which was something a little on the “new” side when it came to console gaming. They managed the control scheme very well for the time period. It takes some getting used to, but it works. The only thing that matters once you mastered the controls is how good of an N64 controller you really have. Because if it’s one of those where the joystick has been used too much, or it’s a cheap Chinese knockoff controller, then you’re going to have a horrible time with this game, trying to shoot enemies accurately. So long as you have a decent controller, this game should play fine.
The other thing that makes this game stand out is that it is hilariously vicious. You play as three characters, a boy, a girl, and a dog with jet packs on each of his paws that allow him to fly around (the most badass dog in video game history). Your mission is to kill a bunch of ants, that walk on two of their limbs and shoot weapons with their other two, among other giant insect-like creatures (and some robotic flying machines). You are also to rescue these Tribals (ie teddy bears), which come in a variety of shaman/workers, females, children, and babies (with pacifiers in their mouths). All of the above NPCs can be killed with a variety of weapons ranging from pistols, machine guns, rockets, mines, flamers, etc. They can simply be killed with enough rounds, blown to smithereens with a bunch of green blood flying everywhere, and even get their heads shot off along with their limbs. And their heads can be collected as trophies for largely inconsequential “cheats” such as rainbow colored blood.
Just to clarify, this can be done to the ants and the teddy bear tribals. Including the little cute sweet and innocent bear babies with pacifiers. You can blow their heads off and pick them up as trophies. This can be done by you, or by enemy fire, intentionally or unintentionally. Now, if you think this is just streamlined game programming going on here where they didn’t bother to differentiate between how NPCs work which results in unintentional depravity baby-bear-killing, you’re not giving the programmers enough credit. Because in the menu, it keeps track of not only all the ant heads you’ve collected, but all the tribal heads you’ve collected as well (the latter of which does nothing as far as I can tell, it’s just put there for shits and giggles). God I fucking love this game.
This game does everything right for the console generation it was made for. The camera movement isn’t as big of a problem as you would expect it to be for a 3rd-person game. When running around, you can shoot without aiming, and a little aiming assist will ensure you’re hitting enemies so long as you aim in their general direction. So for certain level sections, you can run and gun without much problem, and without being forced to aim all the time (like most players do in modern games). It’s rather refreshing placing a shooting game that only requires aiming half the time as opposed to all the time. When you do aim, your character goes transparent so you can see everything in front of him/her/woof, and you can still move your character around in all the regular directions while doing this aiming. Master the control scheme, and you can do some moving and shooting, which works very well in multiplayer mode (which I’m amazed a game like this even has, though there’s other multiplayer games I’d rather play than this). Like I said earlier, it takes a little getting used to (as does virtually any N64 game when using an actual N64 controller), but it functions remarkably well for a game of this genre from that time period. From a gameplay standpoint, this game aged well.
Plenty of variety in the enemy types. Just from the regular ant drones, there’s snipers, regular shooters, shooters with small shields, and shooters with large shields. The shielded ants really piss me off, as I’m often forced to switch to grenades (which I never like using) or the tri-rockets (which a part of me wants to save for something bigger, but most of the time they’re more convenient for being used against shielded enemies). The most common weapon I used is the machine gun, but the enemy variety and level layout does a decent job at forcing me to switch weapons against the enemy types, lest I run out of ammo. While this is a game that encourages going all guns blazing, you can’t go overboard with it, otherwise you run out of ammo, and then you’ll be forced to either retreat or use a different weapon.
However, the one weapon I never really found myself using is the Plasma Shotgun. A weapon that can be charged, and then released against whatever enemy is in front of you. While it’s nice in theory, the only practical use for it I ever had was against the zombie drones in the swamp. It unfortunately falls into the dreaded category of a one-use weapon for the entire game. Theoretically, you could still use it in other levels, but what’s the point when the pistol and machine gun are usually the better option? And if you need something stronger than those, the tri-rockets or homing-missiles are better options for the tougher enemies. But that does make the shotgun more useful than the mines at least, which I never used (they’re only useful for multiplayer matches, which is the impression I was getting for some of these). So the weapons are a mixed bag in terms of some being far more useful than others, but the ones that are useful are fun to use.
