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Score: 95%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Reverb Triple XP
Developer: Mad Fellows
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Rhythm/ Racing

Graphics & Sound:

Aaero is a game that perfectly blends several game genres together, which might have you imagining some Frankensteinís monster. The reality could not be more different, because the outcome of this wild experiment is beautiful. It has the look of a stripped-down futuristic racing game, akin to my enduring favorite Wip3out, and the soundtrack to boot. EDM darlings like Flux Pavilion crowd the song list, along with Mr. Fijiwiji, Megalodon, AgNO3, Laura Brehm, and more. The visuals perfectly match the sounds youíll hear, and we havenít played a game in forever that made us appreciate our speakers this much. That said, if youíre playing this in a family room or mixed social setting, youíre going to want those headphones. This isnít music for relaxation, unless your definition of relaxation includes ripping off faces.

Donít mistake Aaero for standard music and rhythm games, though. Youíre a slave to the rhythm only some of the time. Occasional bursts of rhythm gameplay punctuate each level, but youíll learn to recognize other visual and audio cues, that will prompt you to unleash your shipís powerful weapons. Enemies do appear and move in time to the rhythm, but itís really your piloting skills that keep the music going on each track. A bright ribbon of light guides you, and staying on track with it literally keeps the music playing. In these ways, Aaero is a fully developed rhythm game, but most people checking you out wonít make the connection, and will just think youíre playing a dazzling, bright, and colorful space shooter. Itís this magic, happy confusion of genres that makes Aaero so interesting, and so fun to play.


As we alluded to earlier, each level is the length of a song, whether youíre amazing or not at the game. If youíre still learning, youíll die before the end of the song, but thatís another story. Assuming you survive, youíll get to experience a few things during the course of each level. First, youíll be fighting enemies. Occasionally huge bosses, but always smaller enemies, many of them equipped with missiles. Your ship comes with similar armament: Paint the enemy target, then release 1 or more missiles at once, then do it all over again. It sounds simple enough, maybe like those on-rails shooting games like Panzer Dragoon we played and loved, right? The difference here is that you have a finite number of missiles to unleash, and a limited amount of time before youíre fired upon, with equally deadly accuracy.

Oh, and youíre also occasionally dodging obstacles and trying to navigate along the prescribed line, so targeting and firing become much more difficult. Progression through the game follows your personal star rating, based on prowess in each level. Do well enough and you unlock the next level, and once youíve earned enough stars, you can go back through the initial round at a higher level of difficulty. If all this sounds really tiring, you can also play a "Chill" Mode that allows you to practice any level without the constraint of stars, but not for the same joy of seeing yourself ranked on the Aaero leaderboard. If you donít like twitchy arcade shooters, this isnít for you, but if youíve been waiting for something that offers real hair-trigger action with a slightly different twist, youíve got to check this out. Itís a thinking (and listening) personís bullet hell...


Even fans of action games will find this one challenging, though. Whatís amazing is how quickly youíll adapt to the craziness and find yourself doing incredible moves, in time to the music no less! Following that ribbon of light along the path of the musicís flow actually helps you navigate past obstacles, all based on how levels are designed. Itís an interesting approach to level design, where the visuals and music are completely intertwined. The shape and flow of these follow-the-beat sections of each level tend to be especially treacherous, but thatís hardly all the challenging stuff youíll face.

Enemies are well equipped. The smallest ones are just there for target practice, initially isolated from bigger ships. Once the larger enemies arrive on the scene, youíll have to learn to target them as well as their projectiles, all while keeping in mind your limitations. Thereís a sense - well-honed from bullet-hell shooters - that you can just outrun those enemy projectiles. The reality here is that you canít, so youíre forced to hone your targeting and timing skills to account for both enemies and their missiles. This is doubly difficult during boss levels, which are awesome. In these youíll have to whittle down boss HP while fending off enemies, and avoiding destruction caused by the boss, or shooting down enemy projectiles. Itís like a combination of Missile Command and Duck Hunt, in a futuristic racing package... which again, makes little sense on paper, but completely works in practice.

Game Mechanics:

The control scheme for Aaero might be one of its cooler attributes. Itís neither the traditional button-mashing shooting setup, nor the follow-the-beat timed button press mechanic of most rhythm games. The devs clearly tried to find something that felt authentic to both approaches, but carved out its own space. The result is a control scheme that feels more like a twin-stick shooter, with flying controls on the left stick and shooting on the right. The key difference is that what youíre doing on the right stick is simply painting targets for missiles you fire with the right trigger. Your attention is divided between skilled flying, fast targeting, and well-timed shooting, and while only one or two of those three elements coexist early into the game, youíll eventually have to master all three.

We came at Aaero with very few expectations, but an inherently high bar from years of playing every kind of flying and shooting game we could lay our hands on. The rhythm / music gaming aspect of it didnít actually sound that interesting, because letís face it: Thereís been a glut and then a rut around that whole genre for years now. Games like Aaero and a handful of others (the wonderful Crypt of the NecroDancer comes to mind) are showing us how music can play a really important role in game design. Instead of playing along with canned music videos, weíre now dropped into settings that are lovable in their own right, where the action is enhanced by the music. Aaero is one of the most inventive games youíll play this year, standing out from a crowded landscape of other indie and big budget titles.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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