You can find a lot of variety in the halls of the shoot ’em up genre, ranging from traditional left-to-right side scrollers, to fast freeform dogfights that require real acrobatic skill. Jet Lancer is an aerial combat games that falls into the latter category as you dodge, dip, dive, dash, and destroy. Don’t let its old school cartoon-like visuals fool you into thinking this is an easy experience, though. Even on the regular difficulty settings, you will face some tough tests of your skill.
You play as Ash, a mercenary pilot who’s been kicked out of the Air Force. Work outside the military is pretty basic for her, alongside her ship’s Captain and the talking cat Lem, who happens to also be genius engineer. You’ll meet a range of secondary characters, from Sky Pirates to the Royal Air Force, with enemies to be found on either side depending on where in the story you are. The overarching story features giant machines, AI and personal grudges, but it’s really the gameplay that will keep you invested.
A self-confessed aerial combat game, this isn’t a horizontal or vertical scrolling shoot ’em up. Enemies will swarm from all sides, and you’re given freedom to fly in any direction, pulling acrobatic moves to avoid them and line up your shots. My personal favourite was cutting all power to thrusters, pulling a 180º turn, and dashing through an enemy jet that may have been on my tail. Probably not possible in real life but it looks cool in Jet Lancer.
Code Wakers have made Jet Lancer look cool even if you are doing the most basic of manoeuvres. Jet Lancer’s art style helps in this regard, with its pixel style adding to the atmosphere of fast-paced shooting, and the soundtrack accompanying each mission is great.
The way each missions plays out will depend entirely on your jet’s loadout. You can have special weapons such as homing missiles, drones, or large bombs alongside your railgun, or you could choose to equip your jet with a beam weapon instead. Before heading into the action, the game tells you how well your loadout matches up to the enemies that you’ll be facing.
The accessibility options will also play a part. You can change them so you either risk it all and can be damaged and killed, or turn on an invincibility option so you can fly around without worry and attack to your heart’s content. Whatever you choose to play, the action almost always remains fast and fluid.
You’ll be picking missions from an overworld map, moving your carrier around a 3D map. While missions generally unlock sequentially, you will sometimes have a choice to make, letting you tackle missions in the order of your choice. That can be a blessing if you find one particularly challenging and want to try another. Mission types vary from having to clear enemy waves, to hacking towers by flying near them for a specific amount of time, taking out bombers before they destroy a city, reaching a score limit in a set of time, and straight up boss fights.
Most of the missions are very entertaining and bring the action, but the score attack missions are a bit of a blight. You will have to keep playing around with your jet’s loadout until you have one that will offer the best support – I’d suggest unguided missiles, support drones, and the dash ability – to get close to the target. Thankfully the developers have been paying attention, adjusting the score targets. Mission 15 originally had a target of 60,000 in 3 minutes which was nigh on impossible, but this has been patched to a more manageable 30,000 target. With over 30 missions and a new game plus mode, there’s plenty to sink your teeth into.