I'm sure we all remember Darude's "Sandstorm" during rollerblading or ice skating parties, but do you remember his other songs "Drums of New York" or "Out of Control"? Probably not. Back in 1999 most of us were too busy listening to N-Sync and Britney Spears to pay attention to what kind of music artists were composing on a computer. But technology has a way of changing everything and music is no different. Nowadays electronica has infiltrated pop, hip hop, rock, metal and just about any other genre you can imagine. It was only a matter of time until these tunes made their return to gaming once again.
Aaero is a game that takes electronica tracks and wraps a rail shooter around them. It's a concept originally birthed back in 2001 by Rez HD, but the Xbox hasn't seen many titles in this genre yet, so Aaero certainly has the attention of music fans.
A catchy tune can't make a game alone, but it sure does help. In any music game the track list is perhaps the most important feature of all. When sound plays a major part in the experience, the songs need to be ones you can listen to time and time again. Electronica is a genre naturally suited to this thanks to its almost hypnotic ability to soothe and zone out one's mind.
The 14 song track list for Aaero hits all the notes you'd expect, with tracks featuring heavy bass, awesome beat drops, and the occasional whispery female vocals. They've even got some mainstream tracks thanks to Flux Pavilion's "I Can't Stop" and Katy B's "On a Mission". The only issue is that many of the artists offer multiple songs, which means some sound a bit too similar to each other. Still, thanks to a wide genre representation, there's a solid ten songs that sound unique and memorable. They're all varying degrees of enjoyable and, most importantly, they work very well with the gameplay. That's a good thing since you'll be hearing them quite a bit.
The game features three difficulty levels - Normal, Advanced and Master. You'll begin on Normal to learn the ropes. Gameplay revolves around two general ideas. One sees your on-rails ship moved around the screen (like Star Fox) and you'll line up with glowing blue lines that snake around the circular boundary to the tune of the music. The other is basic shooter combat where you move your cursor over the enemies to lock on and then fire shots at them. On normal difficulty you'll almost never do both of these at once, allowing you to learn with training wheels. The difficulty of the songs ramps up nicely, never leaving you feeling unprepared for the challenge ahead.
Once you've got most of the songs five-starred, you'll move on to Advanced where the difficulty continues to ramp up smoothly, this time occasionally combining the two gameplay types. Finally, Master difficulty will throw both of these two concepts in an almost unforgiving fashion, requiring you to use the two joysticks in different, asymmetrical directions. Thanks to having completed the previous difficulties, you'll be prepared for the challenges ahead. This smooth difficulty curve hooks you and keeps you coming back for more until the very end.
The gameplay itself is very decent but has its issues. When tracking the blue beam, it didn't follow the music very well. It's similar to playing something like Rock Band on a lower difficulty when you can hear many notes you're not actually playing. You'd move your ship around the circular edge following the line, but it is impossible to tell how far you should go using sound and the game really feels like you should be able to do this. The result is that you'll often overshoot, undershoot, or simply move at an improper speed, resulting in a broken score multiplier and a failed run simply because you can't judge how fast you should be moving. Playing a game like this well should feel like you are connected to the music and often the two seemed almost entirely disconnected. Still, it works often enough to show the concept is very fun.
The shooting has its own problems. You'll move your cursor around the screen to lock on to enemies and to lock on to their projectiles that you'll need to shoot down. These projectiles can occasionally be a very frustrating issue. Your locking reticule is red and the projectiles are almost all red as well, so it's very hard to tell if you locked on to them. Thanks to the high speed which which you must do this, there's no room for error and the combination means you'll all too often die because you didn't realize you didn't lock on to a projectile. Perhaps even worse, the targeting reticule disappears when you hover over the center of the screen, which means you can't shoot enemies that happen to be in that dead zone (and you can't move the camera either). This problem is absolutely unacceptable and should have been addressed by the developers, but don't let it mislead you; the shooting is responsive enough to be enjoyable and you'll learn how to get around its issues.
The game's content is plentiful in some aspects and lacking in others. The songs work well with the environments you'll move through. Songs are grouped into a few sections and each one is set to a couple different environments you'll move through. It may seem small, but these varied environments make the game considerably better as it helps the gameplay to remain visually interesting. On the negative side, there simply aren't enough types of enemies and the ones there are don't differentiate themselves much.
Enemies look different but ultimately they do one of three things: shoot at you, run into you, or nothing. No matter what the enemy does, the strategy is always the same - kill it as fast as possible. The game could have really used some additional enemies that required you to play in unique ways, such as firing only at certain times or otherwise interacting with the music — the fact that the shooting sections are entirely divorced from the music elements of the game is ridiculous and more enemy types could have addressed this issue in creative ways.
Aaero also has one crippling performance issue that cannot be ignored. Occasionally the game will skip, causing the sound to cut out and the controls to stop responding for a brief instance. It might seem small, but this can often be disastrous, ending an otherwise high-scoring run. This skipping can happen any time it seems, although it is usually rare. I did experience two instances where the skip would occur when I pushed the left stick in a specific direction. Obviously that makes a game where you need to quickly move around the whole screen following the music completely unplayable. Luckily, restarting the game fixed the issue but the fact that it was an issue at all is unfortunate.
The achievements in Aaero are pretty easy. You'll get an achievement each time you complete a song on each difficulty. As you accumulate stars in each difficulty, you'll also earn more achievements, including achievements for getting all stars on Normal, Advanced, and Master, as well as an achievement for getting all 225 stars. Outside of these achievements, there's not much else except achievements for killing each of the three bosses (a requirement to get five stars on these levels), watching the credits, and getting all 100 secrets, which are glowing red orbs that are not so secretly hidden around each level. I found over 90 of the 100 without a guide and without looking. Overall, the entire list should take you about eight hours to complete, offering a fairly quick completion at moderate difficulty.
SummaryAaero offers a music game in the same spirit as Rez did over 15 years ago. Featuring a wide array of modern electronica tunes, it's a game that can appeal to all fans of the genre and anyone who simply wants to relax and enjoy a game focused on music. The gameplay is fun, coming in two different forms. While each of these two gameplay types has its issues, they're ultimately both fun and it's easy to look past the issues. The environments you'll play through add to the variety of the experience and keep things fresh. There is a crippling performance issue that can be frustrating, but it's rare enough that it doesn't entirely ruin the game. Aaero is a fun game that will be worth the time of anyone intrigued by the concept or fans of electronica. At US$14.99 at launch, the price is about right for eight solid hours of gameplay if you're going for the completion, and leaderboards should ensure there's more to do even past that.
- Nice selection of music from a variety of electronica genres
- Three difficulties offer a challenge but don't feel unfair
- Environments change to keep things interesting
- Occasional frame drops can ruin good scoring runs
- Enemy design is a bit boring
- Doesn't feel like you're moving or shooting to the music
- Can't shoot enemies in the center of the screen
EthicsThe reviewer spent 5 hours playing through the game's three difficulties and becoming very familiar with the drop of the beat. He unlocked 46 of the game's 66 achievements for 565 Gamerscore. An Xbox One download code was provided through the ID@Xbox program for the purposes of this review.
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