I’m constantly impressed at how video game developers keep finding all new ways to integrate music with innovative gameplay mechanics, regardless of the abundance of rhythm games already available on the market these days. Sure, the days of plastic guitars are seemingly over, but imaginative arcade action with beats busting around you is certainly booming right now. Aaero is the latest rhythm-based title to hit PC and Consoles, mixing up twitch-reaction gameplay with shooting mechanics. There’s a lot to love about the game and I found myself hooked immediately, but those seeking a long lasting experience may find themselves feeling a little underwhelmed.
Aaero is played with dual sticks, with the left stick controlling the placement of your zippy futuristic ship and the right stick controlling your aiming reticule. All the action takes place in a circular area of the screen, with the position of the left stick lining up with the position of your ship – have it placed in the top left corner and your ship will inhabit that space, or spin it around and watch your ship rotate around the screen alongside it. It makes movement feel incredibly natural and co-ordinated, which is great considering Aaero demands you pull off super-slick movements in order to keep up with the action.
The screen will slowly fill with long winding ribbons which you need to consistently line your ship up against, with your accuracy judged during and at the end of each level. This might sound pretty simple in principle, but it’s actually incredibly tricky; the ribbons move along with the beat of the music, so as each banging tune becomes more upbeat you’ll quickly see the ribbons twist and turn all over the playfield. Keeping up with all of it can be incredibly tough and at first you’ll find your ship all over the place – seriously, I don’t think I’ve even come close to the 100% accuracy mark on any level yet. Despite this, you’ll find ribbon chasing incredibly addictive and a hell of a lot of fun. The aforementioned co-ordination of control ensures you’ll always feel like you’re in complete command of your ship, with each and every mistake or success your own doing. Those mistakes (there’ll be plenty of them, believe me) won’t stop you coming back for more though.
Besides the ribbons, there’ll also occasionally be hazards you have to avoid, with things like moving pipes, falling rubble, and huge machines blocking your path. It isn’t always clear how to avoid these until the last second either, so you’ve got to be switched on and ready to react if you want to survive. You’re only given three lives per level and the addition of plenty of tricky enemies means you’ll want to avoid as many of these hazards as possible.
Enemies typically come in the form of flying ships, some of which are there essentially for target practice and some of which actually provide a threat thanks to the missiles they’ll shoot in your direction. Aaero doesn’t give you the freedom to fire as you please though; you have to mark targets by placing the aiming reticule over them, with each marked target seeing a homing missile launched their way. For the most part it’s fairly simple stuff, though I did have a few issues with the game’s shooting mechanics.
It wasn’t always easy to see what enemies you’d targeted. I’d always swing my aiming reticule over each enemy as quickly as possible, but then upon shooting my homing missiles I’d find that I’d have often missed some enemies out. Whilst I understand that you’re only allocated a specific amount of missiles at a time, it was difficult to clearly make out which enemies had actually been tagged. Given that enemies and hazards come at you quick and fast in the game, these moments could be the difference between success and failure – those three lives of yours will quickly dwindle away if you’re not too careful.
I don’t want to be too hard on the game’s shooting because for the most part it worked well, but those moments where I couldn’t tell if an enemy was marked could be pretty frustrating. Enemies are incredibly unforgiving and when chasing a high score or working through one of the tougher difficulties, seeing your progress lost because of something as annoying as an unmarked target could be a pain – especially when you’re convinced that you’d covered each and every enemy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure some instances of it was down to my own human error, but I spent enough hours with Aaero to know that wasn’t always the case.
Despite this though, I never got fed up of playing Aaero. In fact, I found chasing ribbons and shooting down enemies so tantalising that I just wanted more and more of it. Unfortunately, the game only features fifteen levels which are each easily finished in less than five minutes each. I managed to complete every level in the game in just over an hour, which was a little disappointing.
Aaero does offer some replayability thanks to the additional difficulty levels that are available, but they’re not really that easy to unlock. ‘Advanced’ difficulty demands you get a 90% completion rate in the ‘Normal’ mode, whilst unlocking the ‘Master’ difficulty requires you to have got 100% across every other difficulty level. It completely alienates your typical gamer; I always remember that I’d be intrigued to try songs on expert difficulty in ‘Guitar Hero’ games regardless of whether or not I was able to complete them, but Aaero doesn’t even allow you to give them a look. It means that only those who are VERY good at the game will get to see everything that Aaero has to offer, which is a massive shame given that the it’s already a little lacking in the level count.
At least there are leaderboards for each level though, meaning score chasers can come back and see how they rank against other players in the world. You get a score given to you at the end of each level based upon your performance, with things like accuracy and the amount of enemies you defeated factoring into your final score. Seeing where you place on the leaderboard is a neat incentive to stick at the game though, so gamers who like seeing their name creeping up the rankings will get plenty of hours of entertainment out of Aaero.
Naturally, one of the most important areas of Aaero’s design is with its song choice, and thankfully it delivers a banging soundtrack. Now I’ll admit, I’d never really call myself a fan of the artists found in Aaero (or even heard of them for that matter), but the song choices were incredibly fitting for the gameplay with tunes that’ll certainly get the pulse going. If you’re a fan of artists such as Noisia, Flux Pavilion, Katy B, The Prototypes, and Neosignal then you’ll be right at home, but if (like me) you haven’t even heard of them I can assure you the music is of the highest quality. I mean, everyone can enjoy dubstep beats in some capacity, right?!
Aesthetically Aaero looks great, with a somewhat simplistic polygonal look that’s absolutely oozing with style. There are only three environment types in total in the game, but they each manage to feel completely different across the fifteen levels – you’ll never feel like the game is overusing particular locations and everything always feels fresh. The visuals particularly shine during the boss levels, where you’ll face off against a gigantic beast that’ll make your ship and the environment itself look tiny. They’re always enjoyable showdowns from a gameplay perspective, but they also emphasise how impressive Aaero can look on a visual basis too.
Aaero offers an utterly enthralling rhythm gameplay experience that’ll hook you in right from the very start. The ribbon chasing mechanics are great, whilst the song choice and visual style further epitomises how cool the game is. Unfortunately, the level choice is slightly lacking, whilst the shooting mechanics could be a bit hit and miss (literally). These flaws never make for a bad experience as a whole, but they could be a little disappointing since the developers got everything else in the game spot on.
Regardless of its downsides, I’d still recommend Aaero to anyone who enjoys a quick-paced arcade experience. There’s so much fun to be had speeding across the impressive environments whilst chasing scores and blasting away at enemies – just don’t be surprised if it’s a rather short-lived experience.
Developer: Mad Fellows
Publisher: Reverb Triple XP
Release Date: 11/04/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC