Aaero is a game unlike anything i have played in years. I went into the review completely blind, having only heard rave reviews over social media, and what I found was a little gem of an independent game.
Aaero is developed by Mad Fellows studios, a UK based developer based in Royal Leamington Spa, which seems to be THE place to be for game development, as Playground Studios (of Forza Horizon fame) are also based there. Aaero is only their second game, and the first to appear on console, and is the follow up to their mobile game, Sine Wave.
Aaero is what only can be described as a Rhythm action twin stick shooter. Every single level and aspect of gameplay is set to Dubstep music. Now, at the age of 43 I don’t confess to knowing a great deal about this style of music, but I have a 12 year old who, when asked of his opinion, said “that’s cool”, so I guess it must be. The one track I did recognise was “Bass Cannon” by Flux Pavilion, which is the opening level and the one that introduces you to the fairly simple, easy to pick up, but difficult to master gameplay.
There are a number of different elements to each level. In all of them you control a spaceship, and the first you encounter is moving your ship in line and in time with a blue moving line. This is all done with the left stick. The line appears in the distance and you move your ship to match its position. As the music pattern changes, so does the line and you are required to move the LS to match the line. Simple, eh? Well, its not as simple as it sounds, with the line moving both faster and in smaller increments as you progress through the levels. One thing that adds to this is the vibration on your controller. If your control is perfect the controller will vibrate manically, but with the rhythm action it makes you feel as if you are part of the music and really makes an amazing difference. Oh, and I would highly recommend using headphones! This part of the gameplay of Aaero is fantastic, and I wanted more and more opportunities to play these sections. Your score multiplier will increase the more you match the movement of the line with your ship and as a result your final level score will be higher. Yes, leaderboards are a thing in this game!
So, thats the rhythm action side covered, but what about the twin stick shooter? Well, that’s the next game mechanic you encounter. After you have successfully navigated the blue line section, which usually take place within a tunnel or enclosed area, your ship will emerge into a more open area, where enemy spacecraft will move from the players viewpoint to behind your ship. They will then split into multiple parts, and by moving the RS you select them before pressing RT to fire and destroy them. Even on the starting level you will encounter 20+ enemies and again, the more you destroy, the higher the multiplier and score goes. Some enemies do fire at you as well, and I did find this infuriating as I struggled to combat this and was losing lives, of which you have 3 to start with. Lose all 3 lives and it’s Game Over (Man). Unfortunately this element of the gameplay is not as enjoyable as the “blue-line” sections.
Again, as the levels progress, the enemies get quicker and more difficult. Obstacles are also introduced, meaning a dodge approach is needed, also again, used in conjunction with the other mechanics, so at times you are dodging, shooting and following the line at the same time. Completing a level does not automatically gain you access to the next. Aaero follows, dare I say it, the mobile game approach, where a certain number of stars are needed to unlock levels, so it encourages you to perfect and get better at levels in order in progress. Initially I didn’t like this, but the more I played the more I realised that with each playthrough of a level you started to learn the patterns and was therefore able to improve your skills.
Aaero is tough. By the time you reach the 8th level, on the normal difficulty I must add, you will be playing through it a number of times to learn the enemy patterns, most of all when they fire at you, and to learn the blue line patterns, before you can successfully complete it. This is where Aaero can become mildly infuriating as it is not very forgiving when you fail.
There are 3 difficulty levels, Normal, Difficult and Master. I don’t even want to contemplate what the Master difficulty will throw at me! Aaero also has a Chill-Out mode, which is identical to the normal difficulty level except you don’t die, fail the level, or gain any score. This mode is highly recommended to learn new levels before you attempt them in the main level. Some levels also have bosses to kill, which appear throughout the level, requiring you to shoot them constantly whilst taking care of the other enemies. These are a great inclusion to the levels they appear in, as they put a new spin on the gameplay you were expecting.
So, the gameplay in Aaero is either frenetic and exhilarating, or frenetic and frustrating. I would have loved to have seen more of the tunnel blue-line sections and less of the element where you have to fight enemies, but balance them both together and Aaero really is a very good, solid and polished romp of a game!