Aaero is part of the new wave of rhythm-action. While some classic franchises like Rock Band or Parappa The Rapper are returning, there’s a distinct sense that now is the perfect time for games like Thumper or Voez to bring the genre up to date. The game is a heady mix of Harmonix’ classic Amplitude/Frequency, with elements of Rez or Panzer Dragoon’s lock-on attacks, tied to the analogue control of Entwined.
The first game to come from Mad Fellows, the home of two industry veterans Paul Norris and Dan Horbury, it certainly has experience on its side with the pair having previously worked on both Guitar Hero and DJ Hero after learning their trade at Codemasters. We took the chance at [email protected] to go hands on with the game and have a chat with the team about rhythm action, and the ideas behind Aaero.
“We worked on DJ Hero and Guitar Hero and I ran a team doing all the downloadable content alongside NeverSoft, but I guess Activision knew that there was a window for that so they tried to get as many games in as possible,” Paul said.
“I do love those games, [but] they had their time. A lot of companies decided that that’s all there was to music games and I think that was the end of that phase of music games. There’s always been things around that are influences, such as Rare’s Amplitude, and we just felt that the same as before Guitar Hero, there were a group of people who want to play a music game, but not enough to support a huge company with licensing budgets as such.”
The game’s post apocalyptic futuristic setting is immediately eye-catching, with the first level’s neon mechanical ducts giving way to a dust planet with giant Dune-like worm creatures. The chunky art-style is distinctive and attractive, and despite it zipping by at a rate of knots, this ruined world is hugely compelling. Your adversaries seem to be alien craft, angular tanks and drones, whose homing missiles are tough to escape, particularly when you’re also trying to follow the musical line.
You’re tasked with following the musical lead using the left analogue stick, with the right analogue controlling your aiming reticule. Aaero’s thumping soundtrack features a range of relatively well-known artists as opposed to the range of self-penned tracks the latest Amplitude boasted, and with Katy B, Bass Cannon and Habby 9000 on the roster you can be assured of the kind of bass-heavy experience you’re going to get. It really does work, though your first run through a track should definitely be treated as a practice as you read the musical line and learn what’s expected of you. My first run through Katy B’s Katy On A Mission ended in ignominious defeat, but I was desperate to get straight back in there.
“I know it sounds cliché, but with this project we wanted to bring the good parts of music games to more people. Instead of trying to replicate the performance and playing the music, we reverse engineered the music into a soundtrack,” Dan said. “We didn’t want the player to try playing guitars and other instruments on a controller, but in electronic music or EDM there are a lot of MIDI controllers with an analogue stick on them. This meant you could follow the bass and vocal lines with the analogue stick effectively with a controller too. It’s more accessible and it’s how people listen to those tracks. They can hear the dubstep wubs or how the lyrics and vocals go, but can’t necessarily tap complicated stuff in time.”
The game’s Score Attack sees you building a multiplier by following the musical line, accompanied by an accuracy rating for your overall performance. The hardest stage on show sees you flying across an ocean before heading inside a series of underground rock caverns. The on-rails action is a great deal of fun, with more complicated lines needing some real concentration and skill, while splitting your concentration between that and the enemies is a plate-spinning exercise in ruining your brain – in a good way.
Of their own volition, Aaero is 51% rhythm action, 49% arcade shooter, and it’s hybrid nature really does set it apart from everything that’s gone before. Dan said, “We aimed to get a really nice mix because we didn’t want to penalize people who are not necessarily into tapping everything onto a beat, so all the mechanics are in time with the music and the ribbon you follow, and the getting the extra parts of the audio.
“Eventually you’ll get things to target, but if you shot on the beat a laser will come out and the explosion will be in time with the music. If you shoot after the beat however, the missile will still come out but will explode on the next beat. It’s still on the beat, so everything’s still in musical time. It’s not penalizing you or making things sound awful.”
Those elements are definitely akin to Rez’ soundscapes, but there’s less opportunity for them to devolve into chaos. ” It’s also not taking anything off you, so you can shoot whenever you like. If you have a game where it doesn’t do what you want it to do, like if you’re pulling a trigger and it’s not firing then it’s going to be frustrating. You can shoot whenever, but the idea was for the game engine to put this back into time when the missiles explode. It’s based around the idea that not everyone understands how to play the guitar in time with the music, but that if you’re watching a movie and something can build up and explodes in time with the music, it’s that sort of enjoyable element that we wanted to bring across.”
Thanks again to Paul Norris and Dan Horbury for taking the time to speak to us and giving us our first experience with Aaero. The game will be released on 11th April on Xbox One, PS4 and PC/Steam.