Aeon Drive is a platformer game set in the neon landscape of Neo Barcelona. You play as Jackelyne – or as she is often called, Jack – and your goal is to race through different districts, avoiding hazards and collecting Drive Cores to fix your ship. Oh yeah, and the city is on the brink of complete and total annihilation.
Thankfully, Jack has a newfound ability to teleport and control time, but only for brief periods. This is what sets up the core gameplay mechanics of Aeon Drive. Each level is timed, with 30 seconds on the clock and you either find your way to the next area, or restart from the beginning. There are time-warping devices spread throughout each level, which you can use to add five seconds to your run time.
I will note that the time-adding items scattered throughout each level do feel a bit useless. I rarely had to use them to complete a level and they seem to exist more for grabbing collectibles than anything else.
And yep, there are also collectibles like data cores, diamonds, and… hot dogs? A weird mix to be sure, but there isn’t much time to focus on all of that. After all, the city is about to explode.
The gameplay of Aeon Drive is fast-paced and pretty fun. When you press B, Jack throws a dagger that will stick to walls, ceilings, and the floor. When you press B again, Jack will teleport to wherever it has landed. You can also slide and jump off walls to try and make it through each level as quickly as possible.
There are enemies scattered throughout the place though, but thankfully you have a power sword that makes short work of anything you hit with it. Everything in Aeon Drive is a one-hit kill, including those on Jack. This applies some pressure to you as the player, especially when you’re trying to clear each level as fast as possible.
It took some time for me to get used to the gameplay mechanics. Not because they are really complicated, but because I was trying to do everything as quickly as possible right out of the gate. Once I got a handle on the controls, Aeon Drive felt really good to play. The controls aren’t as tight as some other platformers I’ve played and there is also a bit of a delay between the time you throw your dagger and the time you can teleport to it, something which has caused me to run into lasers quite a few times. But once you learn the timing on those things, the movement is very fluid.
Which is good because Aeon Drive is built with speed-running in mind. The main mechanic you use to measure your success throughout the game’s 100 levels are the leaderboards that appear at the end of each level. This is great for players that have their eyes set on the top spot. Upon completing a level you can quickly restart if you got a time that isn’t up to par with your standards. It also lets you easily go back and grab any collectibles you might’ve missed the first time through.
It’s also supposed to be the Aeon Drive’s biggest draw for replayability. Being able to go back and challenge the leaderboards for the top spot is what’s supposed to drive you. And I can definitely see the appeal. However, during my playthrough, I managed to snag quite a few number one spots on the leaderboards. The reason I frame that in a bit of a negative light is that I spent the entirety of my playthrough just clearing levels, without replaying any of them, meaning I was able to claim the top spot on the leaderboard without going back and retrying. This kind of takes away some of the replayability.
But on the other hand, it’s a testament to how logically laid out all of the levels are. Playing through, I only ever felt lost on a couple of the later levels, which get fairly complicated. Otherwise, I was able to run through without getting turned around or frustrated, which I think is an important aspect of a game built around speed running. And despite my previous criticisms, it does feel great to figure out a path to the end, and then complete it as quickly as you can.
I will say that the last two areas of the game introduce a mechanic I do not particularly care for – pressure buttons that need to be hit with the knife to open doors or disable electrical beams. It slows down the gameplay considerably and introduces a bit more trial and error that, up until that point, you need not worry about. It basically required me to adjust how I was playing right at the end of the game. It didn’t help that you needed to use a recall ability (the Left Bumper) that lets you recall your knife without teleporting to it. Especially since the game never tells you that you can do this.
Despite some little hiccups, Aeon Drive is a fun game. There are 100 levels to play through and each one can be beat within 30 seconds, so theoretically you could take down the entire game in under an hour. More realistically, you should budget two to three hours to make it through all of the levels, depending on your aptitude for platformers.
Once you get used to the feel of the controls though, Aeon Drive is a fast-paced platformer that is sure to offer you a decent challenge. Especially if you take the time to grab all of the collectibles.
The speedrunning of Aeon Drive is available from the Xbox Store