It’s a sad, but true, fact that there are several gaming genres that have fallen by the wayside in recent years, overtaken by fashion and the whims of the gaming industry which seems to think that people are only interested in playing variations on the first-person shooter (invariably set in either World War II, the modern era or the future; come on guys, there are more historical wars to pick from surely?) and Gran Turismo. One of these genres, once extremely popular, is the scrolling shooter. Unfortunately, it seems to have been a victim of the fad for polygon-based gaming: scrolling shooters really have to be side-on or top-down (into-the-screen based shooters have their fans but your correspondent has never got along with them, give me R-Type over Space Harrier any day of the week) and that means that, even if they use polygons, they retail an old-school 2D feel and certainly an old-school gameplay. “Boring” say ver kids, their sweaty hands clutching their moulded plastic XBox controllers, “it’s not 1995 any more, grandad, give me yet-another Call of Duty game! I WANT ANOTHER CALL OF DUTY GAME SO I CAN SHOOT PEOPLE IN THE HEAD LOL PWND!”
Kids are idiots.
(As a disclaimer I should point out that I quite like both racing games and first-person shooters but, dammit the industry, do we really need so many of them?!)
Luckily for people who actually like games rather than just playing the same two over and over again for ludicrous amounts of money (yes, it’s a bit snobbish to say that; no, I don’t care) a few titles in this genre still trickle-out every year, largely ignored by the headshot kidz and boy-racers. Today’s Game of the Decade, published in 2004 by indie developers Rake In Grass and unknown to your correspondent until a couple of years ago is just one of these game and one of the best in the genre I’ve ever played. It’s called Jets n Guns.
No, that's not X-Factor contestant Rhydian but vain space-dictator Justin Perfect.
Now, I should point out at this juncture that I’ve only played the Gold edition of this game (unexpectedly given-away for free for one day via Game Giveaway of the Day, back in ‘08; a bargain I don’t expect to see repeated) which has numerous additons (such as extra ships to fly and extra levels to play) to the original although I’m sure that’s more than great as well.
In Jets n Guns you play a futuristic space-mercenary in his little ship and you take various missions for money. On these missions you shoot things, lots of things, many of which explode in spectuacular, often bloody and sometimes hilarious ways. There’s a thin plot running through the whole thing (accompanied by pre-level comic-style pictures in the Gold edition) explaining each level but really this is just a classic level-based blaster with the storyline adding a little atmosphere and an explanation for the scenarios each level is based around. Whilst many side-scrolling shooters have a power-up scheme throughout the level (meaning that the player is left vulnerable on losing a life since they tend to lose all their power-ups with it) Jets n Guns has a pre-level “shop” sequence where the player arms-up their fighter craft with whatever weaponry and armour they can afford. Naturally, beating a level leads to a cash injection which can then be used to make the fighter a bit more badass for the upcoming stage.
There are several things that make this game so much fun. The first is that it’s a really hectic, really exhilarating shooter. Pressing fire unleashes a bona fide hail of bullets/plasma beams/whatever at the enemy and, very often, they respond in kind. These aren’t all stoopid “fire off a bunch of glowing balls in all directions and hope they hit” enemies of the sort seen in so many shooters either; many of them take aim before firing meaning that the player can’t just casually fly through the levels lazily dodging floating bullets. If you want to survive you’ll have to weave and dodge as well as fire; this game isn’t just interested in showing you the pretty scenery (although that is very nice) it makes you work for it; you know, like games used to in the old days. When you complete a level of Jets n Guns then, fuck me, you feel a sense of achievement.
Of course, were it Rhydian then that ship I've just trashed would probably contain Simon Cowell which would make it twice as satisfying.
And it’s also funny in a way that doesn’t make the game seem cute or childish. One level sees the player escorting ships flown by attractive women and defending them from the unwanted attention of boorish male pilots of various extraterrestrial types whose ships have things like “Mr Loverman” painted on the side and who broadcast White Van Man-style comments over the airwaves just before you satisfyingly blast them to pieces. Another stage is set on a “perfect” planet overseen by a self-consciously attractive Alpha-male type who promptly sends his security forces against you as you trash his gleaming skyscrapers and blow the crap out of passing craft carrying his adonis-like face on giant TV screens. Even the violence itself is funny with poor, largely-defenceless spacemen with jetpacks being sent against your heavily-armed fighter and being messily blown across the screen in return with ridiculous Pythonesque amounts of blood.
And then there’s the variety of other features: the different weapons and add-ons (and, in the Gold version, the different ships) you can arm yourself up with; and the medals you receive for completing various achievements on a level; and the hidden rubber duck (really) bonus pickups; and the excellent ways of receiving extra money like the device you fit to your ship which broadcasts your carnage to a TV network and pays-out for extra gore. Someone put a lot of thought into this game and it’s paid off handsomely.
Okay, there are problems: there isn’t enough visual and audio feedback when the ship gets hit for my liking, the damage indicator would have been much more useful as a bar than the dial they use and it inexplicably doesn’t seem to support joypad control (although, on Windows at least, the excellent Joy2Key utility deals with this without too much hassle) but, for me, these are fairly minor quibbles. I love this game quite unashamedly and utterly and, when I loaded it up a few days ago to refresh my “feel” of it for this article I got sucked right back into it and wouldn’t leave it alone until I’d reached the next stage. This is a truly brilliant game and well-worth the asking price for those who aren’t afraid of a bit of old-school difficulty. It’s available for Windows, Mac OS and Linux. You can get a demo and order the full game from this link here.