Gemini Rue, the recently released commercial debut of Joshua Nuerenburger, is an exciting game. Not just in its thrilling story and engaging gameplay, but also in what it means for the future of retro games, as crazy as that sounds. While many dismiss the low-res adventure game genre as an outdated holdover from the olden days, Gemini Rue proves that the style still has very much to offer. With a captivating narrative, glorious pixel art, and a feel of greatness, Gemini Rue must not be missed.

First, let’s discuss the story. It’s the future and mankind has gone intergalactic (naturally). There’s been a huge war and a particularly nasty criminal organization known as the Boryokudan (Japanese word meaning “a bunch of assholes”) has taken hold of much of the galaxy. They traffic the highly addictive drug de jour, “juice”, wipe people’s minds and train them to be assassins and spies, and generally act like a space mafia.

The game features two protagonist over whom you alternate control: Azriel Odin, ex-assassin now space policeman searching for his missing brother and Delta-Six, amnesiac inmate of mysterious offworld hospital/prison. Accompanying them is a cast of supporting characters including gangsters, mysterious girls, old friends, and mad scientists. At first glance, most of the characters seem to be no more than standard, boring archetypes, hard-boiled cop with a troubled past looking for his missing family member, generic amnesiac, get-in-get-out no-nonsense pilot, and so on. But without wanting to give too much away, their apparent lack of characterization improves and is justified by the progression of the story. Since I’d like you to experience the full impact of the narrative, all I can say is that while the characters aren’t incredibly memorable, the overarching story is awesome enough to compensate and you should simply play the game to see what I mean.

The graphical style is very dirty, yet somehow beautiful. The desaturated grit fits with the dystopian sci-fi aesthetic and I imagine it’d have much less impact with clean textures and sharp contrasts, especially since it’s Cyberpunk with a Chance of Rain (warning, TV Tropes link, do not click unless you have several free hours). Unless you can’t enjoy a game unless it’s in big-ass high definition or you’re, I don’t know, a huge fan of primary colors, chances are, you’ll agree that Gemini’s art is pretty much fantastic. The sound design is exceptional, especially the music and voices. While sparse, the soundtrack is very powerful when it kicks in, and is reminiscent of Vangelis’ work in Blade Runner. Gemini Rue also features a very professional set of voice actors. While some of the background characters are a little dodgy, the main cast gives a stellar performance. Listening to Azriel’s VA, in particular, makes my panties wet.

The gameplay is a little harder to summarize. I like most of the puzzles, since they reward logical thinking by usually following your first instincts. More often than not, you’ll know what to do quickly without getting stuck on a difficult critical thinking puzzle. I personally feel that a major flaw of adventure games is putting the gameplay focus on too many puzzles with moon logic. You know what I mean, so-called critical thinking that instead boils down to insane logic that sort of makes sense if you trace from the solution to the initial problem but not the other way around. If you get stuck in Gemini Rue, it’s probably because you forgot the clue the last NPC told you, either that or you keep dying in one of the several timed life-or-death puzzles. These fast-paced challenges are intended to heighten the tension, but after the 5th time one kills you, they get more than a little intolerable.

Fortunately, the game autosaves fairly frequently, but those won’t save you from ripping your hair out if you struggle with the game’s hyped gunfight action sequences, since the saves occur before the lengthy dialogs BEFORE the combat, which means a lot of mashing the keyboard or mouse to skip through if you die. But nevertheless, Gemini Rue features simple third-person-shooting in an adventure games, and it works about as well you expect. That is, not very. They really are more like repeating logic puzzles than actually combat, since it’s all about ducking in and out of cover with the right timing and there’s basically one right way to win. Overall, these scenes are sluggish and control poorly, but not enough to significantly detract from the fun and flow of the game. It’s really a matter of if you can catch on fast enough or not. I’ve no doubt that some find these sequences insufferably easy, but I don’t think they really allow for a balanced difficulty that brings the intended level of tension.

Really, above all, the biggest draw of Gemini Rue is the feel. Through Azriel’s investigation, you begin to make your own deduction and eventually slip into the role of a real investigator. With Delta-Six, you feel the oppression of being alone and powerless, your fate seemingly railroaded by unknown/unknowable forces. The game explores existentialism and free will, but its biggest and most interesting focus is the nature of person-hood, what it means to really be a person, and what it takes to make one a different person. The game is worth playing for the challenging conclusion it reaches on this quandary alone.

While many have made the Blade Runner comparison, this relation is mostly cosmetic. Joshua Nuerenburger instead cites Cowboy Bebop and Portal as the biggest influences. The game has references to both, in addition to a humorous reference to four classic adventure game series (see if you can spot it when playing). What I’m getting at is that Gemini shows the right kind of respect to its inspirations, that is, affectionately acknowledging its predecessors while not being constrained by their precedent. Gemini Rue doesn’t limit itself to history but instead innovates, pushing the genre forward rather than getting stuck in nostalgia. The game comes across not as the author’s homage to the media of his past but rather as original idea that aims to be culturally advancing.

One last thing, though. As with many successful entertainment products, Gemini Rue is already getting some requests for a sequel, or at least a spin-off in the same universe. I say no. Gemini Rue is completely self-contained and any further exploration in its universe would be detrimental to the story and message. In fact, the lack of extraneous exposition detailing the history of the world and the characters works in the game’s favor and more explanation would harm the feel of mystery. By absolutely no means am I saying I don’t wish to see more from Nuerenburger, quite the contrary. I believe that he definitely has the creative mind to go beyond Gemini and innovate without getting stuck in a franchise.

Even though many aspects are subjective, some even being love them or hate them, I still highly recommend Gemini Rue, even though a number of features didn’t resonate with me. Frankly, I imagine I enjoyed it less than most, and I still think you should get it. Long story short, go buy Gemini Rue despite its flaws, you won’t regret it.

Drew’s Rating: 4 of 5 starks

Drew Wellman is a person.


Recommended:

Our recent INTERVIEW with Joshua Nuernberger
Joshua’s article: Visually Directing The Player