May 13, 2020
Armor Games Studios
Jet Lancer is an arcade game about anime jet planes made for people who like both. Did you ever go to an airshow and get dazzled by all the fighter jets and their aerial acrobatics? You ever build model Jets and fly them around your room, pretending to blow up Skeletor? You ever watch Top Gun and find yourself more interested in the dog fights than the shirtless volleyball? Did you ever really, really like Macross? Then you’re probably going to love Jet Lancer.
The game feels like a spiritual successor to 2014’s Luftrausers – from the pixel art to the gameplay to the chiptune soundtrack. Developer Code Wakers is very much following in Vlambeer’s footsteps and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Luftrausers had solid mechanics and a solid gameplay loop. Jet Lancer does the only thing it can do, it improves the formula with solid characters, a story, and an anime paint job. You follow Ash, hotblooded pilot and badass, as she flies missions on contract for the military alongside her man-in-the-chair, Captain, and the cat turned mechanic, Lem.
The story heats up as strange and powerful mecha begin to ravage the countryside. The only thing standing between civilisation and chaos is Ash and her super cool experimental fighter plane. You can probably already guess where the story is going, but that’s ok. The game may be a cliché riddled trope fest, but it’s enjoyable and pulpy enough that it’s easy to switch your brain off and just go with the flow.
The game’s overworld is a joy to navigate. Its execution feels very old-school JRPG. There’s something incredibly charming about manually moving around the map from mission to mission in a dinged-up cruiser. The game’s levels unlock two to three at a time so you never have to play them in order if you don’t want to. I often found some missions were harder than others and beating one and then coming back to another would often help. This was a blessing as the game would often have weird difficulty spikes. One level might be harder than diamonds, then the next would be as easy as pie.
The detailed pixel art and simple 3D modelling that make up the game lend it a very classic old school feel. The backgrounds have the gorgeous mode7 style effect on them, the sprite work for the fighter jets is just detailed enough the be recognisable without being ugly. Character models are anime-lite without being obnoxious. And the 3D models, though used sparingly, are perfect. Add to this the game’s killer chiptune/electronica soundtrack and you’ve got yourself a winning formula.
As mentioned previously, the gameplay is exactly like Luftrausers. You control a customisable fighter jet in a small gameplay arena and have to complete set objectives before you can progress. Sometimes that may be surviving wave after wave of enemy fighters. Other times it might be hacking radio towers. Either way you’ll find yourself dodging, ducking, and weaving as you try to avoid sky pirates and their bullets. As the game progresses this becomes increasingly harder as the game starts to resemble a bullet hell rather than a 2D dogfighter. And while the game does what it can to diversify content without moving too far away from that core gameplay, it’s still going to be instantly familiar to anyone familiar with Vlambeer’s work.
This also means it has the same problem Luftrausers did, which is sustained playability. It’s hard to spend any significant amount of time with the game. The prolonged play led to the game either becoming frustrating or boring. Short bursts of gameplay were the only way this game could cut-the-mustard for me. Be prepared to still be playing this one week down the line because of that.
There was another thing that made it hard to sustain play – glitches. Well, one glitch in particular. Throughout multiple cutscenes, the dialogue would cut out and just be replaced with a zero. The game would continue to run but the dialogue would outstay its welcome, sticking onscreen for hours at a time. Eventually either two things would happen. Either the game would fix itself and I could continue with my experience or I would have to restart the game in an effort to get it working again. It was unfortunate and certainly impacted my time with the game
- Gorgeous visuals
- Solid soundtrack
- Fun gameplay
- Nostalgic narrative
- Unpredictable difficulty spike
- Unsuitable for long play sessions
Overall my time with Jet Lancer was positive. Through short sessions and hectic gameplay, I found myself enjoying the experience. Jet Lancer is a testament to the fact that sometimes a game doesn’t need to be innovative, it just needs to be fun. And Jet Lancer is fun, in very short bursts.