Unless you’re the most tone deaf, music hating person in the world, you can’t help but fall in love with rhythmic music games. Whether you’ve got a plastic guitar in hand with Guitar Hero, banging the full drum set with Rock Band, have created magic with Fantasia or just wish to bop your head to Beatbuddy, chances are that when something delivers a rhythm, you’ve enjoyed it.
I have to admit to being in that exact camp and from my first hands-on with the visual and audio delights that Aaero has in its hallowed halls, I’ve been looking forward to seeing its full release. Now it is here though, what have we got?
Well, simply put, we have something that is very nearly the best damn music game on Xbox One. Yes, almost besting that stunner known as Disney’s Fantasia Music Evolved.
Aaero runs with quite a simple concept in which you control a small ship blasting its way across the face of numerous alien planets. The visuals are simple but work brilliantly, never complicating matters or going to in-depth so the player gets confused. You see, this is a fast game and fluidity is its main draw, and I’m pleased to see Mad Fellows deliver something that is utterly smooth. Accompanying you on your journey across these strange alien infested lands is a light ribbon, something which you’ll need to stick to – or as close as damn it to – in order to pick up points. This is done by simply moving the left stick in tandem with the ribbon… the closer you get to sticking to the line, the more you will energise the awesome songs and the higher your points total will rise. Lose your way and you’re likely to hit an obstacle, losing one of your precious three shields which help you get through to the end of each banging tune. As you can probably guess, deplete those shields and you’ll be left to try again. And again. And again.
You’ll find your ship rocking and rolling to the rhythm of the beat at all times, and getting a flow is very much the key to your success. Much like any other music game, once you lose that rhythm, you’re pretty well done for and it’s super difficult to get back into the flow again. Not only that, but you’ll also lose any score multiplier you had earnt, probably find yourself a shield down and will be cursing your thumbs forever more.
I say thumbs in the plural, because whilst it is the fat digit on your left hand which will be the most used, that’s not to say the one of your right is useless. Far from it in fact because Aaero comes with a second gameplay mechanic which is almost as good as the first. Breaking up the familiar feeling you’ll get by following a bright line forever more are moments of shooting madness, with enemy ships intent on taking you down and putting you off your high scoring quest. It is here where you’ll need to target the little guys with the movement found attached to your right stick, highlighting them up before unleashing a barrage of missiles their way with the right trigger. Some of these enemies will shoot back, others will be shielded up, whilst more still will ready waves of missiles themselves. Whatever they do though, you’ll need to dispatch them as quickly as you can so to keep the beat rocking and your ship in the best possible health.
The shooting aspect works brilliantly – perhaps not as brilliantly as the main ribbon covering action that is the real star of Aaero – but brilliantly nonetheless, and the two different mechanics combine to create a wonderful, near magical, experience.
If your skills allow it and you manage to make your way to the end of each song, and the joys that each level brings, then you’ll find yourself marked out of five stars, with points given for your ribbon holding accuracy, enemy shooting capabilities and secret-finding eagle eye. Earn enough stars and you’ll find further tunes unlocked and ready to be hit up.
But no matter how good the mechanics are, a music based game is only as good as the songs which frequent its library and those found in Aaero have been cleverly integrated to ensure the most immersive involvement. Electronic sounds from the likes of Noisia, Flux Pavilion, Katy B and The Prototypes are all great to have and the lines you’ll need to follow for each track have been suitably situated, allowing you and your ship to really get immersed in the sound that comes your way. With just 15 songs in total, all with much bass accompanying them, you may think that your time spent with Aaero will be a short one. But that couldn’t be further from the truth as the one more go, stupidly addictive draw that it has, all as you try to better your previous score, is right up there with the best of them.
It would be nice if the small development team at Mad Fellows were able to add in further tracks, either of a similar musical taste or from a completely different genre, but then, if you want to even get close to mastering what is available, you’re still going to find many many hours of enjoyment. And plenty of moments of real satisfaction to boot.
And when that enjoyment eventually starts to wane – because let’s be honest, even the best games see some sort of drop off – then well, you’ve got those damn leaderboards to climb and bragging rights to earn. Thankfully, as is the case with many leaderboard and point tallying systems these days, even if you find yourself struggling around the lower echelons of the global boards, as long as you’ve got a friend or two who is similarly like-minded, then Aaero presents some awesome bragging opportunities.
With a few big bosses included and well integrated into the whole flow of the game, then you may think that Aaero is the perfect title – and whilst it is nearly the case, there are a couple of things I’m not completely at ease with. The main problem comes about when you quickly work out that in order to experience much of the game, then you will need to nail down an average of four out of the five available stars on each level in order to unlock the next. That may just be above the skill level of many gamers and will require a huge commitment to practice and muscle memory, whilst leaving you to rely on a little bit of luck, for the Normal mode found in Aaero to be completed.
And whilst it is that standard mode which is going to be your go-to place for a bit of musical skill based fun, that’s not the only option available to you. Also in place are Advanced and Master levels, alongside a Chillout zone which cares little for how good you are, and just lets you get on with it, swirling and spinning your way to all the music in the game, without a care in the world. Nothing is locked in Chillout and it’s a great way of practising for the test ahead, picking up some extra missed secrets or just playing pass-the-controller with friends.
Advanced and Master though? Well, those are really just for the hardcore and will instantly be out of reach for many – shortening the whole experience massively. You see, in order to unlock these sections within Aaero, you’re looking at collecting 90% of the available stars found in Normal just to open up the Advanced levels, whilst Master requires a full 100% star completion and every single secret hunted down. Now, I dunno about you, but that seems a real tough ask and after playing with Aaero on a daily basis for the best part of a few weeks already, I’m still absolutely nowhere near being able to class myself as either an Advanced or Master player. I get that the whole meaning of these two levels are that those super skilled players will have something to aim for, but for the majority? Well, the 15 included tracks and one proper game mode seems a bit sparse.
But perhaps that’s a harsh criticism and it’s not to say Aaero should be dismissed. Far from it. Yes, you’re unlikely to really hit the heights required for the Master levels in a hurry, with that being one hell of a push, but is there really anything wrong with having something long-term to aim for? For all my unease at seeing that locked down, I don’t think so you know.
Much of that is because as a standard game, with the audio blasting from your TV, Aaero is good. Hell no, Aaero is great in fact. But then, it gets better still if you’re lucky enough to have a decent headset available, preferably one that delivers some brilliant audio, because it is then where it very quickly moves into must-play masterpiece territory. I’d quite happily go as far as say that should you purchase Aaero, then a set of decent cans is pretty much a necessity, and if you already have those expensive ear muffs, then Aaero in itself becomes that must purchase title to show off their abilites. Once you’ve played it with the bass, treble and everything in between being thrust into your ears from close range, you’ll never ever want to go back.
I may be a bit biased, because I bloody well love my rhythm and music games, but Aaero has pretty much blown me away. From the very first moment, right up until the last (whenever that maybe), it has delivered an experience which is very much like anything else available on any console.
Strap on some cans, turn the volume up to 11, and you’ll quickly find out how much satisfaction can be found with the visual and audio masterpiece that Aaero is.