Hold me closer, tiny Lancer
Jet Lancer is a brand-new PC and Switch game created by a small team of talented folks. But the saying “size doesn’t matter” could not be more accurate for this game. Jet Lancer is an evolution of the SHMUP. A nod to the classics that came before it with its own unique flavour to make it stand on its own two… wings?
Jet Lancer is a 2d side-scrolling shooty game where you pilot a hyper-powered jet (the LANCE) and take to the skies to fight waves of other hyper-powered flying machines. But unlike 2d scrollers of the past, Jet Lancer breaks from the single-axis navigation in favour of full-360 control. This break from the norm, tied with the game’s fluid handling and responsive controls, makes for a mighty fun game. Ever wanted to feel like Tom Cruise but a bit less Scientology-y? Jet Lancer has got your back.
The core make-up of Jet Lancer is its story mode which spans across 30 missions interspersed with 11 boss battles. The majority of the game’s missions will be familiar with most — shoot all the things until you win. But other mission types crop up to break up the normality. Some are point-based, some require you to protect areas in a level and others need you to capture areas by flying close to them. Regardless of your goal, you’re likely to be shooting something and Jet Lancer makes it a lot of fun to do so.
The LANCE comes equipped with all manner of offensive and defensive tech to aid you on your journey. You can dispatch of smaller enemies with your primary weapon whilst making use of your secondary weapon to batter more powerful ones. But if you favour a more nuclear option, the LANCE’s power weapon unleashes god’s wrath upon all before you. And that’s not all.
Jet Lancer has a whole chunk of extras for you to unlock in the game. You can switch your secondary weapon from homing missiles to good old-fashioned ‘chuck a lump of explosive at the enemy’ to increase damage at a cost of requiring greater accuracy. Or opt for mini proximity bombs which fall through the sky and explode on close proximity to an enemy. The LANCE’s power weapon comes in a multitude of flavours too. If a barrage of homing missiles isn’t your jam, you can opt for a fuck-off laser or perhaps a more tactful collection of stationary turrets which help thwart the oncoming waves of enemies. There’s a decent amount of weaponry to collect for the LANCE as you progress through the game’s story and there are also some handy passive mods to collect too. These mods apply to the LANCE which help you better tame the flying beast and generally aid you on your journey. All of these are adjustable between missions and they kind of tailor the game’s difficulty. Fancy more of a challenge? Ditch your shield and swap from homing missiles to standard rockets. The loadout also adds a small layer of tactical play to the game with better weaponry suiting better scenarios.
Weaponry aside, the LANCE is also equipped with an evasive manoeuvre which will make Peppy Hare tingle in his nethers. You can dodge enemies and their attacks with your barrel-roll to gain an advantage during a fight. Time it right and you’ll get a temporary increase in damage and attained score whilst using your primary weapon. There’s very much an element of skill needed to get the most out of Jet Lancer’s score system. But, if you’re like me, you can always default to spray and pray tactics.
Once you’ve nailed the controls and feel comfortable with your arsenal of weaponry you’ll be pulling off some pretty sick stunts. You’ll be cutting your afterburners to get the drop on an enemy whilst barrel-rolling your way past an oncoming missile. You’ll feel like an absolute champ. Like a tiny dancer pirouetting in the sky. But when the action ramps up, it ramps up and this is amplified by the game’s visuals.
Jet Lancer is one hell of a stylish game. It sports a kind of low-poly aesthetic at its base but the icing on the cake are its visual effects. The distortion from nearby explosions adds this layer of immersion that is often lacking from these types of games. Explosions feel punchy, threats threatening and when the shit really hits the fan you’re treated to your very own firework display. One that will very much destroy you. The visuals are taken up a notch when you finally encounter your first boss. Each boss comes with its own power weapon which, when fired, change the game’s palette to pure black and white, almost casting it back to this genres 8-bit roots. It’s a genius way to show the power of these weapons without resorting to simply cranking up the volume. But don’t get too distracted. These weapons are stylish but you don’t want to be sitting in their path lest you get rekt.
It’s also when playing these boss battles that Jet Lancer harks back to the roots of the genre the most. Each of the game’s boss battles makes use of one or more of your special moves which in turn requires a certain level of tact to defeat them. These aren’t Dark Souls equivalencies but they do serve as a nice distraction from fighting waves of little pains in the arse. It’s also nice to see some good ol’ fashioned boss battles in a game.
Outside of the gameplay, there’s another area which demands praise — accessibility. Jet Lancer features full controller mapping so you can play exactly how you’d like. It also features the toggling of invincibility without any penalty. Main actions can be set to toggle of, or holding of (by default), a button and all flashing effects in the game can be completely turned off. It’s awesome to see a game take its accessibility options seriously. Offering a great array of options ultimately opens up the game to be playable by a wider audience which is a win for everyone.
You’ll blast through Jet Lancer’s story in a few hours and there’s a Game + mode with ramped-up difficulty and extra unlocks for the LANCE. On top of that, there are attainable ranks for each mission so the hardcore players out there will be keen to grab an S+ rank across the board. The game doesn’t outstay its welcome but completionists will definitely get the most content out of Jet Lancer. If you aren’t one for attempting to get the best score on each mission, it’s a fairly short ride. But with its gameplay and visuals all going in its favour, it makes it very easy to recommend Jet Lancer. It’s the perfect pick-up-play title for the Switch and plays beautifully in both docked and handheld modes. If you’re hankering for some good old-fashioned SHMUPing with a modern twist, Jet Lancer will see you right.