An epic first half that is tarnished by a terrible second half
Ambition took them so far at one point their products were able to compete, and even surpass, those of Nintendo in their own platform, a feat that hasn't been achieved by any other company until now. Jet Force Gemini was born during that time when Rare produced great games on a monthly basis and developed a strong fanbase and while it may not be on par with other titles released by the company on the same time span it is certainly among the system's great games.
The epic space quest begins as a group of drones led by the evil Mizar take over the planet of Goldwood and a bunch of other worlds in the system enslaving tribals and killing a big part of the population. In this chaotic scenario the only hope for the Universe is Juno, Vela and Lupus, the dog. The simplistic storyline is presented on an amazing Metroid-like fashion as all it is shown to you initially is the trio's ship being attacked by the drone army, the rest of the plot is up to you to figure out, or not, as you explore the worlds and talk to the characters.
From the get go Jet Force Gemini shows what it is all about, frantic action filled with explosions of gore and a lot of shooting. Due to the sudden attack on their ship all of the characters get separated and end up following their own path, and exploring their own worlds up to their meeting place – Mizar's Palace.
Juno, Vela and Lupus have mostly the same abilities and characteristics, and they also carry around the same impressive arsenal of guns that include grenades, blasters, shotguns, rocket launchers, sniper rifles, mines and other special weapons. However each of the characters have one unique ability as Juno walks on lava, Vela can swim underwater for as long as she want and Lupus can hover in the air for a while. During the first half of the game – while your characters head to Mizar's Palace – you will see a bunch of inaccessible places when exploring the worlds and this should tell you that later there will be a lot of backtracking in order to complete the game.
Even though the scenarios are different most worlds play out in the same way, they are filled with a nice variety of evil drones, doors that can only be opened after you exterminate a nice number of drones within an area and locked doors. Therefore the level design heavily benefits puzzle solving, exploration and of course killing. Everything is done in a rather remarkable fashion as the 15 worlds are just gigantic and present different environments, animal life and buildings, showing a wonderful job by the artistic team.
Playing through the game is mostly a delightful experience although the controls can be annoying during the first few levels as they are far from intuitive, despite working well once you have the system completely figured out – something that should take some hours to get used to. Basically the A-button is used to shoot, the B-button is used to change weapons, the character is controlled by the control stick and the C left and right buttons allow you to sidestep while blasting enemies and the C up is used to jump.
The R button is used for aiming and that is when things get a tad awkward. When pressed the R-button completely changes the control scheme as the C-buttons will now be used to move your character around and the analog stick will aim. As confusing and annoying as it may sound the scheme actually works if you able to master it.
The drones you will face while dealing with that control scheme have an incredible AI as instead of shooting desperately at you they will seek cover on carefully placed objects and only shoot when the time is right adding a lot to the already fun experience of blasting their heads off. However such a brilliant AI – combined with huge environments - takes its toll because when there are a lot of enemies on the screen the game will suffer annoying frame rate drops and since lots of enemies on screen is a common occurrence on the game frame rate also becomes a rather usual problem.
Still, despite all these problems Jet Force Gemini remains, throughout its entire first half, one of the best games on the system. Unfortunately as soon as the second half of the game unveils itself a world of frustration and anger will be added to the package. While backtracking is a lot of fun when done right (Castlevania, Metroid) the developers at Rare decided to do it all wrong just for the sake of making the game longer than it already is.
Each one of the fifteen worlds you visit has a certain amount of tribals that need to be rescued, instead of making this a full-completion quest the developers came to the conclusion that making rescuing all tribals a mandatory mission for completing the game would be a lot of fun, they were mistaken.
As soon as you finish the first half of the game you will be informed that you need to go back to all the 15 worlds you have just explored and use everybody's abilities – now that the gang is reunited – in order to rescue every single one of those cuddly bears. To make matters worse some of those bears are usually located right in the middle of the battlefield so as you try to shoot one of your enemies there is always a chance you will end up killing a tribal and having to restart the whole level again. As if it wasn't enough some of your enemies will actually target and kill the tribals if you are not fast when rescuing them.
To make matters worse – yes there is more – instead of allowing players to switch characters right in the middle of the level so that you can reach new places Rare put a tiny nice restriction in the game as each one of the characters will still work on their own after the midway point. For example, suppose you are on a planet with Juno and after fifteen minutes of exploration you come across a ledge that can only be reached by Lupus. Instead of switching characters and jumping to the ledge you will actually have to restart the entire level again with Lupus just to reach that place, and if Lupus is not on that planet you will also have the work of warping to that location just so you can play for another fifteen minutes to reach that ledge.
Technically Jet Force Gemini is as impressive as it could possibly get on a console back in 1999. It has very impressive graphics, huge worlds, a large amount of breathtaking cutscenes and a soundtrack that would only be surpassed a few years later by other Rare masterpieces.
Overall the game is mixed, while its first half is the very definition of a Nintendo 64 epic adventure filled with third-person action the second half is one of the most frustrating experiences in gaming due to a bunch of terrible game design decisions. For those who are willing to try the game offers hours and hours of amazing gameplay with tons of collectibles and missions to accomplish. Jet Force Gemini could have been the most epic gaming space quest of all time but unfortunately from time to time ambition leads to such results.
Actual Score: 8.2