There's no denying the incredible impact Japanese developers have made on the shoot 'em up genre, from the foundation laid down by Space Invaders right up to more recent examples, such as the superb Rolling Gunner. The influence of Japanese design can be felt keenly in the western-developed Jet Lancer, although its 360-degree levels mean that it also owes a debt to titles like Devolver Digital's WW2 aerial combat title Luftrausers.
You control an experimental fighter jet which looks a lot like the craft from Hudson's seminal Soldier Blade, striking from your mobile carrier which serves as a hub from which you can obtain mission briefings, upgrade elements of your jet and determine your unique loadout for each sortie. When not in combat you can freely explore the 3D game world, moving your aircraft carrier around between locations (assuming you have the part required to get there, of course).
Missions range from simple destruction to defending friendly targets or stealing data from transmission towers. Every now and then you'll face off against a boss enemy, and these titanic battles prove to be Jet Lancer's undisputed highlight; not only are these massive foes impressive from a visual perspective, but they also require unique tactics and deft movement to defeat.
Thankfully, Jet Lancer controls brilliantly. Your thrust and afterburners are mapped to the shoulder triggers, and you can unleash special charge attacks with the smaller shoulder buttons. Standard shots and a handy dodge manoeuvre are mapped to the face buttons, which means you can perform multiple commands simultaneously without getting your fingers in a muddle. The setup does take a while to become accustomed to, but thankfully the developers have included accessibility features, such as the ability to have your main guns fire automatically so you don't have to worry about them (although, it's worth noting you are rated on your accuracy, so to get the best score you'll want to switch to manual control).
In fact, Jet Lancer goes above and beyond when it comes to these accessibility features, offering the opportunity to disable elements like screen shake and even allowing you to make the ship totally invincible. Some might decry this as cheapening the experience, but in reality, it means that anyone can get the most enjoyment out of the game – after all, you don't have to use the feature if you don't need to.
Jet Lancer's pixel-heavy presentation avoids being too samey and the music is uniformly excellent; the only downside is that the visuals are quite plain in places which might put some players off. This is a common issue with these 2D aerial combat titles, as there's the need to keep craft small and background detail sparse so the player can see what's happening during heated moments.
While Jet Lancer does become slightly repetitive in places, the tight controls, enjoyable action and massive, massive explosions all combine to create a shooter which is well worth a look – especially if you're a fan of this particular genre.