Few genres can come as close to the perfect combination of beautiful visuals, great music, and intuitive controls as rhythm games provided everything is done right. Mess up just one of these elements and, the whole experience suffers as a result. There are plenty of games that have tried and failed to merge rhythm action with shooting, so let’s see what Aaero has to offer.
Aaero is a rhythm shooter by a small indie studio called Mad Fellows and only their second release after a mobile game called SineWave. The game doesn’t even pretend to have any type of storyline and instead presents players with a tutorial on how to play. We highly recommend checking out this tutorial at least once as there is more to the game than what meets the eye and, some elements can be frustrating without knowing exactly what is expected from you. The basic idea is very simple, though, and the gameplay is split into two distinct components. The first is the ribbons of light that spiral through the many tunnels found in the game. Players have to trace these ribbons with their ship as it twists and turns around based on the vocals or synthesizer sounds of the music track. Staying as close to the ribbon as possible increases your score multiplier and makes the music sound better. You’ll also see pretty sparks fly off your ship and feel a pleasing rumble from your controller to encourage you to stay on track.
The second component is the shooting and, while it might not be immediately obvious, this is also reliant on the music. You have to move your targeting reticule over enemy ships to lock on to them before pressing the trigger button to unleash your firepower. The catch is that you can only lock on to eight targets at a time and your bullets only hit on the beat. What this means is that if you press fire too early, your ship will shoot out missiles that leisurely travel towards their targets before exploding. Time it better and you’ll shoot lasers that instantly destroy the targets. You’ll definitely want to aim for the latter as much as possible as it not only rewards you with more points but also means your ship will reload faster. This is not such a big deal on the default difficulty, but once you move up to Advanced and Master modes every second count.
Speaking of the difficulty settings, on “Normal” mode the shooting and ribbon following sections are typically kept separate. However, on the higher difficulties, you’ll find that more enemies pop up in the tunnels while you are trying to follow the ribbon, which naturally makes the whole experience a lot more challenging. You only get three lives per level and there is no way to replenish these. Also, losing a life resets your multiplier, which means a lower score. Even worse, you’ll earn fewer stars for completing a level and these stars are essential for unlocking new tracks as well as higher difficulties. If all this sounds overwhelming it is because it can be at first, but once you get the hang of the game it’s a lot of fun.
Although Aaero wasn’t created by a big team it still manages to impress with its stylized visuals. The game features unique environments for each of its 15 tracks and they are all packed with enemies as well as other hazards. Between the glowing ribbons and swarms of enemies the screen can get very busy, so it’s a good thing that the art direction favors a colorful yet minimalist style. It’s still easy to lose track of enemy bullets in all the chaos, but usually, there are other visual and audio warnings to alert players to imminent danger. The action is viewed from a third-person perspective with the camera set behind the players’ ship as it flies into the screen. Along with impressive set pieces such as structures crumbling around you, the game also has three huge bosses that include a giant Dune-inspired sandworm and a massive robotic spider. Unfortunately, there is only one ship on offer with three others available as DLC. The game also doesn’t have a lot to offer in terms of graphical options apart from setting the resolution and enabling Vsync.
Audio obviously plays a huge role in rhythm games, so it’s great to hear that Aaero features a stellar soundtrack. The game includes 15 licensed songs from the likes of Flux Pavilion, Neosignal, The Prototypes, Noisia, Katy B, and more. The soundtrack is skewed very much towards electronic music, so your enjoyment will depend very much on your personal taste. We really enjoyed it and the songs all lend themselves very well towards this style of rhythm shooter. Two additional DLC packs are also available, each with three new songs. Unfortunately, the complete edition that was released for the Nintendo Switch featuring all the DLC and other add-ons is not available on Steam.
The controls for Aaero is another element that is going to divide players. The developers have made the choice that the game is only playable using a twin-stick controller, so keyboard and mouse fans are out of luck. The left stick controls the ship while the right stick is used to lock on to targets. The position of your ship and targeting reticule corresponds directly to the position of the analog sticks and both snap back to the center position if released. There’s definitely a learning curve involved and extended playing sessions can play havoc with your wrists due to constantly having to rotate both analog sticks in different directions. Levels tend to be intense from start to finish and there’s rarely time to catch your breath while playing. Things become even more intense when playing on higher difficulty levels as these feature the same songs and levels, but add more enemies to the ribbon sections.
Overall, Aaero is a great game, especially considering the small team behind it. It is incredibly addictive and it is easy to end up playing deep into the night while trying to improve your score on the online leaderboards. It doesn’t have a whole lot of modes though with only the “Chillout” mode offering a slight break from the intensity of the normal mode. It is also the ideal mode for spotting all the secrets dotted throughout the levels as it doesn’t penalize players for dying. As much fun as Aaero is it would have been nice to see some Steam Workshop support or even the option to import your own music tracks, but unfortunately, these features are not included. Nevertheless, if you like electronic music, trippy visuals, and intense shooting, then Aaero is an essential purchase.
- OS: Windows 10
- Processor: Intel Core i3
- Memory: 4 GB RAM
- Graphics: NVidia GTX 550
- Storage: 2 GB available space
- Additional Notes: *A CONTROLLER IS REQUIRED*