Shoot ‘Em Ups are one of the oldest video game genres I can think of, and after all this time, I’m always impressed when developers find new and exciting ways to make the genre relevant. Jet Lancer by publisher Armor games Studio and developer by Vladimir Fedyushkin and Nicolai Danielsen takes what works from more recent aerial shooters and cranks it up a notch for a frenetic high octane action gaming experience.
In Jet Lancer, take control of Ash Leguinn, a sassy flight school dropout turned mercenary. Ironically since Ash is one of the best pilots out there, she is continuously requested to help the flight academy students defend the skies against the malicious sky pirates. As the story progresses and motives are revealed, Ash quickly realizes things are more complex than she initially assumed.
Jet Lancer almost immediately throws you into action after just a few intro tutorials to learn the basics. While flying, you have complete control of your jet propulsion and can turn it on and off with ease. This makes for tricky turns and repositioning your jet reasonably easy to control.
Along with this, you also have an acceleration boost to send you flying across the airfield. If you use it too much, it can temporarily overheat, leaving you potentially vulnerable without acceleration or other moves tied to your boost. Along with your standard gun, you also have a special move, like the default homing missile. If you hold down your special move button upon release, it will unleash a “charge attack.”
Perhaps the most important feature is your “dodge roll” move. This allows you to be invulnerable for a second and is key to master, especially when levels become slightly more bullet-hell focused. As intense as things can get, the dodge roll is pretty forgiving, making me sometimes wonder how I made it out of certain situations unscathed. Still, timing is vital for dodging, particularly tricky sections successfully as you can only withstand three hits.
Ships and backgrounds are represented with nice and bright pixel art. The clean backdrops help you focus a bit more on the action in the foreground and kept things from getting too cluttered. As simple as they were, I was fond of this vibrant aesthetic. Along with this is the soundtrack influenced by complex math rock, prog rock, and metal. It’s a great soundtrack and one that feels fitting, given the technical feats asked of you.
Levels primarily consist of you flying around the screen performing head-spinning aerial maneuvers while dogfighting enemy pilots. Occasionally you will have specific criteria you will need to fulfill during the level, like staying in the range of communication towers, protecting friendly planes during escort missions, or using your weapons sparingly during stealth objectives. Most of these levels are relatively short, making more difficult levels less daunting to try again when you inevitably fail.
Failing also gives you a chance to try a different array of weapon and jet modules. Early into the game, you will run into Lem, a talking cat who works as a mechanic for your jet. Lem will change out weapon and jet modules, giving several module combinations to try out. Modules range from different weapons to additional coolant for your thrusters or additional shields.
The more daring can try modules with high risk and reward, like lower shields for smoother maneuverability. You are limited to four modules, so you have to prioritize what is best for your current mission. One of my favorite modules was replacing my dodge roll with a dodge dash. With this, I was able to collide directly into enemies to take them out, and it was immensely satisfying.
Jet Lancer is the most fun when you have a frantic barrage of enemies to kill while trying to keep yourself alive. The screen swarms with countless sky pirates, and it’s exceptionally chaotic but in the best way possible on top of all that you always need to pay attention to your thruster and special weapon gauge. The game provides a real challenge but one that is super entertaining and downright addicting. On some of the harder levels, I found myself saying, “Just one more time” about twenty times.
Several boss battles range from a one-on-one with another skilled pilot to massive mechanical monsters. Each confrontation usually escalates with them using a devastating attack that can be a struggle to avoid. Almost all felt thoroughly rewarding to defeat.
Unfortunately, sometimes the game has levels where you are asked to reach a specific score in a time limit, and strangely enemies can be hard to find. It makes these levels exceptionally brutal and sadly less fun because there may be two planes on your screen at a time and occasionally on opposite sides of your screen. It’s a far cry from the onslaught of enemies that makes other parts of the game so enjoyable.
Simply put, interacting with enemies is more fun than searching for them. These levels aren’t consistent with how enemies spawn, and so many times, I found myself hoping I would get lucky that enough enemies would appear to make reaching the score possible. Given that you have one of these levels early on, it proved to be more difficult than any other section of the game, including bosses.
The difficulty also strangely gets easier, the more power-ups modules you get. You can set your modules in a way to make it more challenging, I suppose, but what fun is that? Here’s hoping an update comes giving these levels some more enemies to encounter.
Jet Lancer offers a decent amount of replay value. After you beat the game, you can play “New Game +” and mode where you can use your previous jet modules and obtain new ones, all while fighting more difficult enemies. It really tests your mettle and is just as fun, if not more, so the second time around.
As tough and crazy as Jet Lancer can be, it’s so cathartic to blast away hordes of enemies while dodging every obstacle in sight. Jet modules and weapon combos provide a great deal of customization and can fit countless different play styles. While there are some issues with difficulty scaling and score based levels, there is still plenty here to love. Whether you’re a seasoned shoot ’em up pilot or a rookie to the genre, Jet Lancer will take you on a wild ride.
Noisy Pixel gives Jet Lancer an 8 out of 10
This post may contain Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate Noisy Pixel earns from qualifying purchases.