I came in to Aaero expecting absolutely nothing. Lets be honest. Beautiful neon drenched rhythm shooter games are nothing new. REZ was teaching kids that techno was cool in the 80s before Microsoft even had thoughts about making video games. So what’s new in Aaero, what makes it not just a retreading of the same ground that countless other fast rhythm games that involve shooting things on rails have already covered? Well quite a bit, so sit down, strap in, and get ready for a hell of a ride, Aaero is the neon Star Fox 64 crossed with Audio Surf twin stick shooter you never knew you needed.
Aaero promises that players will “Speed through stunning, stylised environments tracing ribbons of light, releasing the energy in the music. Battle strange enemies and fight epic boss battles all driven by an incredible licensed soundtrack.” and Mad Fellows in partnership with Reverb Triple XP have done a pretty good job of living up to that promise. The games manages to blend the fun simple game play of rhythm games, with fun shooting elements, and an aesthetic that will make even most discerning 80s fan happy. This game is also a dubstep fans wet dream, mixed in with a healthy dose of classic nostalgia for simpler controls, and a wonderful arcady on rails shooter that reminded me of Star Fox 64.
Each level starts out with your ship following a glowing line and avoiding obstacles to the frantic dubstep beat. The longer your ship is touching the line, the more your score multiplier goes up. Seems simple right? Touching the line gives you points, and you use one of the sticks to position your ship in a circle around the level. The concept is simple, but the longer I played and deeper and deeper in to the rabbit hole of Drum and Bass, Dubstep and even some simple classic techno I got, the more complex it became. The racing sections all take place in enclosed environments, and the main objective is to follow a line that moves with the beat. This mechanic reminded me heavily of the game play of DJ hero, where you had to scratch your record along to the beat. Most of the levels you will spend time making small adjustments trying to stay as close to the glowing line as possible. Then, in the middle of each race, there are sections of shooting that reminded me of Star Fox 64. As you frantically careen forward on rains, you are able to lock on to enemies, dodge projectiles, and loop and fly. Though the entire game is on rails, I never felt confined. The game even throws in some massive bosses. Massive monsters that take up the whole screen, and take some real skill to defeat.
Each level is lovingly crafted from flat textures and neon highlights. I won’t claim this is an original look. But, it gets the job done here. I have seen so many Tron looking games in the last 6 months at this point nothing neon tinged really wow’s me. But, that’s because I am bitter, if you haven’t had to review the stream of recent 80’s aesthetic cash in’s from every studio on the planet you probably won’t feel this way. Instead you might admire the diversity of environments the game offers from deserts to post-apocalyptic cityscapes. There are massive oceans and confined tunnels. All of it is beautiful crafted to have the feel of a massive world we just see the tip of. Where this really shines is in the shooting segments, since most of the racing ones are confined to tunnel like spaces.
Much like Rez before it, every action in Aaero is tied to a beat, and that flow really dictates the game experience. The shooting segments feature a lock on mechanic, where you mouse? (it’s a stick so mousing doesn’t really work as a descriptor) over the top of the enemy (up to 5 at once) and get a satisfying red reticle lock on. You then shoot your beam out and destroy them. Later enemies will often take three or four hits to kill. There are some environmental obstacles, but not enough to really make this feel like it’s a major mechanic. There is an extra reward (in points) for shooting enemies “on the beat” but honestly the game doesn’t seem to know what on the beat is, and that aspect is best left undiscussed, unless you want to spend half a day in debate of complex music theory.
Staying on the line and destroying all of your targets in the shooting sections will rack up those oh so delicious points modifiers. And it’s a really exciting to see how well you did at the end, with Mad Fellows including real time leader boards so you can see how your score stacks up. The game also tells you how much time you spent on that glowing beat line, with an accuracy counter. This endlessly frustrating counter had me replaying levels again and again trying to get it higher. I was always chasing that one more percent, just to see my name on the leader board. There is also the standard rhythm game, end of game star award.
The is a one of those games I really came in to expecting nothing. It was a chance pick up from Reverb who usually run the PR for larger games, and my first Xbox review in over a year. I was overall pleasantly surprised. I found myself filling the time between doing mostly anything with quick plays of this games vast section of musical levels. I was thrilled to find that my thumbstick dexterity had decayed as far as it had, and immediately put myself on a training program of more Aaero to try and bring it back up to snuff. Difficutly is incremental, and I never felt like I was getting dropped off of a cliff, and I had no problem with playing levels again and again in an effort to get higher scores or find secrets. The game doesn’t have much for story, but honestly who needs it in game like this. The one thing that I really kept me coming back to this game in my spare minutes, was how much fun it is. Its the perfect game to pick up and play for 20 or 40 minutes, then set down and forget about. Only to re-discover it again later. The game has plenty of value, at a price of just 11$ as of publication, and with three difficulty levels and a very dynamic track list (all licensed of course) you won’t ever get bored. Unless you have some kind of major gripe with the whole genre of Dubstep this game is an absurdly good value for its price and replay ability. A solid 4.5/5
Developer: Mad Fellows
Publisher: Reverb Triple XP
Released: April 11th, 2017
Price: $14.99 USD (on sale for 11$ at pres time),
Disclosure: A free review code was provided for the purposes of this article.