Hello all! I’m back for now. Life stuff and mood stuff gets in the way of these articles sometimes, combined with occasional writer’s block. I mean, I’m coming up on four years of this mostly weekly column, and sometimes it’s tough to find another game to write about week after week. Nevertheless, I’ll keep trying.
Anyway, let’s get to it. Last time, I talked about SoulCalibur II, a game I bought only for Link from The Legend of Zelda, only to find a cool game beyond just Link.
This week brings us a...I really don’t know if this is a “classic.” Depends on who you ask. I like it.
Jet Force Gemini was developed and released by Rare for the N64 an incredible eighteen years ago, in 1999. You play as a team of intergalactic heroes consisting of Juno, his sister Vela, and their dog Lupus. Your goal is to stop Mizar and his insectoid race from conquering the galaxy. To that end, the Gemini team splits up and jumps from planet to planet to stop the invasion and rescue a race of cutesy bear-like people called Tribals.
Juno, Vela, and Lupus (the dog) all play more or less the same; that is, Gemini is a third-person-shooter that was a bit unusual for an N64 game. You had to manually aim, by which I mean holding the R button brought up a crosshair you moved with the joystick, while you shot with the Z trigger. If it sounds weird, that’s because it totally was. I remember getting used to it when I was a kid, but that doesn’t make it good. Still, with practice, you can pull off headshots consistently, blowing insect heads off in this surprisingly gory N64 title.
I replayed this on Rare Replay for Xbox One, and the controls haven’t gotten any better. It’s not just the aiming. It’s the general floatiness of your characters as you run; it’s like you’re perpetually on ice, just a little. It’s the jumping; you’re kind of jerked upward in a jump and it’s tough to control your landing. This was a problem in the N64 original, and it’s much more pronounced now. Short version is, Gemini is playable but rough.
Jet Force Gemini was very ambitious in scope, back in 1999, even if the controls are less than stellar. There’s a variety of worlds to visit (they’re all kind of on the small side), your three characters eventually gain abilities that differentiate them more, and there’s a couple of minigames and secrets to be found. There’s even a multiplayer feature, though it’s kind of forgettable. Plus you can be a dog with a gun mounted to its back. That alone elevates the entire game. I remember being in awe of the different worlds I could visit, the weapons I could find, and the sheer carnage I could unleash with a machine gun and a room full of bug enemies.
But Gemini, nowadays, feels like a game that...not the entire thing, but some of it was ahead of its time. It’s a game that exists somewhere between what shooters like this were and what shooters like this are. I mean, I look at it today, and I can see traces of what would eventually become, say, Resident Evil 4, which is an important title for third-person-shooter mechanics. The precision targeting and shooting mechanic is virtually identical to RE4, Gears of War, etc., when you put them side-to-side. Albeit, we use the term “precision” a bit loosely in Gemini, the point is the systems are fundamentally the same. It’s always fun to trace the influences of modern games backwards. Which is not to say that Jet Force Gemini specifically influenced Resident Evil 4, only that it’s similar in one specific mechanic. Who knows.
Said precision aiming was necessary to rescue the Tribals, which was the single greatest annoyance of Jet Force Gemini. The game tells you to “free as many of the Tribals as you possibly can,” then later tells you to free them all in order to beat the game. Problem is, some of them are standing around enemies, so spraying the area with bullets sometimes ends up killing the hapless Tribals as well. Oh well, start over. Ugh. This was actually the part I hated most as an impatient kid, and I quit the game for a while. This actually doesn’t sour my memories of the game, but it’s annoying enough to point out.
I still have fond memories of Jet Force Gemini; despite its wonky play and the fact that it flew a little too close to the sun, it’s still part of my childhood. The good outweighs the bad here, and it’s a riot to revisit. It sort of represents the kind of games that were on the way at the time, so while it’s kind of just a neat curiosity now, it’s still fun as hell. Plus you get to be a dog. That’s objectively the best part, and I won’t hear arguments otherwise.
Thanks for reading these weekly things I’ve been writing for almost 4 years now. I can be yelled at re: why I’m wrong on Twitter, and you should suggest games I should cover by tweet or here in the comments!
Next week, we think with portals! No, not Portal. Not Portal 2 either, wiseguy. But it does start with P.