If there’s anything I kinda miss about the modern age of video games is that there’s not enough tie-in games based on TV shows or movies. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s where we had classics like Disney’s DuckTales and Goldeneye, and were rather ubiquitous during that 8 and 16-bit video game boom. They slowly started dying off by the early 2010s, during the start of the Xbox One/PlayStation 4 era, and haven’t really shown up since. These days when I think of promotions with licensed properties, it’s usually as crossovers in other games, like Bingo Story and The Price Is Right, or John McClane of Die Hard fame in Call of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War. The most recent tie-in game I can think of is, amusingly, a game based on Space Jam: A New Legacy made by the people at Digital Eclipse.
Even though they’re not as common these days, there is still a video game based on a TV series or movie released here and there. Most of them are relegated to mobile devices, but sometimes a game or two does make it to the mainstream gaming consoles – or in my case, Steam. Gemini: Heroes Reborn is one of those rare cases.
Developed by Phosphor Games – a studio mostly known for making mobile games and Virtual Reality titles – the game was released in early 2016 as a tie-in to the TV series Heroes Reborn, a science-fiction drama that is a sequel series to one of the biggest 2000s-era TV shows: Heroes.
Admittedly I don’t watch a lot of television, so my knowledge of Heroes is through friends that did watch it: The show’s premise involves a giant corporation simply called “The Company” that was experimenting with human beings and giving them superpowers, of which a small group of people slowly find out that they have through a solar eclipse. Eventually they team up to stop the big-bad-of-the-week and eventually figure out the Company’s ulterior motives. Basically a serial TV show that would sow the seeds for things like the later Marvel Cinematic Universe.
From what I gathered, Heroes started out great in its first season, then the Writers Guild of America had a strike midway through the second season. The strike basically threw the whole planned storyline out of whack in such a way that the show never really recovered, eventually getting canceled after the fourth season concluded in 2010. In 2016, a sequel series called Heroes Reborn came and went for a single season, of which its story is the basis for Gemini‘s plot.
(Warning: Plot spoilers for Gemini: Heroes Reborn follow.)
You play as Cassandra Hays, a woman who suffered amnesia as a teenager. She’s taken to an abandoned military base called “The Quarry” by her friend Alex to hopefully make sense of what happened to her. Eventually Alex gets captured by soldiers who apparently are still at the building, and Cassandra must find a way to save him. Cassandra later finds out she has special powers that allow her to travel through time, switching her between the then-present timeline of 2016 and the near-past of 2008, when the building was still operating. Eventually acquiring telekinesis powers in the past, she uses that and her time abilities to figure out what happened to her and what the purpose of “The Quarry” was.
The plot itself isn’t particularly remarkable. It falls into a lot of the common fiction tropes of characters double-crossing you and having to do bidding for the big bad – who’s unique to this game, voiced by Robin Atkin Downes of all people – while also figuring out the mystery of Cassandra’s family and her past.
Since this is based on a TV series, you’re probably wondering how much this game has to do with said TV series, and if you need to have watched the show to understand what’s going on. I honestly thought I needed to binge-watch Heroes to figure this game’s plot out, but it seems I don’t have to: With the exception of Dahlia, a deuteragonist that Cassandra meets several times throughout the game, every other character is unique to this game and is not mentioned on the show at all. Even the fan-ran Heroes Wiki has entries for these characters, and each of these entries are no more than a sentence long. So don’t feel like you need to watch five seasons of a TV series to get what’s going on here, because I didn’t watch a single second of Heroes before writing this post.
Gemini: Heroes Reborn is a first-person puzzle platformer. Cassandra has abilities that give her opportunities to grab and throw objects with telekinesis, slow down time to dodge projectiles and move with super speed, and switch between time periods at will. In a sense, she’s like if Gordon Freeman from Half-Life 2 onwards and Faith from Mirror’s Edge had a baby.
Most of of Gemini‘s gameplay involves Cassandra throwing chairs and 1980s-style computers like it’s a gravity gun at her enemies, which was my method for combat in most cases. She’s not a firearms expert, so she doesn’t shoot weapons, so telekinesis ends up being the main source for combat. In addition to the standard foes, as Cassandra progresses through the world she meets more deadlier enemies, like fast ninjas that are more difficult to dodge unless slow time is activated, riflemen whose bullets can be quite deadly up close, and even giant tank bosses that shoot rockets that you have to repel back to them.
