I think the saying goes that, if you can’t be the best, have a gimmick. You want people to remember your name and focus on your activities in some way, and it either needs to be through prowess or through uniqueness. And, when it comes to video games, that expression is exceptionally true. People think that flooding the Steam marketplace with games that either have strange humor, boobs or controversial ideas is special just due to the time frame, but that simply isn’t true. The Atari 2600 was notorious for having a wide choice of crappy yet intriguing games, and that was even true in the 90s.
Aero Fighters 2, a NEO GEO vertical shmup is, thankfully, not crappy, but there’s no denying that the Aero Fighters line (several games and spiritual successors long) benefited from being stand apart from other shooters at the time. In fact, in comparison to shooting games of today, they still have a lot to brag about in terms of what set them apart.
There isn’t really a plot to speak of in Aero Fighters 2. There’s a vague notion that you’re flying between different countries to shoot and destroy stuff, but I don’t know if it’s totally clear as to why. Are you an invading army of one? Are you liberating the people from bad decisions and a tyrannical government gone rogue? It doesn’t really matter in an arcade game, but I would like to know why a British baby felt the need to pilot and fight on a global scale. And yes, I’m being perfectly serious: Arthur is an infant from merry old England who is helming one of the ships. Of the eight available characters, some range from totally sensible (some bald dude with a parrot) to strange choices (A robot? Well, ok) to insane (a dolphin. Of course). And the fun part is, they all have their own little stories and dialogue between stages and NONE of it really explains what brought them into the air space for dogfighting.
Gameplay is pretty straightforward, and I appreciate it for not being too complicated. One button to shoot, one button to launch bombs, zip around and don’t get shot. As you move through the level, you’ll hopefully find powerups dropped by some enemies that will increase the amount and size of your main weapon, maxing out at three powerups regardless of how many you pick up. Get shot once and you get busted back down to zero, but your broken ship will drop a powerup that you should have plenty of time to grab once you respawn.The bomb attack varies from ship to ship and some of them are certainly much more powerful than the others. Arthur the baby turns into a bigger ship for a moment (because he’s growing up, geddit?) and launches two sizable missiles that deal some good damage. Mao Mao, the Japanese propoganda girl, actually manages to stop time for a couple of seconds, which is crazy powerful in later stages. You gotta give each character at least once chance to figure out who’s powers and abilities are best suited for your flight, and, for better or worse, you’ll be able to do that pretty quickly
You see, Aero Fighters 2 is pretty damn short, in the scheme of things. You only have seven stages to get through, and the first three are almost insultingly short. There’s something to be said for being short but sweet vs long and bitter, but having the game end almost abruptly still leaves you with a jilted feeling. Remember, this game was on, at the time, the most expensive console ever. Titles for the NEO GEO rarely went for less than seventy dollars a piece, and the U.K. had the horror of games being a couple hundred pounds. Think about that. You’ve just saved up your pocket money for months, maybe longer, and you’ve decided that, in lieu of eating out at a nice restaurant with your sweetheart, you’re going to get Aero Fighters 2. It’ll be great. You get home, fire up the NEO GEO, get immediately confused why a dolphin is in the cockpit and then, an hour later, you’re done. You could try again with another fighter, but why? I don’t remember return policies for games back in the 90s, but I imagine a few places wouldn’t give you any opportunity to return, and that would have driven me mad with rage.
Aero Fighters 2 is still a fun installment on the Switch, however. The soundtrack, while nothing special, does a decent job of giving you some drive and atmosphere to blowing the hell out of everything in front of you. The graphics are pretty standard for what you’d expect from the time, properly retro enjoyable without being too ugly or impressive for the early 90s. Fans of vertical shooters in general will have a good time, and newcomers can always find appreciation in the earlier works of SNK. I wish I had more to say, but Aero Fighters 2 had one job, and it carries through without any particular fanfare. The unique characters are really the biggest pull for the game and, after you get over working out how two sisters can occupy the cockpit at once, the novelty isn’t enough to really push it beyond a simple idea with a solid execution.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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