Story-wise, it’s simple. You’re a youthful team of space cadets who go around helping the galaxy from whatever trouble that comes up, and you just so happen to run across these ants with spaceships who are causing trouble for Tribals (that’s what they’re referred to, and that’s what I’m going to call them for lack of a better word). And the drones are being directed by this giant creature named Mizar, who is intent on controlling certain sects of the galaxy with his drone army, as well as imprisoning the tribals. So its your job to save the tribals and put a stop to his plans.
Then there’s the music. Holy God. The music in this game is nothing short of masterful. Some of the greatest music ever put to any videogame. This game wouldn’t be as good as it is without it, as the game practically needs music of this quality in order to make the backtracking portions bearable (more on that later).
With regards to pacing, the game is solid for the first quarter (or third) of the playtime. But after your first encounter with Mizar, things change. Once all three members of your team reunite, you can revisit any of the worlds you’ve already been to. The reason for doing this is that each team member has a unique ability that makes them capable of accessing areas none of the others can. The dog Lupus can fly around for brief durations (more like gliding), Vela can swim underwater (and blows plenty of bubbles out of her ass while doing so; seriously, it’s hilarious), and Juno can walk across lava without getting hurt. They’re needed to access other areas of the planets primarily to rescue tribals that you couldn’t reach earlier in the game. And you need to rescue all the tribals in order to progress to the final level, and thus the final boss (going a second round with Mizar). For a while, this method of backtracking actually works. Because you’re not only accessing certain portions of planets you haven’t been to before, but also entire level areas of the planet, finding extra keys for opening locked doors, extra weapons you didn’t previously have, and sometimes finding a landing pad with your ship on it that will take you to an entirely new planet/station for you to explore. The backtracking opens up new areas. Plus you get a feel for how much stronger you’ve become when revisiting prior locations.
But after a while, especially if it’s your first time playing through (or it’s been so long you forgot everything), this backtracking will eventually get tedious as you’ll reach a point where you’re trying to figure out where tribals are at, or even where keys are at for unlocking specific doors. Plus, during all this, you have to locate ship parts (usually not a problem, as they can be located easily during the process of finding all the tribals). Personally, I would prefer knowing ahead of time where all the keys are at, so that backtracking can be cut down. Depending on how much you like figuring things out on your own, and how much time you’re willing to spend doing so, you may need a walkthough during the latter portion of the game.
Once you’ve collected all the tribals and ship parts, you then gain access to the final level, and eventually the final boss. Now, you don’t need to have every weapon upgrade collected for this (by upgrade, I mean those packs that increase your maximum ammo capacity for each weapon). Just enough to where you have at least 30 shots for the homing missile, and about 20 or so tri-rockets. Because for the final boss, you’ll mostly be dodging, and shooting at opportune moments. And when you blast him, you’ll want the heavy stuff to end this battle fast. Because the last boss, as all game bosses should be, is the most difficult boss fight in the entire game.
In fact, the boss fights in general are very fun. During a boss fight, you don’t run in any-which direction. You can still aim any direction you want, but you’ll be restricted to moving and jumping left to right. This restriction makes boss fights more tight and controlled, and is all the better for it. I didn’t have much trouble with them, aside from the final boss fight, and these 2 giant mantis creatures. But difficult or not, the boss fights are a lot of fun.
If there’s any problem I had with this game, it would come down to three things. #1: The pacing of the game’s last 2/3rds (up until the final level and final boss), with all that backtracking. It’s not so bad if you’re replaying the game with knowledge of where things are fresh in your head, but from a first-time player’s perspective, things can get monotonous. What I couldn’t get over however was #2: the fact that you can’t skip the landing and takeoff sequences for every single planet you navigate to. And then there’s #3: the plot twist at the end right after the final boss fight. Let’s just say I thought it was stupid, and leave it at that.
But all in all, in spite of the caveats, this is one of my favorite games on the N64. It makes up for its shortcomings with a type of attitude and level of awesomeness that is missing from pretty much all games ever since 2010 (or earlier). Easily in my top 5 favorite N64 games ever made. Highly recommended. If nothing else, you will probably have a ton of fun up until right after the first encounter with Mizar. After that, it depends on how invested you are, and if sticking with it will be worth it. Your mileage will vary, but for me it was worth it. And there aren’t many games out there with enough awesomeness packed into them that make me willing to stick through some tedium. One of the reasons why this is probably the most underappreciated game on the N64.