Jets 'n' Guns

No matter how sophisticated 3-D action and strategy games get, no matter how realistic role-playing games get, I am convinced there will always be a place in this world for the venerable side-scrolling action game. After years in the arcades, this genre virtually defined the 16-bit era of consoles like the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Every so often we’ll see another homage to that era appear—Rake In Grass offers up one of the newest entries with its remarkable Jets ‘n’ Guns, now available natively for Mac OS X.

Jets ‘n’ Guns starts with a basic premise: You’re a space pilot for hire, and you’ve been retained to save the universe from the evil dictator Xoxx and his minions. Xoxx has kidnapped Professor von Hamburger, who was working on the mysterious Quantum Cannon at the time of his abduction. Planned for peaceful purposes, the Quantum Cannon can be used for evil as well—it’s up to you to liberate the professor, destroy the weapon and stop Xoxx in his tracks.

You’re presented with a space fighter that looks like a mélange of high tech space weaponry bolted to a chassis that appears to be rescued from a World War II museum. Throughout, Jets ‘n’ Guns uses an imaginative and fun style that works through a variety of different environments, from outer space to jungles to water and more. The animation and gameplay remains fluid and smooth as you play.

At various points you can take “shopping breaks” that let you save the game and upgrade the weapons and defenses on your craft. In fact, if you save up enough points, you can buy new ships that have additional slots for offensive and defensive gear. As you blast the bad guys, you’ll occasionally get cash bonuses, reinforcements to your ship’s shields, and more.

The game’s display shows the heat thrown off by your weapons and your ship’s hull integrity. The longer you hold down the fire button or buttons, the hotter your weapons run—if you’re not judicious with your firing sequences, eventually things will start smoking, and you’ll have to wait a few moments for your weapons to cool down before you can start shooting. As the bad guys fire at you and aim missiles and ships your way, chipping away at the shields on your ship. Let them go low enough, and your hull integrity will drop to zero; you’ll blow up—game over, man, unless you’ve saved or made your way to a checkpoint. (They pop up occasionally, too, so you don’t have to restart from the beginning of a level.)

Some of the bad guys are in transports that carry cargo—blast them and you can collect the cargo; occasionally, you can use it to improve your ship, or you can sell it at shopping breaks for more cash.

Ship improvements are available in an imaginative array of goodies, from new guns, bombs, and missiles to defensive improvements like more maneuverability, better cooling, and remote control of weapons on the field.

One of my favorite features is targeted straight at malcontents like me. As you blast apart the bad guys’ ships, sometimes they’ll fall out into the air or space, or mass on the ground or other platforms and start shooting at you. You can blast them for extra points. (A gore option lets you turn off the blood splats.)

In addition to tons of stuff flying through the air, space, and water trying to blast you apart, there are also platforms, stationary guns, and other objects on the ground, walls, and ceilings. With the exception of scrolling background art, you can destroy just about everything on the screen. It’s cathartic, to say the least, though often hazardous. Sometimes, it can be helpful, too: Blowing up a building or a fuel tower can rain hot, fiery death down upon the infantry that’s taking pot-shots at you.

The game features an original hour-long soundtrack created by a Swedish metal band called Machinae Supremacy. It’s got a very retro-’80s or early ’90s feel to it, and it suits the subject material very well. The game’s also chock full of original sound effects.

Gameplay is fast and furious, even on Jets ‘n’ Guns’ easiest level. From the first instant, you’re thrust into an action-packed environment where everything in your field of view is trying to destroy you.

The game is PowerPC-based, at least for now—no Universal Binary version was available as I tested it. It requires Mac OS X v10.3.9 or higher, and a 500MHz or faster processor.

The documentation included with Jets ‘n’ Guns (a PDF file you get when you download the game) is pretty comprehensive, though it could use more thorough proofreading (as could some of the in-game text). That can perhaps be forgiven, though: Rake In Grass is a Czech game developer, so English isn’t the company’'s first language. One shortcoming of the documentation is that Rake In Grass didn’t update it with any Mac-specific conventions or Mac system requirements.

The bottom line

Jets ‘n’ Guns is a well-executed throwback to the games that made the 16-bit console era great. Retro-gamers and fans of side-scrollers should take a look.

When you’re a Jet Jets ‘n’ Guns is the latest effort to harken back to the side-scrolling action games of yore.

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