I have had a fondness for music rhythm games ever since getting my hands on PaRappa the Rapper all those years ago. Being a fan of both music and games, I guess it’s only natural, but when done well it’s a genre that can captivate you like no other.
Featuring 15 licensed electronica-based songs from artists such as Noisia and Neosignal, Mad Fellows’ Aaero is the latest entry into the music rhythm genre, one that also tries to incorporate some shooter elements into the mix. The result is something that feels like a combination of Thumper and REZ, and while it falls short of both of those titles’ greatness, it’s still a solid effort nonetheless.
The action that plays out throughout each and every song you work through consists of two gameplay loops: manoeuvring a flying craft in order to trace rails and avoid obstacles while travelling through cavernous tunnels, and manipulating a targeting reticule to lock onto enemies and their projectiles in more open environments before unleashing your own attacks. Sometimes enemies do show up during rail trace sections, but those moments aren’t that frequent, maintaining a clear distinction between the two gameplay styles. What you could consider as boss battles also occur in three of Aaero’s songs, though the gameplay pretty much remains the same regardless.
"[Aaero] feels like a combination of Thumper and REZ, and while it falls short of both of those titles’ greatness, it’s still a solid effort nonetheless."
It's just a shame that neither of Aaero’s gameplay loops feel flawless, though the rail tracing sections are undoubtedly the better of the two. Moving your ship around the screen feels twitchy, which makes following the rails as accurately as the game would like you to do a bit tricky. It's something that gets a little easier to do over time however, and the solid implementation of your controller's vibration function to provide feedback is a nice touch.
The shooting sections are what really diminish the fun you can have with Aaero, mainly because they are generic and don’t add anything notable to the gameplay other than frustration. Limited to a single weapon - a salvo of up to eight missiles released by pressing the trigger once you've locked on to some targets - moving the reticule feels fiddly, snapping back to centre of the screen when you release the right stick. And to make matters worse, there’s not a great deal of feedback to let you know you've locked on to an enemy – the red box indicating a locked target often being hard to see.
With such a control system, the way that enemies often quickly appear, release a projectile or two and then flee means that you often feel like you're fighting a losing battle. You might have just locked onto multiple enemies, ready to fire your eight missile salvo, only for one of them to release a projectile that you can't really do much about as you simply don't have the time to fire, re-target and fire again. The way your weapon automatically locks onto enemies as your reticule passes over them is a large part of the problem, preventing you from being selective about your targets to some extent. Aaero would have perhaps benefitted from a system that required you to hold down a button to target and then fire on release. Still, issues aside, the shooting sections are functional; just not exactly fun.
Though there are only 15 songs included, those who do get engrossed in Aaero's gameplay will find plenty to get their teeth stuck into. Three difficulties are provided for players to work through, with only normal available at the outset along with a chill out mode which is useful for practice. Even on normal difficulty Aaero is rather challenging though, and you'll need to achieve a 90% completion rate to unlock Advanced mode. Unlocking Master mode is even more extreme, requiring both the normal and advanced modes to be completed at 100%. Trust me, unless you're some kind of superhuman, you won't be doing that in a few hours.
"By trying to diversify the experience that Aaero delivers, Mad Fellows has created a game that's certainly different, but often feels like a game of two parts, and unfortunately one of those isn't that impressive at all."
Complementing Aaero's pumping soundtrack is an abstract art style that is enjoyably striking. There's a great use of flat, bold colours throughout, culminating in something that looks quite simple, yet undeniably eye catching. Particularly noteworthy are the enemies and bosses that are clearly inspired by creatures such as wasps and spiders. Most important of all is that it runs flawlessly, maintaining an all-important smooth framerate, free of slowdown and stuttering.
All things considered, Aaero is an enjoyable game, though not one you're going to sing and shout about. It has control issues that perhaps make it more challenging than it should be, but if you put in some time and effort, acclimatising yourself to its twitchy nature and awkward shooting mechanics, you can eke considerable life out of it. Ultimately though, by trying to diversify the experience that Aaero delivers, Mad Fellows has created a game that's certainly different, but often feels like a game of two parts, and unfortunately one of those isn't that impressive at all.