Back in the mists of time 6 AA batteries could only buy you 4 hours of handheld dogfighting in a pseudo-3D 16-colored environment of a game heavily inspired from Sega’s Afterburner arcade. The game was Blue Lightning and ran on Atari’s now-forgotten Lynx. Apparently 15 whole years ago. Funny thing is Jet Impulse, an import game for the Nintendo DS, immediately reminded me of said game. Then my Nitnendo DS died a particularly gruesome death and I got myself a nice (and rather used) replacement unit.
Still, arcadey flight sims are too much of a childhood favorite to allow me to fret over such minor disturbances, especially when they come all the way from Japan (uhm, the flight sims, not the disturbances, that is), feature a distinctly manga/anime storyline, 19 missions usually broken down in 2 to 3 stages and engrossing gameplay. You see, Jet Impulse is the product of one of those rare moments Nintendo comes up with a new franchise and thus is extremely polished, highly enjoyable and quite addictive. It also is another game designed especially for handhelds, which mean it’s perfect for a quick 10 minutes long bus-ride, what with its non-existent loading times and short but frantic levels.
The game, in essence a pure 3D shmup, plays rather traditionally for a DS title. The top screen is where the main action takes place, while the touch-screen serves mainly as a zoomable radar and a handy way to alternate between missile types. The d-pad controls the plane’s movement, R+L buttons its throttle and you got one button for selecting targets, one for shooting missiles and one for the machine guns. Nothing fancy really, but a tried and tested control method that feels intuitive enough to overcome the games’ Japanese manual and instructions.
In-game updates, objectives and mission descriptions in Japanese, on the other hand, do pose quite a bit of a problem. I for one spent hours chasing a certain red plane I should have simply ignored. I did hone my flying skills mind you, but the futile chase and pointless waste of enough tons of ammunition to take down a moderately sized army got incredibly boring and frustrating. Then, I just discovered the damn thing wasn’t supposed to go down. I was supposed to merely avoid it and run away. Moral of the story? Either learn Japanese or use a walkthrough.
Speaking of stories, well, the story of the game, lavishly as it might be narrated, is equally incomprehensible to objectives written in Japanese. Then again, it’s probably a tacky near-future superpower vs superpower affair.
It’s moments like speeding with a jet-fighter through heavy rain, climbing above cloud level and enjoying a serene silence only marginally spoiled by two enemy bombers, that are eloquent beyond the barriers of language and show off the sheer class of Jet Impulse. Same thing goes for huge naval battles, stealthy night missions and most of the set pieces the game has to offer. Actually, baring a few lengthy cutscenes and the odd incomprehensible objective, the language is more of an atmosphere enhancer than a problem. Especially considering that the English version of the game (to be released at some undefined point in the future) will be shockingly called DS Air. Don’t believe me? There’s a whole website to prove the truth of my words, even though there’s only this humble article to tell the western world how great a game Jet Impulse is. Not innovative, neither ground breaking or visually impressive, just great.
As for the online element of Jet Impulse utilizing the DS’s WiFi capabilities, well, it seems pretty darn impressive, giving access to downloadable game content (via the official Japanese website) and the ability to go head-to-head against players over the Internet. Problem is my wireless connection has been generally non-existent for the past weeks, which means I’ll be covering online play at some other day, provided I don’t first microwave my router. Oh, and there’s a 1-4 players wireless multiplayer mode, too.