Ever since Donkey Kong Country on the Super Nintendo, Rare has stood out as the premier Nintendo game developer. It successfully created amazing game after amazing game, including GoldenEye and Diddy Kong Racing. That’s why it’s such a disappointment that the latest title out of the UK studio is such a, well, disappointment. Usually, the company so devoted to detail makes sure that everything about their game is as perfect as can be — play control, level detail, and even frame rates. But this time out they’ve let us down. Controlling the three characters, Juno, Vela, and Lupus, is an exercise in frustration, amplified by poor camera control. Frame rates drop considerably at key moments, and even the design of the levels is less than inspired. Jet Force Gemini isn’t a horrible game, but it definitely isn’t up to Rare’s usual standards, which makes it merely an average game.
The game does contain a lot of great features. The graphics are beautiful, and the monster AI is rather impressive — enemies will hide behind crates and use covering fire to get better positions. Multiplayer features let as many as four players go head-to-head, or, once they unlock the race track in the single-player game, players can race against each other. There’s even a cooperative mode which will let two players make their way through the game. The game contains a plethora of weapons and items, and there are more secrets than you can shake a Drone’s severed head at. Gore and monster blood spatters on the walls with loud splattering noises, which should appeal to the more grotesque players. Puzzles abound, and the special effects are pure eye-candy. The game also contains the most amazing soundtrack, in full Dolby stereo, ever heard on an N64 cart. And you have to admit, the Tribals that the team has to rescue are rather cute.
Those cute Tribals, however, will quickly become the bane of your existence. One of the many goals of the game is to rescue every single Tribal in each area, a task made more difficult by their tendency to run into the middle of a firefight and the enemy’s disregard for little bear-like creatures’ personal well being. If you miss one, or one of them ends up killed, you’ll have to start the entire level over again from scratch. After restarting a level a few dozen times to get that one last Tribal, you’ll want to unload your tri-rocket launcher on the little punk.
Of course, that’s not the end of it. The game starts with you in control of Juno. Eventually, Juno manages to free Vela, and then you can continue the adventure as the female member of the team. Once you rescue Lupus, you can play as the dog, too. Each character has their own path through the game until they all meet at Mizar’s (the main evil boss) palace. With each character, you can go back to previous levels completed by the initial character, and the vast majority of the time this is a necessity, since you can only complete the game by finding and rescuing every single tribal in the game. Each of the three members of the team has special powers, and some areas require those powers to find all the Tribals. This effectively triples the game in size, since you have to go through every area three times. The frustration of knowing you can’t complete a level the first time through is only narrowly matched by the play control.
Controlling the game will be familiar to just about anyone who’s played a third-person platform game like Banjo-Kazooie — just move the control stick and the character reacts. However, in JFG, the characters don’t actually stop when you want them to. Release the stick, and they’ll continue moving forward for a second — which is extremely frustrating when negotiating precipices. On top of that, the camera seems to do odd things, sometimes coming to rest at an angle directly behind the character so it’s hard to see exactly where they’re facing. The camera also tends to keep drifting after you stop moving the character as well, compounding the disorientation.
The only saving grace is the first-person mode that lets you move forward, back, and strafe, which makes walking across narrow planks easier. The first-person mode also contains a targeting reticule for manually aiming at the enemy. However, even this mode has problems. By holding down R to enter the first-person mode, you can move this targeting crosshair around the screen. Once you get to the edge of the screen, though, it moves the entire perspective of the character, making it difficult in the extreme for precision facing.
On a positive note, the levels are simply huge, and the environments within those levels vary from rainy swamps to pristine corridors. There’s a lot to find, and there are enough new items and weapons to keep players interested in going through each level. The soundtrack is epic stuff, and really should be attached to a better game.
For any other developer, this would be an impressive, yet flawed, game. From Rare, it’s a minor disappointment. However, there’s still some fun to be had, and we do encourage you to check it out. Just don’t expect too much, or the letdown may taint your hunger for Donkey Kong 64, which promises to be much, much better.