Aaero is a unique take on the rhythm game genre. Described in a promotional video as “Starfox meets Guitar Hero”, Aaero combines on-rails shooter elements with rhythm game mechanics. It does this surprisingly well, for an Indie game, but that’s to be expected. Mad Fellows was formed by Paul Norris and Dan Horbury, after all, two of the developers that previously helped create DJ Hero. It’s no surprise, then, that they should be capable of making a decent rhythm game on their first outing.
The game is played with 2 analogue sticks and a single button, that’s it. No fancy input patterns to learn, just twin stick controls and a fire button. The left stick is used to position your ship, which needs to follow a thin ribbon around the screen to score points. The ribbon, or stream of neon light, moves in time with the music. Meanwhile, the right stick is used to aim your missiles, which will lock onto enemies and can then be fired with a trigger press.
The overall gameplay consists of a mixture of these two mechanics, as well as some light obstacle dodging. You’ll be constantly manoeuvring your ship through tight spaces, locking onto enemies, dodging projectiles, and trying to keep your score multiplier up by riding the neon line. The game throws another curve-ball at you when you encounter boss levels, though. These are regular songs that feature one giant boss enemy, which you need to try and defeat. They were a surprise, but certainly a welcome one.
Unfortunately, there’s one key issue that holds Aaero back, in my opinion – at least, as a rhythm game. It lacks the engaging tactile feel that rhythm games are renowned for, due to the use of the analogue stick. Instead of timing button presses or screen taps and seeing your score multiplier climb, you’re constantly trying to keep a 360 degree stick within a few degrees of a thin ribbon. Put simply, there is a greater margin for error, and it feels less precise.
Fortunately, the game is quite forgiving to counteract this. You don’t lose a score multiplier instantly by missing a section of ribbon, instead, it depletes slowly, and you may fall from a 6x score to a 4x, for instance. As a rhythm game veteran, it does feel odd to get 5 stars on a song with an accuracy rating of 78. I’ve always enjoyed the thrilling battle to achieve the highest scores and ranks in music games, so it feels a little cheap to score top marks when I know I could have done significantly better on a song.
On the other hand, it would be frustrating to expect much more of players, as the controls don’t really cater towards getting 100% accuracy. I actually looked for some footage online and couldn’t see any scores above 90%, in fact – I think getting above 80-85% is a big achievement on most songs. This may seem a little nit-picky, and I’m willing to admit there’s not much that could have been done to remedy the issue; it’s just a side effect of the uniqueness of using an analogue stick. It’s good, then, that the shooter mechanics are so on-point, as this helps bolster the offering and prop up the overall score.
The audio sounds great here, as is expected. These are fully licensed songs, and if you’re an EDM, electronic, or drum and bass fan, you’ll probably recognise a few. Notable artists include Katy B, Flux Pavilion, and Noisia. If you’re not a fan of these genres, this game may not be for you, but there’s definitely a high level of audio quality. Though it could have used a little more variety, it would be harsh to judge it off this, considering the price tag and number of songs on offer.
Visuals & Performance
Visually, the graphics are solid. The art style is somewhere between low-poly and a more realistic, grungy tone, and I think it works well. Nothing detracts from the game, and the neon visuals of the ribbon make it easy to see. The enemies look good; in particular, the bosses were stunning to look at the first time I saw them.
The game ran smoothly, once the songs loaded. This was a process that often took 10-30 seconds, though, which felt a little excessive. The game is more than playable in handheld mode, but it’s definitely easier to anticipate the position of the oncoming ribbon on a larger screen.
For $14.99 or £10.99, Aaero is a great deal. Not only is it the same price as the PC version on Steam, but you’re also getting 2 DLC packs for free – featuring 3 Monstercat records and 3 tracks from 1000DaysWasted. There is a fair degree of replayability, too, as the 21 songs can be played in 4 difficulties. On top of this, there are secret targets hidden throughout the levels. These are tracked in the song selection menu, and add an extra reason to replay songs.
Unique, innovative gameplay
Good value for money
Lacks the tactile digital feel of traditional rhythm games