You may, or may not, have heard of the ancient Greek myth surrounding Pandora’s Box. A tale which involved a young woman, Pandora, whose intrigue got the better of her as she opened a forbidden box. Her actions unduly released a plethora of secrets and evil upon the world. Rogue Aces, developed by Infinite State Games and published through Curve Digital, reminded me a lot of this mythological prose, as it promptly comes in to land upon the Nintendo Switch. It didn’t remind me of the story in a bad way though, but in a way that, once I opened up this little package of delights, it kept presenting me with me with a plethora of surprises that will spread nothing but fun and excitement throughout the world.
Essentially a 2D, side-scrolling shoot-em-up, or shmup, Rogue Aces sits you inside the cockpit of a propeller-driven warplane as you single-handedly take on the opposing forces that are hell-bent on your destruction. Although presented in a 2D aesthetic, a clever use of the developer’s graphical prowess has produced a game that has a, distinctly, more three-dimensional feel to it. This is achieved by using a rather ingenious model of graphics presentation that see you twisting and turning in all manner of aerial agilities, flying behind and in front of clouds and a nice use of layering amongst the procedurally-generated landscapes that change each time you play.
Gameplay-wise, this is an arcade shooter that reminded me very much of Time Pilot and Defender; two of the most iconic games ever to grace the arcades of the eighties and nineties. After a free-flight tutorial that introduces the mechanics of its gameplay, you are then based aboard an aircraft carrier that has three aircraft positioned at your disposal. These are basically your lives, as you fly one plane at a time over a variety and, again, procedurally generated missions that has you dogfighting, bombing, rescuing, missile-striking and ace hunting.
Utilising a conventional control method with the joy-cons, as well as pro controller support, the thumb-sticks control your aircraft movements and throttle. The level of accuracy in its flight mechanics offers such a degree of control that, after quite a few non-intentional crashes, you’ll soon be soaring at speed a few feet above the ground as you rain all manner of hell onto the enemy forces with simplistic ease. It really is a delight controlling your aircraft, pulling off the smoothest of moves and the tightest of turns in your quest for air superiority. Your cannons can be fired with any of the right shoulder buttons, whilst the left variety offers a speed boost, but this comes at the expense of using more fuel. Missiles can be fired with the X button and bombs are dropped by depressing the Y button.
With an enemy force hell-bent on destroying you, from fighter patrols, anti-air guns, fully armed airships and ground vehicles, you and your craft will surely succumb to massive amounts of damage. However, by landing on your carrier, or at a captured airfield, a manoeuvre automatically carried out by pressing the B button, you can re-arm and repair at any point within your mission. Should you sustain an irreparable amount of damage though, a damage report being utilised at any time by pressing left on the D-pad, then pressing the A button allows you to eject from your aircraft and deploy a parachute back down to safety. With an unlimited amount of grenades, you can still rain down damage on the opposing forces as you gently float back down to earth; you even have the ability to jump into enemy aircraft and take over control of them, thus rendering your lost life, usable again.
It’s a simple premise that, once its mechanics have become accustomed to, provides a highly accurate and fun element to the control and flying of your aircraft, as well as to the gameplay. It’s a control scheme that you’re going to need to master, as the normal campaign requires you to complete one-hundred of its missions to win the war; a tall feat with only three aircraft available to you. However, to even things up a bit, random crates can be dropped by enemy fighters that, when picked up, offer stat-boosting attributes that range from tighter turning, improved speed, increased firepower and stronger armour. Be careful though, as losing an upgraded aircraft will require you to start from scratch in the cockpit of your next plane. Once adept with flying and when you begin completing a sequence of missions, you receive experience points which contribute towards your pilot’s skill levels.
With further progression and continued play, the game really begins to open up; producing the Pandora’s Box effect that really took me by surprise. As you first begin to start playing Rogue Aces, the normal campaign is the only game mode available. However, as you gain experience, the game reveals other modes of play that, although still follow the basic premise in its gameplay, offers a whole variation in what the game has to offer. Further campaigns, such as Frontline and Veteran, become available that changes the mechanics of the title completely. The Veteran Campaign ramps up the challenge with no aids or waypoints with which to help you, which in turn, ramps up the enjoyment levels considerably. However, my personal favourite has to be the Frontline Campaign. Playing as a sort of domination game, this mode reminded me very much of the popular conquest feature of Star Wars: Battlefront II on Sony’s PSP handheld console. Presented with a series of islands, you and the enemy force fight to maintain, take over and control the islands over a limited period of time.
As well as these extra campaign models, further modes can also be unlocked such as Survival and Bomber Defence to name but a few. This revealing of extra game modes as you progress and play through Rogue Aces provides a really refreshing mechanic that forces you to play the game; not that it really needs any forcing to play in the first place. Presentation and performance wise, everything runs sublimely smoothly, with highly detailed and colourful graphics throughout. It even has dynamic weather effects and a day/night cycle that is a truly magnificent sight to behold. Its sound effects are particularly punchy and satisfying, with huge explosions, wailing sirens and a particularly humorous commentary from your commanding officer. It’s all backed up with a rock-heavy soundtrack that matches the pace of the gameplay.
Overall, Rogue Aces provides an exhilarating ride, as well as showcasing a perfect example of how arcade gaming should be done. With a plethora of options and game modes available, there is a huge amount of depth and gameplay on offer here; it’s definitely a title that you’ll be playing for a long time to come. It’s one of those games that is instantly easy to pick-up and play, yet devilishly difficult to master and impossible to put down. Its presentation values are particularly high, from graphics, controls, performance and sound, its whole experience is perfectly sublime. If I have one fault with the game, then it would be the omission of a local multiplayer element, as this would have provided a truly spectacular element to the gameplay. Saying that though, as it stands, Rogue Aces provides a showcase of arcade gaming at its very finest and really is a title that can’t afford to be missed.
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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