Everyone's got that game they used to love but nobody else seems to remember it. This site it dedicated to those games. Check in each week for a fresh look at another hidden gem and weigh in on whether it should be remembered as a classic or not.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Jet Force Gemini

Year: 1999
Developer: Rare
Publisher: Rare
Platform: N64
Metacritic Score: 80
VGChartz sales to date: 1.16 million

In a lot of ways this entry perfectly captures the spirit behind this series, so it's only fitting we kick things off with it.  Here was a game produced by a top developer at the height of their popularity, received positive critical reviews, and most importantly was really enjoyable to play.   All signs indicate a new blockbuster, yet somehow commercial success remains elusive.  

Rare was hot off the success of Goldeneye and Banjo-Kazooie when it released this 3rd-person shooter/platformer in 1999.  The game revolves around twins Juno and  Vela, who along with their apparently sentient dog Lupus form the eponymous Jet Force Gemini.  You're tasked with gunning your way through swarms of insect Drones in order to stop evil bug-lord Mizar.  Pretty standard sci-fi stuff, but it's the gameplay that makes this title really stand out.

You play as each of the three main characters at various points throughout the game, using a fun arsenal of futuristic weapons to mow through hordes of bugs.  Each character has their own unique ability which must be used to complete mission objectives.  The missions themselves are a blast to play, mixing up it's run-n-gun foundation with some light platforming through lush levels to great effect.  The variety in weapons is especially enjoyable,  a good thing since you're presented with non-stop action and some particularly memorable boss fights.

The first of many towering bosses in need of squishing

A unique shared-screen co-op mode further sweetens the pot, letting a second player join along as sidekick/robot Floyd.  Interesting, given Nintendo's recent emphasis on asymmetric multiplayer with the Wii U.  Finally, a competitive multiplayer mode offered some really entertaining 2-4 player deathmatch along with some admittedly diverting racing/rail-shooter minigames.  Although this is the same developer who brought us one of the greatest 4-player multiplayer experiences ever (despite incredibly being included last minute), JFG doesn't quite live up to the highwater mark that is Goldeneye.  It had plenty of customization options and the matches played out at a frenetic pace, but the maps didn't have the tactical depth of Goldeneye and the 3rd person view created a steep learning curve.  Still fun to play, but not the kind of game you drunkenly dusted off at 3am in your dorm to settle a grudge.

Same-screen co-op in action with Floyd hovering on the left

Market realities and corporate culture.  JFG was given to the same small team that had worked on Blast Corps. while the studio's primary focus was on Donkey Kong 64, the next-gen update of their stellar Donkey Kong Country series on SNES and also the cornerstone in their 2nd-party relationship with Nintendo.  Rather then stagger their release dates, Rare wanted both games on the market before the holidays.   Unsurprisingly, the Nintendo-backed title was given clear priority in marketing and the all-important Black Friday release date while the small in-house project was bumped to December and given little fanfare.  Combine this with the low visibility of a new brand and it's no surprise the public was largely ignorant of this gem.  

Critical reception was mostly positive with graphics, audio and especially gameplay receiving a lot of accolades.  Reviewers were unanimous in praising the rapid-fire gunplay and boss design, but split on visual style with some complaining the anime-inspired look was to cutesy and a weird fit with the sci-fi violence predominant in the game.  Controls were critiqued for being too finicky, particularly the camera while others thought the perspective shift from 3rd to 1st person when firing was awkward.  The most common complaint centered on the need to revisit earlier missions and complete a large number of rescue side-missions in order to beat the game.  Despite the flaws, reviewers nevertheless recommended it mostly without reservations.

Also, they may have been too creepy-cute
Looking back at the main criticisms leveled against JFG gives an interesting perspective on how tastes were changing at the time and have since shifted again.  Replaying old missions in order to progress was a common element of early platformers (like the Metroid series) but gamers were increasingly seeing them as cheap means of padding a game's runtime.  Obsession over replay value was high when new game releases were spread thin and your next buy had to last you a long time, but in the 1990's gamers were flush with multiple consoles each offering huge catalogs and extending playtime became less of a focus.  But thanks to Achievements and Trophies, a whole new generation of completionists have been bred into existence.  With it's extensive side-missions and multiple playthrough requirements, JFG seems almost tailor made for this console generation.  

While the visual style is more subjective, I think the commercial success of games such as Borderlands and Team Fortress 2 prove that the combination of cartoonish violence and graphics has mass market appeal.  In truth, the style and gameplay of JFG shares more than a passing similarity with such standout series as Naughty Dog's Jak and Daxter or Ubisoft's Rayman.  These games may frequently land towards the top of the sales charts and are key properties for their developers.  Why not JFG, too?  

Rare could certainly use it too, having fallen on hard times after their partnership with Nintendo ended and they were bought by MIcrosoft in 2002.  As such, Microsoft obtained the rights to in-house hits like Banjo-Kazooie and Perfect Dark allowing Rare to develop HD re-releases on Xbox Live.  It's likely if these had been successful, Rare would have been given the ability to continue pursuing major releases but sales did not meet expectations.  A downsizing followed, and now Rare focuses only Kinect titles such as their Kinect Sports series.  Even if they still had the capacity and resources to make it, it's unlikely Microsoft would be inclined to pursue an unproven series or even hand the project to Rare if it were to be revived.  Looks like the this N64 classic is destined to remain in the past.

Have you played this game?  Is there a game you remember being great but no one seems to have heard of it? Sound off below in the comments!

Get it here!


  1. I have played and I want play it again! Epic game! Really balanced sci-fi rpg, and for it time released perfect game!

  2. Hellnight the survival horror one lol

  3. Yes! It's awesome :P but hard...

  4. Nice review man. I just played this game for a few minutes. Awesome blog =D

  5. I'm assuming this was your first post since I no longer have the option to view older posts below. Having gone through all your posts I am surprised to not have found two marvelous classic gems for SNES that I love. Zombies Ate My Neighbors and Rock n Roll Racing. Another game I feel should be added to this list is River City Ransom for NES. What do you think of those 3 games?