Aaero manages manages to make you feel cool. It wants to empower you, and where a lot of games try and fail at this, Aaero often does so. The post-apocalyptic rhythm-action lovechild of Entwined and Rez, married to a bass-heavy electronic soundtrack that pulls and pounds you through its neon-lit planetscapes, Aaero is a shot in the arm for a genre that needs a new poster child.
You’ve been somewhere like this before, a sand-encrusted future that owes more than a little to the vision of Frank Herbert, but you’ve never been asked to traverse it in the way Aaero asks you to. You pilot a stocky spacecraft into the landscape, with the thumping music of Habby 9000, Flux Pavilion, Neosignal and others providing both the soundtrack and the route for your craft.
Using the left analogue stick to move, you’re tasked with following a glowing blue ribbon which marries with the melody or vocal line of the current track. Just as in Entwined, your route is plotted around a circle that matches the edges of your analogue stick’s range, so you’ll mostly be rolling the stick back and forth as you try to follow the increasingly complex musical movements.
It’s a tough task at times, and it’s initially disconcerting to have a rhythm-action game where it’s virtually impossible to achieve 100% accuracy. Check the online leaderboards for each track, mind you, and it’s obviously possible to be quite a bit closer to perfection than I often was.
That however, is not all there is to it. In a true video game rendition of rubbing your belly while patting your head, your right analogue controls an aiming reticule with which you’ll be gunning for the incoming alien threats. Like Rez or Panzer Dragoon you can lock onto multiple enemies at once, though here you’re rewarded for firing in time with the beat, just in case you didn’t already have enough to think about.
Aaero eases you in gently and Normal mode mostly lets you take on the two aspects of the game at different times from one another. Sections of the musical ribbon are interspersed with on-rails shooting, and really that’s enough to begin with. Jumping to Advanced mode sees the two begin to cross over more often, and it becomes a real feat to keep in line with the ribbon while taking out the vicious enemies.
As with Harmonix’ output, your performance on each track is graded from one to five stars, with the higher difficulty levels unlocking once you’ve accumulated enough stars. The only problem is that the star requirements for unlocking the higher tiers are tremendously exacting, with Advanced requiring a 90% success rate on Normal, and Master needing a horrendous 100% on both of the lower levels. Needless to say, I wasn’t able to see quite how far the difficulty jumped in Master mode because of this, but I can only imagine it’s pretty mindblowing.
There’s real impetus to make repeat visits though, with the genre’s strengths played out to the full, and the highest scores only becoming attainable to those who’ve learnt every twist or turn of the track and timed their shots perfectly. At times there’s as much kinship with Wipeout as there is with Amplitude, and there are some amazing moments where you’re hurtling down a tunnel evading obstacles, all the while trying to stay in touch with that musical line.
Aaero’s visuals are wonderfully stylised, with chunky, polygonal craft and buildings evoking a sense of the stripped back, no-frills nature of its futuristic setting. The various enemies are relatively basic, though they’re each instantly recognisable so that you can reliably read their behaviour even when you’re racing through the wasteland.
Having said that, while the simplistic visual language makes your performance easier, there can still be moments where things clash. The neon blue of the ribbon can occasionally appear in other parts of the level, catching your eye, or your view of the ribbon can be obscured by the aiming reticule, forcing you to remember to disengage your weapon as much as possible during these sections. Still, these are only minor quibbles that did little to temper my enjoyment of the game.
Aaero is a new beginning for rhythm action games, as it draws on the genre’s past strengths and makes them its own. It has a different outlook – completionists may balk at the improbability of a ‘perfect’ run – but equally that could make it all the more alluring to those looking for a true score attack experience that doesn’t give up its wares so easily. Aaero’s setting may be apocalyptic, but its outlook is full of hope for a genre that still deserves its place in the here and now.
Version Tested:Xbox One S