I spent the days after receiving my copy of Aaero, developed by the small 2-man studio Mad Fellows, falling back in love with a genre that I haven’t been seriously invested in since college. As a longtime fan of rhythm based games, going all the way back to the first Guitar Hero, Gitaroo Man, Frequency/Amplitude, and of course, Rez, I jumped at the chance to spend some time with the latest game in the genre. While Aaero plays more like Rez than it does Frequency, it is a unique experience all its own.
Aaero is a twin stick, rail-shooter rhythm game that features a fully licensed dubstep soundtrack. That may be a bit of a mouthful, but the finished product is one of the most addicting experiences with a music-based game I’ve had in a long time. While the game only features 15 levels/songs, the replayability is through the roof. The learning curve here is steep, however, like other rhythm games, growth comes naturally through continued failure. Some of the artists you’ll encounter throughout the game include Flux Pavillion, Mr. Fijiwiji, Neosignal, and Habstrakt – about eleven or twelve in all with some artists boasting multiple tracks. While I was initially disappointed to find that the game only consisted of 15 levels, I got to the end of Normal mode to realize that simply beating the game does not give you passage to the Advanced difficulty setting. A 90% completion rate is required to move on – so I went back through every song I didn’t earn five stars on to see what the next challenge would bring.
I spent the course of an evening replaying songs repeatedly (and loving every minute of it!) to see what was in store on the higher difficulty settings. I continue to go back to songs like Pure Sunlight by Mr. FijiWiji and Ill Still by SUBhuman, even after getting five stars and finding all the secrets, as I just couldn’t get enough of them. Speaking of secrets, there are many hidden items throughout each level that players must shoot to unlock. This is a fun mechanic and adds another layer to the game, though I would have liked to have seen the secrets moved and changed between difficulty levels. Not a big issue at all, but this could have added a bit more diversity as players progress through the different difficulty levels.
Over the course of the Aaero, players unlock new songs and levels based on the overall cumulative star ratings they’ve received up to that point. It’s not just a linear beat the level and move on experience, as high scores on early levels will help players stay a few songs ahead of their actual progression. There are two primary components of every level, which are all beautifully designed and have, for the most part, a unique feel to each of them. Levels usually begin with some shooting and enemy encounters before diving into the rhythm-based mechanic. Players can lock on up to eight enemies at once, or eight times on one enemy depending on the situation. The second phase of the levels peppered throughout are the rhythm-based elements where players must follow the light pattern on the outside of the rail. Some of the patterns seem almost impossible at first, however with time and a bit of patience players will get the rhythm and pace down.
Unlike games like Guitar Hero, players don’t fail for missing chunks of these sections or hitting them with low accuracy. For high scores and more damage to the bosses in boss fights however, hitting these rails with precision is key. Players will miss out on parts of the song like vocal tracks or specific beats if they cannot maintain accuracy, but failure of the level comes from losing three lives by getting hit by enemies or running into obstacles. Nine times out of ten it was a seeking missile that got me, which I won’t lie, can get very frustrating in the Advanced sections when the screen is filled with them.
The shooting mechanics may feel a bit shaky at first, but it ties directly into the musical component of the game. Firing right on or right before the beat gives player’s shots a direct path to the enemy, as enemies will always be destroyed exactly on the beat. If the rhythm is a bit off, beams will arc and take longer to reach the enemies, meaning players must wait before locking on and firing again. In all, this is very successfully executed, though frustrating when you just can’t get in tune with the beat.
While there isn’t a traditional story throughout the game, Aaero does create a vibrant world with some very fun boss battles. After every set of four levels, players face a boss, each offering its own unique experience, battle mechanics and other surprises they throw the players’ way. In future iterations of the game, I’d love to see expanded song lists, and even songs outside of the dubstep genre, though dubstep fits perfectly in with the overall feel and aesthetic of the game. Aaero, at times, feels like the most intense and interactive visualizer you’ll ever see. It’s high speed, bright lights and a lot of fun with a healthy dose of some dubstep magic.
My biggest gripe with the Aaero is the required 100% completion on Normal and Advanced to unlock Master mode. I understand what Mad Fellow Games was shooting for here, but there are just a few songs that I’m not convinced I will ever achieve a five-star rating. I was frustrated at times trying to hit 90% completion on Normal to unlock Advanced mode, as I just couldn’t hit top marks on a few of the later tracks. There are some of the early songs I would love to up the ante on, and in doing so, it would help me perfect the more intense later levels of Advanced mode. This is, however, a small complaint in an otherwise brilliant gaming experience.
To sum it up, Aaero is an amazing first go-around for Mad Fellow Games and is a game I will be revisiting when I need my rhythm-based fix. It’s easy to quickly pick up and jump into. The true difficulty comes with putting the controller down. While not for everyone, fans of the genre won’t want to miss out on Aaero. Aaero is available on April 11th, 2017 through Steam and on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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