It's common for games to take inspiration from others that make it great in the genre. At some point, I believe Rez and Gitaroo Man got together to have a wedding, even though I wasn't actually there to see it. Now we have Aaero, the child of the two. It borrows shooting elements from Rez while tying it together with the need to stick to a rhythm line as close as possible, similar to Gitaroo Man. All this while trying to make an identity of its own with a low-poly aesthetic. Does Aaero remix these elements so it can rock out to the beat, or is it an inharmonious intrusion?
Whether a rhythm game is going to be a rocking good time or a total cacophony is largely determined by the tunes it has at its disposal. Aaero has 15 songs on its soundtrack, and there's a real focus on the Drum and Bass, Dubstep, and EDM genres of music. Some of the bands that you'll be listening to include Noisa, Flux Pavilion, Habstakt, and Neosignal. There are some good songs in here, and I found myself tapping along with the beats more than once. That said, I do wish there were more songs. If you're not interested in high score chasing then you are looking at Aaero topping off at about an hour long. At least while you're shooting and grinding you'll be spending that hour to music that fits the tone well.
Every stage in Aaero is broken into two segments. One of these segments takes some clear inspiration from music shooter Rez. In it you'll be flying around in your spaceship, using an on-screen cursor to lock onto and shoot lasers at enemies. Once you've locked onto what you want, or if you've hit the max of eight targets, you can press a button and fire a laser. Of course, it does get a little deeper than that with a twist of its own. In Aaero, how fast your laser fires is dependent on how close to the beat you fire it, as does the number of points you'll get for the kill. Miss the beat and your laser will take a while to reach its target (leaving you open to attacks) and minimize the points you're getting. It's an interesting new idea but not one that really matters unless you're going for that high score. It's also one not advertised very well: I honestly didn't even know of its existence until I was half way through the game and it came up as a loading screen tip.
Unfortunately, strange design choices like this continue to work their way into the shooting. You can only get a max of eight locks, but the game likes to toss in enemies that require ten shots to kill or send enemies in groups of ten. It seems to completely clash with the design of keeping in beat with everything, as you still have stragglers left behind when new enemies begin to swarm in. Furthermore, enemies and their attacks have a bad habit of blending into the environment, making them difficult to see and easy to miss. Doing a little more to help them stand out would have done wonders for the game.
The other main segment sees you flying down a tunnel, with lines representing certain parts of the music. Your goal in these segments is to stick as closely as possible to those lines, using the left stick to follow the lines around to rack up points and your multiplier. They remind me of segments from Gitaroo Man, where you needed to use your left stick to follow the trace line. The amount of points you rack up and how fast your multiplayer raise will depend on just how closely you can stick to that line. Aaero does try to put a spin on it by having enemies interrupt here and there, leading to a combination of the two segments in a fun way.
Unfortunately, much like the shooter segments, these segments also suffer from problems of their own. At times you will be asked to dodge traps or walls, and this has the issue of being difficult to distinguish them from the rest of the level. In particular, traps are annoying, as the only way to tell if the section of the suddenly extending spikes are going to hit you or not is to look for little green lights on the edge of the obstacles. It clashes with the rhythm based gameplay, not really seeming to have much to do with the music but instead with spotting small objects.
Every fifth level is a boss fight, which sees you taking on some giant monsters like a Dune-styled worm or a mechanical spider. It uses the same central mechanics, only now there's a super big enemy with a giant health bar. You actually don't need to kill the boss to complete the level, rather you just have to survive. If you do empty the life bar then you're treated to a massive point bonus and an extra little cutscene showing the boss dying. The fights themselves were quite fun, often making use of the boss in creative ways and I enjoyed the fights more than the regular levels.
You need stars to keep advancing in the songs. Thankfully, the requirements to advance through the levels isn't that bad. I was able to complete all 15 levels without replaying any levels to gather more stars. If you want to unlock harder difficulties then that requires some more work. Hard mode requires you to earn 90% of the stars from normal, while insane requires every single star from both normal and hard. I suppose that, if you really want to get to those difficulties, this won't be a huge problem. It just doesn't make collecting those stars any more fun.
When I was done with Aaero I was pleased with how it merged elements from the games it borrows from the most. It sees a few great rhythm games and decided to borrow from the best to make its own identity, mostly executing them competently and in a fun way. I just wish it polished those ideas a little harder, and fixed some of the stranger design choices, as some work could turn this from a good rhythm game to a great one. Still, if you're looking for something new, you could do a whole lot worse.
Aaero was reviewed on PlayStation 4 using a copy provided by the developers. The game is also available on PC via Steam and Xbox One.
Aaero is a competent rhythm game that borrows some elements from other genre greats. It stumbles on its strange design choices a few too many times, but hopefully some improvements can be made in the future
- Base Mechanics are Fun
- Boss Fights are Good
- Some Design Choices Conflict with Central Mechanics
- Star Hunting for Harder Difficulties