Strap yourselves in and make sure you have your headphones on as I don’t think you’re quite ready for the adrenaline thrill ride that is Aaero. It’s all about the music, the feeling of energy coursing through your veins, the beats pumping in your skull and your senses heightened to full alert. That’s what happens to your body when you’re playing through a level of Aaero. The two-man independent micro-studio ‘Mad Fellows’ have created a game that feels like the love child of Rez, Amplitude and Entwined, which to me, is the perfect threesome!
Aaero is, however, no ordinary rhythm game. Throw in an intense on-rails action shooter and merge this with immense speed and an incredible licensed soundtrack and what you get is a game that’s an absolute banger to play.
Aaero’s rhythmic gameplay sees you use the left analogue stick to control your ship as you fly through stylised alien environments, all whilst having to trace along a blue ribbon of light that cleverly marries the melody or the vocals of the track being played. Your route is plotted around a circle that you have to roll the analogue stick back and forth in order to follow the musical movements, much like you do in Entwined. The right analogue stick is used to aim the cross-hairs of your weapon to target enemies before unleashing a foray of missiles on them by simply tapping ZR.
My only issue with the combat is that you can lock-on up to 8 enemies or projectiles at a time but sometimes it can be difficult to tell which ones you have locked on to. It’s not helped by the fact that at times your own ship and the scenery can obscure the enemies from your view. This was especially apparent in the boss level where you face off against a gigantic Dune-style worm. When it weaves in and out of the ground, flying robot wasp-like enemies will swoop next to it making it difficult to see if you are locked on to the worm or the wasps. Sometimes it was better to button-mash your missiles to ensure victory rather than using any skill. I won’t spoil what other creatures turn up as bosses as they make for some excellent set-pieces within the game.
Don’t let the very simplistic controls deceive you into thinking the game is a breeze as it’s far from it. My ears, eyes and thumbs were bleeding after the 5 hours I spent with Aaero! No, don’t worry, I didn’t really burst blood vessels in my brain but boy did this game increase my heart-rate to get more blood pumping to my mind and my hands to help make me as responsive and alert as possible. You need all your concentration, and maybe two or three hits of caffeine, to successfully traverse the levels as you only have three shields to protect you. Once depleted, through either being hit by an enemy, colliding with an obstacle or being drained by not staying on the forever bending and twisting ribbon of light, then your ship will explode and you have to restart the level. Thankfully, you can regenerate your shield by grinding along the light to absorb the energy – other than that, there are no power-ups or shield boosts.
There are 15 levels which are graded from one to five stars, each one is unlocked by accumulating a certain number of stars, of which, there are 225 in total to collect in the base game. Levels only get more frantic with an increase of speed and they aren’t short either with some reaching 5 minutes long, which feels like forever. I admit, now as a relatively new father who feels tired all the time, I struggled with the complexity of some of the levels, even on Normal difficulty let alone on Advanced or Master.
My reaction speed was just not fast enough and man did it make me feel old and I’ve not even hit my mid 30’s yet! I would say it’s pretty much impossible to achieve 100% accuracy on a level and the online leaderboards would prove this. This might frustrate completionists but as with all rhythm games to truly master them, practice makes perfect, and thankfully, Aaero includes a ‘Chillout’ mode where you can’t die and all the tracks are open, so you can practice till your hearts content or, like me, just relax and enjoy the music.
Initially released back in 2017 on the PS4, Xbox One and PC, the Complete Edition of Aaero now finds itself on the Nintendo Switch and with this updated edition you get access to the game’s previously released DLC all included for free. This adds a further six tracks, three drum and bass levels and three dubstep ones, which thankfully, you can play at your own leisure without having to unlock them through accumulating stars. The DLC also presents some new skins for your ship too.
If you like the electronica, drum and bass and dubstep genres of music then you’re in for a real treat. For Aaero to work as a successful, and enjoyable rhythm game it has to have a very solid soundtrack, which it most certainly does. I definitely recommend wearing headphones so you don’t miss any beats and can crank up the volume. The tracklist is full of licensed songs including hugely popular favourite Katy B’s – “Katy on a mission” and Flux Pavilion’s hit from 2011 – “Bass Cannon”.
I’m a family man now so my days of going out to nightclubs till 4 am are long behind me so I’m absolutely clueless as to what is ‘popular’ music nowadays. However, I have to say, I fully enjoyed all of the tracks as they suited the rhythm mechanics perfectly and the vocal tracks are especially utilised in an interesting and cool way, that if you miss following the ribbon then the vocals start to fade out. Admittedly, if these music genres aren’t your cup of tea, then you might tire from the game pretty quickly so it’s a shame that the added DLC content didn’t include some rock/metal tracks, which could have worked equally as well.
Visually, the levels of Aaero, while not very detailed in their textures, are very varied and uses edgy and sharp shapes to create the landscapes. These range from post-apocalyptic sand dunes littered with destroyed otherworldly architecture to soaring high in the moon-lit hazy sky above a city of skyscrapers. The heavy use of bold, bright neon colours aids in keeping the game look fresh and interesting at speed, especially in the tunnel sections, it’s like being on a kaleidoscope rollercoaster. The minimalistic, flat design of the environments almost feels like a throwback to the looks of Star Fox on the SNES. It’s actually a shame that, for the Switch version of Aaero, they didn’t do some sort of deal with Nintendo to include an Arwing as a ship-skin – that would have been truly cool.
Aaero is perfectly suited to play on the go in handheld mode and this is how I played the majority of the game. I’m happy to report that the Switch version runs brilliantly with no major concerns and I only noticed a couple of incidents of frame drops in handheld mode, none in docked mode. Due to the Switch not being as powerful as its counterparts the developers did decide to cut back on some of the visual textures in order to keep the performance levels nice and smooth. This was a very wise move as due to the frantic pace of the game you barely notice the quality of the textures anyway.
I also preferred playing in handheld mode on the smaller screen as I found it easier to track enemies, though I wouldn’t recommend playing with the Joy-Cons attached to the console as using both the analogue sticks so vigorously felt uncomfortable and it wasn’t long till I started getting hand cramps.
You can’t beat the pure joy and adrenaline rush of hurtling down a tunnel, evading obstacles and trying to stick to the ribbon to be as accurate as possible, that Aaero brings. The unique blend of on-rail rhythm mechanics with action-shooter combat all complimented with a truly terrific soundtrack, really helps draw you in to playing Aaero’s gorgeous levels and breathes new life into a genre that has somehow disappeared over recent years.
- - Stunning soundtrack and stylish visuals
- - A white knuckle ride of energy and speed
- - Fun boss battles
- - Simple and effective controls
- - Cheap price and includes DLC levels too
- - If you don’t enjoy electronica, drum and bass or dubstep music this game might not appeal to you
- - Uncomfortable to play in handheld mode with Joy-Cons fixed to console
- - Overly challenging on Normal mode let alone Advanced and Master