With the Calm Mind series, it feels like Aery has finally found its home. The eighth in the broader ‘Aery’ series (which, lest we forget, has only been around since 2019, making it one of the most prolific series out there), Aery – Calm Mind 2 is the moment when its developer, EpiXR Games, finds the series identity.
I remember playing the series kickoff, Aery – Little Bird Adventure, and feeling like it wanted to have its cake and eat it. The cake was a relaxing, meditative adventure, soaring through the skies as a parrot and taking in a non-combat open world. The blocky but pastel graphics gave the impression of a VR experience designed to soothe, and the music lulled you into slumber. It was rough-edged but calming.
Not content to leave that cake alone, EpiXR had to gobble it up by making it very much a ‘game’. Each level had a set number of feathers to find. That was a clear objective for people hunting around for something to do, so Aery – Little Bird Adventure became a collectathon. We spent large chunks of time trying to find that last, twinkling feather, and ‘soothing’ is not the word we would use to describe it.
This clash of ‘gotta-catch-them-all’ gamification and daydream-gaming didn’t really work. One was in opposition to the other, and we found ourselves lapsing into one mood, only to be shocked awake by the other one.
A privilege of having an eight-game series is you can adapt, and Aery – Calm Mind 2 duly takes the opportunity. The collectibles are still here, and swooping through enough of them will complete a level, but there are far more of them than you necessarily need. When you need fifteen, there are likely twenty to be found. Gone are the days of desperately scanning a level for the last one (I’m getting agility orb flashbacks from Crackdown), and instead they serve as a prompt for flying: you may as well go in that direction, as there’s something twinkly to guide you. That means the emphasis is on being a parrot, enjoying the feeling of flying, and it’s absolutely where the focus should be.
What Aery – Calm Mind 2 represents is a kind of greatest hits of the series, drawing on backdrops from the eight games. But while that might seem lazy, it’s not quite the shortcut that it sounds like: first of all, these aren’t direct copies of the levels – at least, not as far as we can remember. Instead, it’s the themes from those levels, borrowing some of the models and rejigging them into shapes that are a) more compact and less tiresome than their predecessors and b) vastly improved visually.
This last point was a lovely surprise for someone who last played Aery a couple of years ago. Aery had a tendency to be a bit washed out and pastel, and it meant that levels often felt similar to each other, and – worse – the collectibles tended to lack a bit of ‘pop’, getting lost in a sea of bright lights.
That’s absolutely not the case here. The saturation is down, the contrast is up, and now we can see things. A bit of colour and definition doesn’t hurt the dreamy mood, and there are levels that truly stand out. A farm sequence has you swooping through polytunnels, before looming high over a middle-American, Smallville-style farmyard, and it’s evocative. Another has you starting in the middle of a Viking battle with a Kraken, and it’s so dense with detail that you can pick out the individual attacks of the frozen-in-time warriors as they hack at tentacles. There are plenty of levels that stick in the memory, and that wasn’t always the case with the series.
The collectibles, too, stand out when they were often lost. Feathers have been swapped for crystals, and it’s easy to tell both where they are, and when they’ve been collected. We rarely felt attracted to a twinkle, only to find that it was one that we already had, which was absolutely a downfall of earlier games.
There are some issues worth raising. EpiXR Games have taken roughly twelve steps forwards, but there are a few steps back. No doubt, with games coming out roughly three times every year (not even counting their Life of Fly and Murder Stories series), these will get ironed out, but – for now – they’re here and to be dealt with.
For reasons we can’t compute, finishing a level boots you to the main menu, rather than the level select. Either this is a push to stop playing and get some air, or it’s a painful glitch, and neither were wanted. Worse still, the levels on the menu have no indication that they have been ‘done’, at least in a collectible and achievement sense. We understand the desire to play for the joy rather than the shinies, but we would have wanted a compromise on the menus.
Technically, Aery – Calm Mind 2 is also a bit ramshackle. The Underwater level, for example, has some ridiculous, mind-boggling pop in. It’s almost unplayable. Obstacles arrive into view when you’re seconds away from hitting them, and – for a series that’s been ongoing for so long – it’s not really good enough. Other levels are better (we’d guess that claustrophobic areas are the culprit), but the problem doesn’t go away.
Do they undermine the experience critically? They walk-back a lot of the good work that EpiXR Games have done, but not to the degree that you can’t admire the progression. Aery – Calm Mind 2 represents a huge leap forward for the series, and it’s the moment when a calm-but-often-frustrating game loses the ‘but-often-frustrating’ caveat. If you’ve ever played an Aery game but found them grating, now is the time to return.
Aery – Calm Mind 2 won’t convert anyone who considers the series to be slight or ‘barely a game’. If anything, it thoroughly embraces the notion, offering no more than an hour of swooping through arches and collecting glittering baubles. But what it does do is smooth out the experience, making it the standout of the series, and the gateway for anyone who wants to Xbox-and-chill without any pressures at all.
You can buy Aery – Calm Mind 2 from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S