Aaero Review

Music, as it turns out, can make a good foundation for a video game.  In recent years, quite a few indie developers have put their own spin onto the video game genre made famous by games like Parappa the Rapper, Frequency, and Rock Band.  One spin comes in the form of Aaero, a little game from Mad Fellos that is available on Steam, the Xbox One, and PS4.  The game aims to combine elements of a twin stick shooter with the rhythm matching elements of a music game.  The result of this combination is an interesting, albeit flawed experience. 

In Aaero, you control a little ship, navigating environments to the rhythm of a music track while defending yourself from various enemies by using your ship's missiles.  Most of Aaero's fifteen levels are composed of two parts: outdoor environments where you primarily defend yourself from those enemies, and indoor, tunnel-like environments where you track a ribbon along the walls in accordance with the music.  There are also a handful of boss battle levels where one gigantic creature dominates most of the scenery.

When it comes to integrating its gameplay elements into one seamless package, Aaero's success is mixed, at best.  The ribbon-tracking, purely musical sections are far and away the best parts of the game.  The shoot-em-up potions of the game are neither executed well, nor do they fit in with the game's musical gameplay as well as I would have hoped.  Since molding these two elements together is one of the major selling points of the game, it is disappointing that it does not experience more success in that area.

The shooting portions of the game consist mostly of using your right stick to tag your enemies and then pulling the trigger to launch a volley of missiles at them.  You also occasionally tag a boss enemy and unleash a barrage upon it.  While these sections are all competent, they suffer from some basic shortcomings.  The biggest problem is that they exist almost entirely outside of the game's musical structure.  Since you control when to shoot your missiles, there is nothing that involves timing their release with the beats of the music.  The same is true for the attacks of your enemies, which follow some noticeable patterns but don't move along with the music.  Something simple like bonus damage for timing a missile with the rhythm of the music might have made these sections feel more like they belong in the game.  As it stands, the combat is almost entirely in outdoor areas where there is no ribbon tracking.  There is little integration between the two, leaving you feeling like you are alternating back and forth between two minigames.

The other problem with the shooting is that the screen tends to get cluttered with little items -- swarms of enemies, lock-on icons, enemy projectiles, and your ship itself.  It can be very difficult to track the various enemies and see which ones you have locked onto and which ones you haven't.  Your ship also blocks a small portion of what is in front of you, and depth perception is somewhat difficult.  Because of these conditions, you will probably die many times when you get killed by something that emerged from a cloud of glowing red and blue lights.  The combat in the game is occasionally frustrating and rarely satisfying. 

The tunnel-travelling, ribbon-riding portions of each track are where Aaero reaches its highs.   The game's most frenetic moments occur when you are following the music while avoiding obstacles that pop up in front of you or defending yourself from the occasional indoor enemies.  The bright, glowing ribbons are a terrific method of visualizing the music. The ribbon switches sides, wiggles up and down, and corkscrews its way down tunnels, often making it difficult to track for first time through any particular song.  But when you do, the game achieves the nirvana that only a great music game can provide -- the moments when the visuals and the audio combine into one hypnotic experience as you unconsciously move your ship to the music.    

Aaero's visual style fits its theme and its music perfectly, although it would have been nice to get more variety out of both.  Like the recent titles Grow Up and Grow Home, Aaero looks a lot like somebody put a 2017 coat of paint on an old PlayStation game.  Environments and creatures are fairly simple and polygonal, but rather than make the game look ugly, this look adds to the title's charm.  What doesn't work out as well, however, is the somewhat repetitive and bland color palette that the game uses.  Since the game has no story, it could have used a massive variety of environments.  Instead most of the outdoor areas look like deserts or some other type of wasteland.  The colors blue, red, and brown dominate the game, which is a shame, because this is the type of title that would be a perfect setting for a variety of backgrounds.  The music is also somewhat lacking in variety.  Although Aaero boasts a licensed soundtrack, most of the music sounds like it wouldn't exist outside of a video game.  The game is very heavy on dubstep type tracks, and it only features a few songs with vocals, which are the high point of the soundtrack. 

Aaero contains fifteen music tracks, which makes it a fairly short experience that can be completed in one sitting.  As an arcade style action game, however, it offers a lot of replayability, so the game's once through length isn't really a fair assessment of its value.  Still, the price tag of $15 is probably on the high side for the overall level of quality and variety that the game has to offer.  The game has plenty of high points and some very memorable tracks and levels, but it has some forgettable ones as well.  It is worth playing for those high points, but a lower price and more consistent quality would have made the game a much easier recommendation.