When it comes to shoot ’em ups, the games I remember playing as a child were all plane based. You would manoeuvre a plane from left to right at the bottom of the screen and take out the oncoming onslaught of enemy fighters. Aces of the Luftwaffe – Squadron from Handy Games is a perfect example of this format, only with a few twists here and there. It may look like your standard WWII themed shmup but there is much more to the game than that – namely a Nazi flying saucer, robotic insects and flying mega-ships! It also fully supports up to four players for even more destructive fun!
As stated above, Aces of the Luftwaffe – Squadron isn’t your typical WWII themed game. Just when Europe was free from the Nazi threat in WWII, a secret German commando, known as The Aces of Luftwaffe, took this opportunity to sneak past our allies and attack the USA. As such, it’s our protagonist’s duty to restore peace and liberty within the airways of the USA by climbing aboard our flying death machines and taking the battle to the skies!
Not only will you take control of four pilots (or have up to four players playing at once) as you take out a multitude of oncoming enemy bogies, but you’ll also have to deal with the evil scientist and his deadly creations such as the incredibly powerful flying saucer. The story will take you through 25 levels of pure adrenaline as you aim to complete side missions as well as your main objectives and emerge the victor. You must command your wingmen, fight as a team, and fight as a squadron!
One man, four planes?!
The first thing that jumped out at me with Aces of the Luftwaffe – Squadron was the fact you can control all four of the aircraft in single player. This is rather unique in a way, but also it’s kind of like another way of saying ‘here are three extra guns’ as all ships move within formation and fire at the same time. However, each of your alternative characters has their own disabilities and ‘issues’ which makes Aces of the Luftwaffe – Squadron even more interesting. You can unlock new ships as you progress throughout the game and find ‘loot crate’ style pickups in the sky (how a plane fit’s in those I’ll never know!) but your four characters will always remain the same, they are:
Mark Taylor: This is our main character. If he dies then you lose a life, if any of the others die then they will auto-respawn after a set time without you losing a life. Mark’s disability is he gets sick quite often. When he’s been affected you are forced to manoeuvre slowly as you try to remain in control of your fleet and take on the ever-increasing horde of enemy crafts. If you move too fast, he gets iller and thus loses a life. Move slowly and he will eventually regain his composure.
John King: John is a pain in the butt! He basically becomes enraged and begins to fly around the screen as he smashes into anything that gets in his way – including you! So, you must avoid him as well as avoiding the enemies and continuing to shoot them down. This also only lasts a certain amount of time, but while it’s happening it is really annoying even though it can be useful sometimes.
Melissa Monroe: This young lady shouldn’t have ever been allowed to be a pilot. Not because she is a woman, because she doesn’t like heights! Every now and again you’ll ascend higher into the skies in order to take on a new wave of Nazis and when this happens Melissa will sit out and fly off on her own for a bit leaving you with one less ally by your side. Seriously, if she doesn’t like heights how did she even manage to pass her flying exams?!
Steve Davis: Steve is a bit like Melissa in that I don’t know how he was ever cleared to fly. If you’ve ever seen the film “Rat Race”, Steve is basically Rowan Atkinson! He suffers from some form of narcolepsy as he tends to fall asleep whilst piloting his ship, thus aimlessly floating around in the sky whilst you protect him by taking out your opponents before they can take advantage of this event.
So, as you can see, your crew of unlikely heroes are all unique in some form – it’s as if they were grouped together because of their obvious disadvantages and nobody else wanted to be within their squadrons!
The story itself moves along at a decent pace through both in-mission and post-mission banter between the four pilots. They’ll talk about what’s happening, what their thoughts are, and they help set up exposition for why you’re doing something or what’s about to happen. Each conversation is fully voiced in clear, decent voices and presented on screen as a static character portrait. As you progress throughout the story you’ll begin to get messages from other people such as your boss and the Nazi’s. It’s always nice to put a face to the voice as well.
Speaking of the images, the overall art of Aces of the Luftwaffe – Squadron is glorious. Okay, it’s not the best looking, or most detailed, game in the world, but everything is super clear to see and easy to make out. Combined with the super responsive and precise controls, this makes Aces of the Luftwaffe – Squadron one of the most enjoyable shmups I’ve played recently. Also, thanks to your aircraft being fairly small on the screen and the speed at which you move, it’s quite easy to dodge the bullet hell you’re about to face as you progress into the later levels. The sizes also create a great sense of scale when you’re finally facing off against gigantic ships which appear out of nowhere at the end of each chapter. However, the saying is true – ‘The bigger they are, the harder they fall’, and it’s really satisfying!
