Unless you’re a guileless gamer using your console or PC to simply pass the time, distract yourself, or even broaden your horizons, your social status might depend on what you play, why you play it, and most importantly – how you judge what you play. Just as in some social circles you have to take a stand on which MCU movies do the comics justice, which vineyard harvested the best crop of grapes the year before, or which band from the 90s is most relevant, it’s the same with video games: Those with good taste are lauded by their peers.
Having your own distinct taste is not an easy matter. It must be well-founded, you will need a vast knowledge of the field, it can not be too mainstream, but if you deviate from it, it must evoke approving nods. Confirmation is the currency of this rigorous process, and sometimes you strike gold. You find a game that everyone should have played, but didn’t.
One proven strategy is to take refuge in niches. Where no one else is, it’s easy to gain dominance. Some play early access titles to be at the forefront of the next big thing. It’s also easy to shroud yourself in the appearance of a connoisseur by playing small indie titles. But the ultimate challenge is to have a dissenting opinion on a big title and still be accepted for it.
I’ve sometimes wondered if I’ve marginalized myself a bit by elevating Jet Force Gemini into the ranks of the masterpieces of its era. It’s a game released quite late in the Nintendo 64‘s life cycle by Rareware, who were considered a warrant for good games at the time. However, JFG received a mixed reception. Nevertheless, I bought it and it made me happy. At the time, there was no meta-discourse and no peers that I wanted to or could impress with my taste.
Over the years, the memory of playing the game faded, whether it was rescuing tiny cute aliens aboard the SS Anubis, or murdering huge gross aliens on the fire planet Eschebone, but what remained was the feeling of having played a very special game. While I often inevitably refresh such a feeling, because most big titles they are omnipresent in discussions, articles, or video essays, JFG disappeared from my consciousness a little more with each passing year. At the same time, I became increasingly curious about whether I would still like it. By then, JFG had become a possible testimony to my exquisite taste, but doubts were mounting that perhaps it was rather the opposite. Perhaps because of this concern, I never touched it again.
When my son recently asked me to show him “the second Mario Kart ever made”, I pulled out my N64. Jet Force Gemini greeted me from the module slot. And that same evening, I finally tried it out and had one of the best video game experiences in a long time. Never before did I have the opportunity to play a favorite game as if I had never experienced it. And most certainly I did not expect it to stand up to the mortgage of nostalgic transfiguration with such bravado. And not only that. With a keener eye for details and game design, I can now appreciate what this game accomplished in 1999 even more.
But the best thing about it is that I don’t care about any of that. I don’t need to analyze the level design and I don’t need a trophy to prove myself to others. I also don’t care how good it really is in the end. Jet Force Gemini was the game I liked and everyone else didn’t for more than two decades. In 2021, it’s the game that serves me delightful forgotten memories and surprises me with how happy it makes me. It’s not at all what I afraid it could be and so much more than I had hoped for.
Jet Force Gemini was released on October 29, 1999 for the Nintendo 64, and whenever winter comes around, I think of the game. In fact, it received decent reviews and sold more than a million copies, but in some ways it was probably too ahead of its time. Two analog sticks and better hardware would certainly have done a lot for this ambitious title to really shine. You can get an impression of this with improved controls and visuals as part of the Rare Replay Collection for Xbox One and as part of the Game Pass program.
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