The official press release for Jet Lancer features this quote, “Jet Lancer is a frenetic aerial combat game with pixel-perfect dog-fighting, giant robot shooting, and a pulsing soundtrack that’ll put you square in the Danger Zone.”
After spending a considerable amount of time with this 2D aerial fighter, I couldn’t agree more.
Jet Lancer is one of those pleasant surprises that puts an unexpected smile on your face. If you mixed Defender with Asteroids, cranked up the speed, intensity, and control to 11, then you will have a basic understanding of what Jet Lancer is. Honestly, the first gameplay trailer gave me the initial impression of just another shooter that is trying too hard. Thankfully, playing this digital download is significantly better than watching it. Therefore, it is highly recommended to play this game for yourself; don’t think you can watch a stream and understand how well done this game is.
What makes Jet Lancer so great is the highly responsive control. Without this superb control, this game would not be the same. Dogfighting, even at high speeds, always feels pixel perfect and never gets boring. Whether you are firing up the boosters to quickly reach the other side of the screen, warming up a batch of heat-seekers, or just mowing down enemy craft with the machine gun, everything feels oh so good. The dash move mapped to the “B” button is the icing on the cake too. Around the third and fourth stage, I started getting slaughtered but after dying a few times the game chimed in and said that it noticed that I wasn’t using the dash move. Even though it showed me this in the tutorial, I sort of ignored it, like the break button in any racing game. Thanks to this reminder, I was able to pass that tricky stage and really changed the way I approached each mission from that moment on. This one simple hint was a game changer and I wish more games did this. Even the control layout is thoughtful, with RT acting as the accelerator, “A” shoots, the left trigger boosts, and the L bumper activates the special ability. It fits like a glove and, again, would not be the same without this wonderous control. The UI is also simple, just featuring a few lines in the middle of the screen that represent power, speed, and special abilities; it says a lot using only a little.
Another way Jet Lancer surprised me was the inclusion of an overworld map, navigated by this aircraft carrier hovercraft thing. Instead of just transitioning to the next stage, the player is taken to this simple but charming overworld where a level can be quickly and easily selected. This overworld art style is very simple, composed of simple shapes and bright colors, and reminded me of Katamari Damacy. The 2D dogfighting segments are composed of tiny 2D sprites but filled with speed, detail, and explosion effects. The cutscenes also look like they were pulled directly from Advance Wars so each element of the visual style is always a pleasure.
Each kill does not earn experience points but there is an upgrade system. Every few stages, the player will be rewarded with a new part for the aircraft. The catch is, the craft can only support a few add-ons at one time. Putting a limit on the buffs and bonuses might seem limiting but actually encourages some experimentation and some abilities are better suited for certain missions. Even the aircraft carrier on the main overworld screen eventually gets upgraded so the player can reach new levels once inaccessible. I wish some of these unlockables can be unlocked little earlier but the drip feed of new abilities is still satisfying.
There are numerous mission types too. Besides the typical destroy-all-targets, the player will be exposed to large boss battles, hacking (which is basically king of the hill), and escort missions that do not suck. Dodging with the dash move also rewards the player with a temporary shooting bonus that also feels great. There are these little details like this that the game doesn’t explain but leaves a smile on your face once the player stumbles upon it. Another example is boosting just above the water – there is this cool water effect and the player feels it with the boost of the plane. There is also a New Game+ mode and each stage loads instantly and with visual flare – like how the borders of the screen open at the beginning of each stage. While there is a lot to like, the biggest downfall is the story. Dialog isn’t great and actually my early downloadable copy I got for review has missing text boxes. But there is a talking cat for some reason so I guess that is something.
Jet Lancer is the fast paced Defender/Asteroids clone that I always wanted but never got, and is the best 2D airplane fighter in any sort of recent memory. It is a shame the story isn’t great but it doesn’t really matter thanks to the addictive combat and wicked good control. This is the perfect example of a sleeper hit game. Don’t skip this and play it for yourself.
Also available on PC.