The Nintendo 64 and Rare go together like Banjo and Kazooie. The developer was behind several of the stellar titles found on the system, many of which were some of the most original games in history. One of the most unique titles released by the UK-based developer was the 3D action-shooter Jet Force Gemini, which launched in 1999. While Rare had much success in the first person shooter genre with titles such as GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark, it decided to take a different approach for this title and set about making it a third person experience.
You play as three members of a galactic police squad known as Jet Force Gemini. First up there’s Juno, a male cadet, Luna, his female counterpart, and Lupus, a dog with a cannon on his back – yes, this is old-school Rare we’re talking about here.
Each team member has their own set ability that only they can use and this becomes an important element of the game, especially in the long-run. For example, during one of the earlier levels where you play as Juno, you’ll see an area on the other side of a large gaping chasm that you simply cannot get to. In order to get over there, you’ll need to rescue Lupus, who has a hover ability that can see him jump much further than the others.
You’ll also come across water segments that only Luna can traverse, and should you find lava then Juno will be required as he’s completely impervious to heat, which, as the characters don’t have much of a backstory, we can only assume he acquired from the years of extensive hot-coal walking space cadets are often subjected to.
This intertwined nature is typical of Rare and adds so much depth to each individual world. Once you finish a level you'll need to go back as another character to find everything, but you won't be able to do it straight away as Luna and Lupus must be unlocked first, meaning it doesn't become repetitive and old levels become new later in the campaign.
One thing that strikes you very early on is the sheer difficulty level. Jet Force Gemini is an extremely hard game from the off and the learning curve is so steep you’ll be needing all of your mountaineering equipment. At the start there’s no tutorial level, no guidance or even much in the way of plot. It just gives you a pistol and plonks you on an alien world full of baddies to shoot at. This is actually very refreshing considering many games in the modern era now hold your hand from start to finish, and you will end up dead a few times before you figure out the control scheme. That being said, it’s a bit of a struggle to get used to and a little guidance would have been nice.
For a start, the controls aren’t easy to get to grips with and aiming can be excruciatingly painful, especially considering you often need to be accurate with your shots and the method put in place doesn’t really accommodate for this. For example, the ant-like enemy drones are easy enough to kill but after a while they’ll start using their noggin and will bring along full riot shields, which means you’ll only see their hand and a very small part of their head. You can put a tonne of lead into that shield and it will still stay intact, so you’ll need to hit the drone on the areas where it’s exposed, which means you’ll need to be precise. Holding R locks the camera directly behind your character and you can then aim without running about. You'll need to jump in and out of this mode frequently and this can become very frustrating, especially when you line up the perfect shot only for the drone to run off or dodge to the side.
Frustrating is a word that comes to mind quite a lot when attempting to describe Jet Force Gemini. If you play this game from start to finish you will be getting killed a lot and a whole host of levels will be replayed. You will get mad, hearts will be broken, controllers will be smashed.
Completing Jet Force Gemini requires a bucket-load, nay an industrial vat-load, of patience. It's made up of nine main worlds, three for each team member with every path ending with a hard-as-nails boss. Each level is full of countless enemies and a few bear-like creatures known as Tribals that need rescuing. Once these routes are complete you meet up at Mizar’s Palace to defeat the end of game boss – or so you think.
Unfortunately, to complete the game you must return to all the previous worlds in order to find several broken parts of a ship. It sounds simple enough but there’s one other requirement that will bring you close to tears – you must save all the Tribals, every last one of them.
The Tribals can feel like a chore; each level has a load to find within them and they are so well hidden you’ll need several play-throughs just to locate them all. What makes this a truly difficult task is the fact you need to collect them all on the same run through, else the game won’t save your progress. If you get to the end with nine out of ten you might as well have found none - it’s punishing to say the least.
On top of this, Tribals will hang around in precarious locations, such as among drones or right next to explosive objects. The enemies don’t just ignore them, either, and given the chance they will take a shot at one, meaning you need to be quick and accurate – and yes, friendly fire is on, so watch what you’re doing with that machine gun.
The idea behind this appears to be to boost the longevity of the game, but it simply becomes a tedious task and searching for all the Tribals makes you want to call it a day rather than carry on playing.
Another major flaw that is certainly worth noting is the frame rate, which can be horrible at times and adds to the problem of accuracy. As there are sometimes a lot of enemies on screen, the action can randomly slow down, causing you to wrestle even more with the already-faulty controls. It’s not the worst frame-rate issue the world has ever seen but it definitely has an impact on the gameplay.
All those negative points aside, Jet Force Gemini is an enjoyable experience and there is plenty of fun to be had. As a third person shooter, it almost feels ahead of its time and has certain mechanics that are really nice to see.
The weaponry is fantastic and there are plenty of guns to find and upgrade along the way. Something that occurs often in modern day shooters is the amount of unnecessary weapons you can have. However, this is not the case with Jet Force Gemini and each gun has a specific use that can hurt a particular enemy with great effect. Your main blaster is the pistol, which doesn’t run out of ammo but has a slow rate of fire, there’s a machine gun that is very useful close up and against flying foes, and of course a range of heavy weapons that can be used to devastating effect. Those aren’t the only ballistics in the game, there are plenty of others to get to grips with as well and it’s fun to experiment with them all on a range of different enemies. Again, there are no tutorials for the weapons so it’s pretty fun to find out for yourself which adversaries each one is effective against.
The enemy AI is actually very good and they will change tactics on the go while fighting you. There are even instances where they’ll throw down their weapon and put their hands in the air, surrendering to your might should their situation get completely hopeless.
There’s also a multiplayer mode that is generally lacking but features a fun co-op element. During the single-player campaign you’ll come across a floating droid called Floyd, who is reminiscent of Dr Carroll from Perfect Dark. Once he’s on your team, a second player can take control of him and help you blast through the waves of drones; it’s a nice touch and gives you a lot of tactical advantages in certain areas of the game.
But one of the best things about Jet Force Gemini is the truly spectacular soundtrack. It’s one of the best on the N64 – and that’s saying something. Each level has a brilliant score and the variety in the music is pretty impressive. All of them are well worth a listen - the character select screen alone is enough to get the blood pumping.
Jet Force Gemini is not perfect by any means, but this is a Rare title that deserves praise. You get the sense the developer let its hair down a little with this one — though it can look cute at times, some of the ways you can kill foes with the assortment of weaponry is almost comedic, over the top and brutal to say the least.
That typical Rare humour is also present at all times and though the game doesn’t have much depth in terms of plot, the characters are as bizarre as you’d expect. There’s the Tribal leader King Jeff, whose name alone says it all, and there’s also a poor frog-like creature called Gimlet who has lost his trousers up a tree – we don’t really want to know how they got up there.
All in all, Rare may have gone over the top with the Tribal collecting and the controls may be difficult but Jet Force Gemini is an absolute blast and is well worth getting into. You can easily rack up 30 to 40 hours of playing time if you finish the game and even if you don't you'll still have a good time.
Jet Force Gemini is a really enjoyable game but has its fair share of flaws that tend to hinder the experience a little too much. That being said, it’s certainly an incredibly fun title, at its best, that will definitely raise a few smiles; if you’re just looking to blast through a few levels without hoping to complete the game then there is a tonne of fun to be had. Just be aware that there will be a lot of frustration and challenge, and you’ll get through a fair few controllers should you play this one out to the end.