There really isn’t a whole lot else to how Gemini plays. Each level has Cassandra jumping around platforms, occasionally solving puzzles by telekinesis or time travel. Each level is no more than 10-15 minutes each, and checkpoints are frequent, so dying isn’t particularly a big problem even if Cassandra gets overwhelmed in combat or forgets to slow down time to dodge fan blades. There were some interesting puzzles where I’d have to travel to the past to recover data off a destroyed machine, or to move a generator onto a power switch, but nothing particularly perplexing that got me lost for long periods.
In a sense, the Half-Life 2 and Mirror’s Edge comparisons I made earlier are rather fitting for a game like this, as my common combat solution was to grab a physics object and hurl it at the enemy enough times until they die. As I got further along, I learned to use some of the hazards around the arenas to make fights a little easier, but what I did every time was about the same: Grab a physics object, hurl it at the enemy repeatedly until they died. Even a lot of the platforming wasn’t particularly difficult, which I can understand since this was likely made for an audience who may not be super expert gamers.
The rest of the plot involves Cassandra slowly figuring out what happened to her while doing Mason’s bidding. There’s eventually a boss fight with a supporting character, and it ends with Cassandra battling Mason through time that eventually ties everything together, leaving very few loose ends.
What surprised me was how short this game is. It took me roughly 2 hours to beat it, about the length of two full episodes of the TV show with commercials. I wasn’t expecting a sprawling 10 hour-long epic, but it did feel like it ended too soon, it came and went with no fanfare. I understand this was a licensed title made to capitalize on a TV show, but they could’ve added more to the game, like extra puzzles outside of the main story, or a time trial mode. Something to give people incentive to come back to this game. After I completed Gemini: Heroes Reborn, I honestly had no drive to ever come back to it.
You would think that’s the end of this Heroes Reborn tie-in, right? Actually, no. There’s one more game that came out around the same time.
Something I didn’t know until I started writing this article is that there was a second Heroes Reborn game by the same development studio. Titled Enigma: Heroes Reborn, this one involves Dahlia, the supporting character you meet in this game and actually appeared in Heroes Reborn proper. The plot involves Dahlia’s journey through The Quarry while solving puzzles and presumably meeting Cassandra Hays a few times throughout, much like how Cassandra met Dahlia in Gemini.
As opposed to Gemini which was more combat and physics focused, Enigma seems more puzzle focused, more akin to Antichamber or The Ball. Sadly, I haven’t played this because it’s only available on Apple iPads and iPhones these days, something I don’t have. I kinda wished it got ported to other platforms, because I probably would’ve had more fun with a physics based puzzle game than Gemini’s combat-driven approach.
So what happened to developer Phosphor Studios? Well, they are still making games after the Heroes Reborn tie-ins, mostly VR tie-ins for movies like Jurassic World and products like Ford Trucks. The only other original game they made was The Brookhaven Experiment, a VR horror shooter. Earlier this year, they got acquired by People Can Fly, makers of Bulletstorm and Outriders, which doesn’t surprise me considering the current climate. Considering Phosphor’s VR pedigree, perhaps maybe we’ll see VR Outriders from them in the future.
Gemini: Heroes Reborn isn’t amazing, but it’s a surprisingly competent and slightly fun little action puzzle game. It’s $3 on Steam – and also on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, but not at $3 – and with its fairly short length, you’ll probably find some enjoyment in it if you like puzzle platformers.
While I don’t think Gemini: Heroes Reborn has me itching to watch Heroes, I’m glad it exists because licensed video game tie-ins should always exist, primarily because they’re fascinating to play even if you’re not heavily interested in the source material. And I mean actual licensed video game tie-ins, not in some lazy cross-promotion in some other game. I honestly wouldn’t have known this game existed if it weren’t for the speedruns which are quite entertaining to watch if you’re not interested in the game itself.
Now that I’ve written about a licensed video game, I wonder if that Space Jam: A New Legacy game is any good. A shame I don’t have an Xbox One.
This was available on Patreon one week early. While you don’t have to be like Cassandra Hays and have time-manipulation abilities, chipping in at least $1 will get you to see these articles early. Check it out here, no telekinesis required.