Before the drab grey and brown games of the HD-era became commonplace, video games were a notably more vibrant affair. Talking specifically, you pretty much knew you were in for a good time if the game you found yourself sat in front of had a vivid blue sky. It’s no joke - an intense azure atmosphere was a mainstay for many arcade hits of the 90s - particularly those from SEGA.
This lack of blue-sky thinking in more modern titles resulted in one much-loved early noughties website making a tongue-in-cheek campaign to see the return of sky blue backdrops in gaming.
Thankfully it seems developers Vladimir Fedyushkin and Nicolai Danielsen got the message — as Jet Lancer, an aerial combat shooter, is very much full of blue airspace and good arcade vibes.
This fast-paced slice of aeronautical amusement sees you take on the role of Ash Leguinn, a well-skilled pilot with attitude to match. The story here is that beyond the ‘day job’ of taking on Sky Pirates in the occasional dogfight, you also find yourself needing to save the city from a multitude of monumental mechanical baddies.
The airborne action takes place in a series of side-on shooting exchanges, where you’ll find yourself up against a variety of shoddy skippers. Jet Lancer does a great job of mixing up the variety on offer across the 30-plus levels — you’ll come up against endurance tests, escort missions, intel gathering, plenty of hectic dogfights, and a handful of big boss battles.
This medley of levels serves up a well-tuned challenge, seeing you dodging projectiles, aiming your missiles with care and shooting at a constant stream of agitators — all whilst under constant pressure.
Now, if you do find yourself up against a particularly tricky level then you can change your loadout. You unlock new abilities as you progress, and switching them out is simple enough to do. It’s worth experimenting here, as from time to time you will find yourself up against an enemy type that requires mixing up your arsenal. You’ll want to conduct a bit of trial and error loadout testing when taking on the towering big bosses. They’ll assault your jet with new techniques, and you’ll want to figure out the best way to counter them.
Controls take a bit of time to get to grips with, and at first handling your snazzy supersonic jet felt akin to ice skating — I was all over the place! A couple of levels in however, and I was comfortable, soaring through the skies, and firing off missiles with confidence. I will note however that the default controller setup felt a bit cramped when playing in handheld with the Joy-Con — using both your boost and missiles at the same time resulted in a bit of an ache after the odd devilishly heated battle. Thankfully you can modify the controller layout if you find this to also be the case for you, or of course just use the Pro Controller if you’re after something a bit roomier.
So, whereas the aforementioned arcade action up in the air is pretty intense and full-on, the experience out of the cockpit is an altogether different one. The side-scrolling shooter sections are accompanied by a 3D map, providing a way to move from level to level.
This map environment is a neat little addition to Jet Lancer, and although not particularly necessary, I’m glad it’s here as it fleshes out the experience overall. You could have just had a list of levels, or been dumped from one to the next, but instead, this three-dimensional addition offers just a touch of world-building, offers a little respite from the main skirmishes, and provides a means for which the story can progress.
The plot is straightforward enough and doesn’t hang around. You’ll typically run through a witty interaction with your crew (which includes a talking cat by the way), the occasional exchange with the bad guys, and you move on. You’re in and out of missions quick enough, with the narrative told in a quick and punchy style.
The writing here is amusing, scrappy, and a little bit sassy. This breezy approach to storytelling is well matched to the fast-paced action in the skies.
This all makes for a satisfying arcade package. The story and characters give off an almost Advance Wars vibe, the main shooter action rivals that of many arcade aerial combat shooters that came before it, and on the whole, the game packs a 90s SEGA aesthetic which I think many will get a kick out of.
A little tough in places, on the whole Jet Lancer is balanced, fair, and ultimately rewarding (especially when you revisit a level to improve your rank). Rolling around through the skies, dodging some two dozen missiles, and taking down bad guys in explosive displays of prowess is a blast.
The base game should take you around six hours to chew through, and after the kick ass finale, you're then put to the test in a ’New Game +’ mode, which adds in trickier enemies and new upgrades to play with.
Overall, Jet Lancer is a zippy, supersonic slice of entertainment, with blue skies aplenty and imposing arcade action. Dominating the skies here is a satisfying and swift experience that is well worth the price of admission.
Note: During my playtime I encountered a minor bug in some of the dialogue, this has been fixed in a day-one patch.