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Game Review #079: Aaero: Complete Edition (Nintendo Switch)

Reviewer: John B.

Developer: Mad Fellows Publisher: S2 Entertainment Category: Music, Rhythm, Action Release Date: 12.24.18

Buy Aaero Complete Edition from the Nintendo eShop here.

Nowadays, with all the fancy graphics and newfangled game engines and what have you, it can seem like a crazy idea to try and make a game with a two man development team. Mad Fellows quite agrees, but they went ahead and did it anyway. They had a little help from their friends, but the pair managed to turn out Aaero in 2017, an on-rails shooter-slash-rhythm game. They managed to create an insane and insanely addictive product that was successful enough to warrant three DLC packs; two with three new levels apiece, and one that introduced additional ships for players to control. They’re all included with Aaero: Complete Edition for the Nintendo Switch, because you only bring your A-game to the ultimate console.

R&B (Rhythm & Blasts)

Aaero utilizes a fascinating mix of genres, taking inspiration from on-rail shooters, twin-stick shooters, and rhythm games. Each level sees you rocketing through a different environment, alternately challenging players to stick to a certain pathway marked by ribbons of light or blow up enemies as they appear. Occasionally you’ll even need to do both. You move your ship with the left thumb stick, and when there is a ribbon on the screen, your job is to make your ship follow its path as it winds in different directions. The twists and turns of the ribbon sync up with the level’s song, meaning once you’ve picked up the beat it’ll be easier to make the abrupt changes in direction that characterize many ribbons. The game tracks how well you’ve stuck to the rhythm in the upper corner, and the more you stay on the ribbons, the higher your score multiplier becomes. Sticking on the path can gain you as much as an 8x multiplier.

The right thumb stick moves a targeting reticle around the screen; when it passes over anything that can be shot, that target it highlighted. You can target up to eight enemies at once, and then fire with the right trigger. Most enemies can be defeated with one shot, but as you move through the levels, new enemies that can take multiple hits appear. If you leave your reticle over an enemy, shots will stack on that target, meaning you can choose to fire all eight blasts at one enemy if you want. Generally it makes more sense to take out all the small fries before focusing on the bigger targets, as the small ones are the bigger threat.

Bigger enemy ships tend to launch missiles or smaller ships, which are what actually attack you. You have three shields to burn through before you die, and as near as I can tell getting hit doesn’t directly affect your score. It will affect your multiplier and you may miss a chance to get some points while you’re recovering from the hit, but it doesn’t directly lose you any points. It’s still better not to get shot, which… well, that’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? Is it ever better to get shot than not get shot?

Big Score

When you finish each level, you will be judged based on your performance. During gameplay, you get points for defeating enemies and staying on the ribbons during the rhythm sections. When you finish the track, you are given a rating of one to five stars based on your score. Gathering stars is how you unlock new levels and progress through the game. Collecting 75 stars unlocks hard difficulty, and collecting 75 stars on hard unlocks the master difficulty. I barely unlocked hard mode; I have no idea how anyone can be good enough to unlock master, let alone beat it. Still, the songs are hot to death (do the kids still say that? Probably not) and the gameplay is insanely addictive once you get started, so I’ll keep chipping away at those stars until I don’t suck so badly.

Artifacts of a Bygone Era

Aaero, in addition to the enemy ships and monsters that pop up during a level, also has secret targets hidden throughout each track that you can shoot. The game tracks these secrets, but on the Switch, shooting them has no real reward in-game. I mean, sure, you get some points for hitting them, but you can get five stars without hitting any secret targets if you hit the ribbons right and get most of the enemies. As near as I can tell, the targets are mostly for achievements or trophies, which the Switch doesn’t have. I guess there’s always the satisfaction of 100% completing a game, but that sense of accomplishment is usually bolstered with a new achievement notification nowadays. I’ve played some games that make up for this with their own achievement system in-game, and I wish Aaero had followed suit. I still had a blast playing, but achievements would have been that much more fulfilling.

Visit Breathtaking Landscapes…

For a two man team, Mad Fellows managed to scare up some pretty great visuals. The ship and enemy designs are cool, but it’s the levels themselves that are the real graphical stars. From post-apocalyptic ruins to futuristic tunnels, Aaero blasts through some badass locations. Each track pretty seamlessly transitions between muted, open, battle areas on the surface and screaming, neon-encrusted corridors underground for the rhythm sections. Occasionally I would lose track of a ribbon against a background’s lights, but that was few and far between; more often I would lose the rhythm because I wanted to look at a small background element. Unfortunately, the game goes by too fast to really appreciate all the detail in the levels – but that’s a good problem to have.

…And Rock Them All

As a rhythm game, Aaero lives and dies by its soundtrack. Each level features one song. For tracks with vocals, the rhythm ribbons usually follow them. For songs without vocals, the ribbons actually create an electronic accompaniment to the level’s music. I liked some of the tracks and didn’t like some others; of particular interest to me where the tracks featuring vocals by Laura Brehm. She sounds so much like Lauren Mayberry of Chvrches it’s insane. I generally liked the soundtrack, and if you have an affection for any type of electronic music, I’m confident you’ll find something to love here. If you don’t, well… at least you get a great-looking rhythm game?

Aaero: Dynamic

Aaero Complete Edition is definitely worth the price of admission. You get twenty-one ok-to-great-to-amazing songs to accompany some slick graphics and challenging gameplay. No matter your skill level, you’ll find something that tests the limits of your abilities at one of the game’s three difficulty settings. If you’re a fan of rhythm games or twin stick shooters and you’re looking for something a little different (but not too different), Aaero is the game you’re looking for.

Final Score: 9/10

Buy Aaero Complete Edition from the Nintendo eShop here.

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*Review Code by Mad Fellows

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