Each level isn’t only about killing everything you see, you’ll also be given a side mission for each level as well as the chance to both upgrade your weaponry and pick up items and medals. Side missions are explained on the mission select and pause screens, they aren’t that difficult as they usually consist of killing X amount of a certain enemy, hovering over something/someone to pick them up, or protecting a certain ally from getting destroyed. There are other variations to the gameplay as well with side missions that require you to adopt a stealth-like approach as you dodge various spotlights instead of the bullet-hell you see in other levels.
With regards to the pickups, we have two types here, per-level power-ups and collectable/currency ones. The per-level ones are nice and simple and benefit you greatly. Every time you fly over such an item your weapons increase in power and your projectiles sometimes change their shape or speed. you can continuously collect these throughout the level and you’ll just get more and more god-like with your firepower for all four of your squadron. At one of the highest levels, you begin to fire off homing missiles every few seconds as you continue to disperse an ultra-powerful array of bullets in the direction of your foes.
However, the most important pickups for you to look out for are the Epic Crates and the medals. Epic crates are items that can contain new planes for you to command instead of the standard aircraft. Each new one offers different stats and advantages. The metals, however, are used to level up your entire squadron. Not only will these be given to you for finding them, but you also get them for completing the level and the side missions. As you level up, you’ll be rewarded skill coins which can be exchanged in order to upgrade your team’s various abilities. You can upgrade the base attack and defence stats of each pilot or opt to invest in unlocking new active and passive skills for them to use in battle.
Also, unlike some other games, you can freely undo and reallocate the skill points if you change your mind and wish to reinvest them in other areas.
One of the things which I love about Aces of the Luftwaffe – Squadron is it’s boss battles. They are so over the top and really fit in with the comedic and light tone of the game. These are, obviously, much harder than your standard enemies and offer a real challenge on any of the three difficulties. For example, the first boss is an Evil Scientist who flies a UFO. This craft fires out a tonne of bullets, giant ‘sonic booms’ and has four mounted cannons which end up spreading their projectiles all over the place as the ship spins from left to right. These fights remind me of old 16-bit era bosses where you must learn the patterns of the fights in order to come out on top. You may die three or four times, but then you’ll know the exact movements it’s going to take so you know exactly where to fly and how to position yourself.
Now onto the one thing which usually makes or breaks a game like this for me – the difficulty. Luckily, Aces of the Luftwaffe – Squadron isn’t as unforgiving as a game such as Riddled Corpses EX, but it does still offer a fair challenge on its base ‘normal’ difficulty. Personally, I was playing through the game on ‘Hard’ as I saw there was a trophy for completing all the levels on this difficulty setting, but I did have to drop to normal for a few of the bosses. However, I went back to the same levels after upgrading everyone and I was able to get through them on Hard without too much trouble. There is also an unlockable ‘Extreme mode’ setting which is even harder and I’ve yet to actually get through any of those levels yet! Hard and Extreme also lower the number of lives you have as well as increases the number of enemies and the challenges you encounter.
Aces of the Luftwaffe – Squadron is a great example of a modernised, old school plane-based shmup. It’s pure bullet-hell combined with perfect controls and a pleasing aesthetic. From it’s multitudes of oncoming smaller enemy bogies to its gigantic bosses, there is never a dull moment within the game. Its premise is simple – kill everything on screen before they can kill you, but as you progress throughout the game, this simple task becomes much trickier. One thing which will keep you on your toes is the handicaps of each squad member as they all play through their own episodes of terror and sicknesses. With its additional support for up to four players, I can’t help but recommend this to all fans of the shmup genre!
Aces of the Luftwaffe - Squadron£11.99
- - Cartoony, yet detailed graphics
- - Very fast gameplay with tonnes of ships on screen and no slow down
- - Up to four player co-op
- - Side missions and collectables make the game addictive and replayable
- - Each pilot has a disablity or sickness which really mixes things up in combat
- - Can get a bit overwhelming with all the action which is taking place on screen at the same time