I first saw Mad Fellows‘ Aaero at EGX 2016 in Birmingham. They were showing off a limited selection of levels and I didn’t end up trying it myself, but even then I could see that this was a game to pay attention to. Since then they provided advance copies of the game to a group of streamers for a preview event and launched a Kickstarter, which I backed immediately. Literally—I was backer number 1. Having now played Aaero in the comfort of my own home I can say for certain that this is a very fun, very fast, and very addictive game.
What makes the game so special to me? It’s hard to know where to start. The visuals and level design are beautiful, the music was perfectly chosen, and, while it’s a cliche, the gameplay has just the right mix of “easy to pick up but difficult to master”.
Let’s start at the end of that list with the gameplay. At its core there are two types of interaction in Aaero: using your left thumbstick to follow “ribbon” paths and using your right thumbstick and trigger to fire at enemies. Your ship is always moving forwards at a constant speed, so your movement options are limited to controlling your position relative to the center of the ship’s predetermined path. In addition to using your weapons to fire at enemies there are also “secrets” in the world, consisting of red targets on scenery elements that you can shoot for bonus points.
The thing that makes the gameplay stand out for me is exactly the simplicity I’ve just described. You have two thumbsticks and a trigger, that’s all. You have movement control in only two dimensions. You are literally there for the ride, and let me tell you—it is a ride. This game comes at you fast and the music really pulls you in to the action. This isn’t something you play idly while thinking about something else.
How about the level design? The two basic environments are booby-trapped neon-lit tunnels and open areas (primarily a desert in the early levels), with most levels containing a combination of both. This is, at first glance, incredibly limited. However, the small selection plays into the games strengths. As the player, you are focused on following the ribbon paths and destroying enemies rather than on admiring the scenery. I’ve said this before, this game comes at you fast. Having the two environments and having certain types of interaction only occur in one or the other, at Normal difficulty at least, means that you always know what is expected: ribbons are only present in tunnels, enemies and secrets primarily appear in the open areas. At higher difficulties… well, let’s just say the game expects a little more multitasking from you.
The way Aaero builds on this is to have a variety of booby traps in the tunnels, ranging from passive barriers to active traps such as crushers, and a variety of enemies with different movement types and attacks. King of the enemies are the bosses, who straddle the line between being giant opponents to defeat and forming part of the level to navigate. Your first encounter with a boss is the worm on the level “Habby 9000”. If you watched the video I linked earlier of the streamer preview event you’ll know that not only do you shoot it, at various points you fly into the worm, forming the tunnel sections for that level. The other bosses are suitably impressive and I won’t spoil them here.
Finally, the music. At its core, Aaero is a cross between rhythm game and arcade shooter so the music selections can make or break it. While Mad Fellows is an independent studio, the team consists of developers that previously worked on Guitar Hero and DJ Hero so it’s safe to say they know their way around rhythm games. In order to ensure that the soundtrack was suitably epic, Mad Fellows licensed 15 tracks from the likes of Noisia, Flux Pavilion, Katy B, The Prototypes, and Neosignal, giving an electronic focused and very bass heavy selection. This was, in my opinion, absolutely perfect for the experience the game aims to deliver. It’s also impressive that an indie development studio secured licensing from multiple artists. The music isn’t simply a soundtrack for the game though. Not only do you have to follow the ribbons in time to the music, but the enemies also appear, move, and fire in time to it and your projectiles take arcs that ensure they impact with enemies in time to the beat. The overall result is to very effectively immerse you into what you’re hearing.
In my opinion, Mad Fellows did everything right to deliver on the gameplay experience they intended with Aaero and I have no hesitation in recommending it. It costs $14.99 on Steam and that is a very low price for a game that is not only this much fun but includes a licensed soundtrack from multiple artists. I look forward to playing a lot more of this game in the near future.