‘Aaero’ Review: Spaceship Dance Hero

Aaero is a new indie game from the two-person developer Mad Fellows, out of the U.K. Described simply as “The Rhythm-Rail-Shooter” on their Kickstarter page, Aaero is so much more, and one of the best indie games I have ever played. For experienced gamers, I describe it as if Space Harrier and Guitar Hero had an EDM (Electronic Dance Music) baby. Players control a spaceship from a third person perspective. As the ship moves forward, lines, or rails, appear and players must rotate the left joystick to keep the ship on or as near to the moving line as possible, this adds to your points multiplier. By staying in line with the rail, the main part of that stage’s music, or hook, is amplified, just like guitar sounds are in Guitar Hero.

While trying to stay on the line as much as possible, your ship will also encounter various enemies. Using the right joystick will allow players to hover over enemies and their projectiles to target them and then press the right trigger to shoot as many missiles as your targeting time allows. Multi-targeting is recommended for bigger points, obviously, but sometimes you will have to be fast and take out that one lone missile. It’s one shot death in Aaero, be it from flying into a wall or obstacle, or getting taken out by an enemy, plus your ship only has three lives, so players must constantly be paying attention or suffer the consequences.

To say Aaero is difficult would be an understatement. Flying towards the screen at breakneck speeds while trying to keep your multiplier, staying alive, and shooting and moving at the same time. Gameplay almost becomes a test of a player’s left brain and right brain separation, like playing the drums or piano. Maybe a DJ spinning two records would be more appropriate given the style of music in Aaero. The electronic music matches the gameplay perfectly, enveloping the player in this odd feeling of dancing with your thumbs. My thumbs got a major workout every time I played Aaero. I loved feeling like a spaceship DJ, saving the universe with my mad beats.

As I write this I am listening to the soundtrack for Aaero. I enjoyed it on my drive home from work as well. The music is that good. Electronic music and dubstep are not for everyone, but I enjoy it if it’s still catchy. I’m a sucker for a good repetitive hook. Aaero made me feel like I was playing that hook. Not like an instrument, but literally playing with music. It’s the same feeling I got when I played Guitar Hero for the first time. I love the added shooter element, and maybe I’m crazy, but sometimes, if I timed my shots just right, the explosions matched up with the song. There are 15 songs, or levels as it were. Some are rather long at times, and even on normal mode, by the end my thumbs would burn. When those stars pop up at the end though, it was totally worth it.

That’s the way levels are unlocked in Aaero. The player’s score is totaled at the end with bonuses added, then the player is awarded one to five stars. These stars are then totalled up to unlock further levels. Fifty-four stars are needed to unlock the final level. Players can also compare their scores with other players at the end of each level, I was impressed with the skill level some gamers are showing already. Once 90% of the stars on normal difficulty are unlocked, players unlock advanced difficulty, then at 100% stars gathered in BOTH difficulties, master difficulty unlocks. Have fun challenge seekers! That’s 45 levels in all. If all that sounds intimidating, do not fear; Mad Fellows is crazy, like a fox, and thought of us *ahem* older and slower gamers, by including a Chill Mode. All levels are unlocked and players will have unlimited lives in this mode. There are no trophy or achievement unlocks for star scores, but I still loved it. I was given a place to enjoy the music and learn the levels at my own speed rather than dying that third time at the last second and having to start all over in normal. I could even find and collect hidden targets in the environments. Thank you Mad Fellows! If this feature was not available, I worry that Aaero would not have been so favored by this reviewer. Normal is challenging enough; I can’t even imagine master.

Aaero is nearly perfect as far as I am concerned. It has something for every skill level, an amazing soundtrack that integrates with the gameplay, and while a targeting shooter is not a new concept, it meshes oh so well. The bosses are screen filling and well designed, only their graphics are lacking, in fact the only thing keeping Aaero from a perfect score would be the simple graphics. But for a couple guys developing this game, it’s trippy light show visuals are pretty cool, but it’s the old trucks on the ground and other oddly shaped real objects that kinda threw me off. I know it’s an attempt to make a cohesive setting for Aaero, but really, I didn’t feel it necessary and more crazy abstract elements would of been welcomed instead. My hope is that Aaero succeeds and we get a well polished and beautiful sequel. At least some DLC with new songs. So go buy Aaero, and help me fund my future in playing this amazing indie game!

Aaero is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Steam. This review is based on a PS4 copy provided for that purpose. 

out of 5

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