Airheart is a game about skyfishing, which is almost exactly what it sounds like. It’s fishing, except the fish are in the sky and you’re in a plane. Where it differs (further) from regular fishing is that, instead of using a rod, you fly into all the fish to catch them. Quite how those fish don’t get caught in the propeller and becoming impromptu sushi is anyone’s guess, but it seems to work out.
Named after Amelia Airheart, as you might expect, Amelia is one such skyfisher who dreams of finding the great skywhale, right in the top layer of sky. It’s a weird concept, but you will quickly find yourself skyfishing with the best of them. Really, the challenge comes from surviving the other fishers, who are so fanatical about protecting their livelihood that they are more than happy to repeatedly shoot you out of the sky.
Thankfully, Airheart is a roguelite, so dying is very much expected, if not a requirement. The gameplay is 2D, but the world is layered with you working your way up through sky layers of increasing difficulty. Layers you have previously been through are visible in the background, which is a nice touch and it’s part of why the game is visually stunning, alongside the vibrant colours and a charming, bright aesthetic. Sadly I’ve personally experienced pretty consistent frame rate issues, but these do not seem to be a common issue for other players and may be due to playing on the original PS4 or maybe just my ageing launch system.
As you progress up through the layers, you should be taking care not to overfish each one, or there won’t be any fish to catch on your way back through on the next run. Your rewards will increase as get higher, with more plentiful and expensive fish, but so will the risk as the pirate population increases and get even more aggressive. Thankfully, by selling off the fish you catch you can purchase upgrades for your plane that increase damage, health, and change weapons. Though the interface can be a little difficult to figure out, as it often uses unlabelled icons for items that leave the player unsure what an item is and makes it easy to confuse with other items.
There is also a crafting system, which is perhaps the best part of the game. It has some similarities with Minecraft, where the order in which you put components into crafting will decide what item you make, although they are not placed into a grid here. There is an element of trial and error as the game shows you possible recipes and the amount of components required, and should you fail to craft an item successfully, it will tell you which items are in the right order for each recipe. Noticing this while playing with the crafting was very rewarding and instantly made the crafting system into an endearing mini-game despite an awkward interface.
Unfortunately, it’s the most rewarding part of Airheart, as the base gameplay of fighting off pirates and collecting fish, then moving to the next layer until you return to base and upgrade gets repetitive quite quickly. This isn’t helped by often having to backtrack through the same layers repeatedly, with the same fish and the same enemies each time, rendering the best parts of the game, namely crafting and its aesthetic, almost pointless as they are meant to inform gameplay that is disappointingly shallow.
Airheart presents an interesting idea with hints of brilliance, but fails to deliver a game with staying power. Whilst the upgrade system is satisfying, it’s let down by repetitive gameplay and UI issues that get in the way even when playing with the endearing crafting system.
Version tested: PlayStation 4 – Also available for PC