411maniaís Marc Morrison shoots down some aircraft in this quirky retro-style shooter. See what he thinks of it inside!
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Rated: E for Everyone
Luftrausers is a bit of an odd game, a deliberate retro-style mishmash of Defender, Robotron (or Geometry Wars) and Altitude. Itís an interesting mix, but one that doesnít quite work out due to some problems with the late game. As a gaming diversion it is fine, but thatís all it is good for in the long run.
Luftrausers is a 2D side-scrolling shooter like Defender (or Resogun in the more modern sense). You control a plane as it flies through the sky, shooting down other planes and boats as they appear. The world is essentially a circular world on a 2D plane, so if you fly long enough, the world wraps around itself.
The Robotron/Altitude comparison with how you can steer, shoot, and gravity. You have 360 degree turning in your plane, regardless of what youíre doing, with your acceleration is independent of the plane itself. However there is aerial gravity to contend with. If you hold the boost button down, youíll fly in a straight line, however if you take your finger off the button, youíll start to sink to the sea below. This lets you perform some tricks though, like floating above a boat and firing down on it below with your gun, or whipping around another jet and circling around them. Momentum comes into play though, as you canít just turn on a dime, it takes a few seconds to stop which can be dangerous when a lot of bullets are flying around.
There are two groups of enemies in the game, airplanes and boats. Airplanes comprise other dogfighters that just attack slowly, jets that try to ram you, and ďAcesĒ that circle around you, are bigger, and can take more punishment. Boats comprise little attack boats that fire slowly, huge battleships that a lot of lasers at you, and submarines that shoot homing missiles at you. There are some other enemies also, but the way they spawn is odd.
The main goal of the game is to build up your score and survive as long as possible. Scoring operates on a combo meter, shoot one enemy down, then another nets you a 2X multiplier. Shooting another down in a short time brings it to 3X. The max combo number is 20X. However, you have to kill enemies quickly for the combo meter to be active, as if you donít kill an enemy within 3 or 4 seconds, it will completely empty, going back to 1X. This same principle also somewhat applies to how your plane is repaired. If you get shot your plane can repair itself, but only if you arenít firing your gun. It takes about 3 or 4 seconds for your plane to completely repair itself, where you can see how close to death you are by a circle that surrounds your plane.
As you accrue points youíll soon begin leveling up. This unlocks components that you can use to customize you plane divided into three groups; weapon, body, and engine. Weapons are the guns you fire and range from cannons, lasers, missiles, machine guns, etc. Body is what shell you have, a heavily armored one, one that drops bombs, melee (where you can ram things with no damage), or a nuke, which activates a huge bomb when you die. Engine is related to your speed and movement and is broken down into a normal engine, a fast one with slow turning, a hover engine (limited gravity), or an underwater one (no taking damage under the sea). You can mix and matches these parts as you see fit, with each one having different objectives for you to do. The laser gun might have you try to kill 10 enemies without taking damage, while the hover one might require you to kill 2 battleships. Itís all mostly basic stuff, but where I ran into a problem.
That is the crux of the game, you unlock extra parts, occasionally level up, and fly around shooting enemies. And now, here are the problems:
The biggest one Iíve encountered is that I donít actually know if the game is beatable or not. Halfway through, youíre given a mission to ďTake down a blimpĒ, which is not an easy task in the slightest (hint: use the Nuke). Once this is done, you unlock ďSFMTĒ which is basically the hard mode. If you complete some of those missions you get one called ďVictoryĒ. I have yet to do this mission, and like I said, Iím not sure if itís even beatable or not, except for the most hardcore people around.
The other issues add to some of the problems in the game, it literally tells you nothing of what to do. ďKill a blimpĒ is fairly easy, but ďTake down a flying aceĒ had me confused until it just randomly happened due to an off-screen kill. Likewise, I donít know how to actually get the blimp to spawn, if itís tied to your score, how long youíve been alive, how many things youíve killed, etc. Not having a definite rule for things (like when aliens sometimes inexplicably show up) make for a frustrating experience.
However, the core problem with the game is that I think it might only actually apply to a very select group of people: those who like bullet-hell games. If thatís your bag then great, buy it and see if you can finish the blasted thing. If itís not though, or you only occasionally like shooters, Iíd recommend grabbing Altitude instead. It is the same price, has a lot more modes, a multiplayer aspect, and is actually approachable to new players. Thatís just me though.
Visually and aurally, Luftrausers is acceptable but might get old quick. The visuals are trying to evoke a deliberate 8bit style retro look which it largely succeeds at. However, you can lose track of your plane rather easily as the bullets fly. Different color schemes are cool looking but might hinder your progress due to it being distracting. The sound effects are ok, but a note about the music. The music is good first 5 to 10 times you hear it (normal rounds are only about a minute or two in length). Specifically, around the 1:12 mark, the music swells up in a great little anthem. The problem is, itís only good for the first 5-10 (maybe max 20) times you hear it. Around the 100th time or so, the music can get real irritating.
Simple gameplay that can become deep
Music is initially catchy
Customization can let you tailor the gameplay
The game doesnít explain some core ideas
Inconsistent enemy spawning rules
Music can get repetitive after 100 games
Luftrausers is what a modern arcade game ostensibly is: small, bite-sized bits of gameplay that is broken up by countless deaths over and over. Unlocking new plane parts is fun in the game and there is some merit to just flying around the level blowing up various ships and planes. However, the surrounding nature of the game, such as it not explaining itself very well, and the obscure way things happen in a round, or even what the mission objectives are, can bring the game down. If you like bullet-hell style shooters then this is for you, but if youíre on the fence, try it first (thereís a Flash version out there) that will give you some perspective on it.
The art style is deliberately retro but in a good way. The unlockable color schemes are nice, but hard to see the action at times
The gameplay is a decent mash-up of other shooters. Some of the weapons/engines are fun but not having direction hurt the game
The main game song is great at the 1:12 mark, with subtle variations based on plane parts. It can get old with enough repetition, though
The mission design is bonkers, with a lot of it barely explained. Itís great for 5 minute gaming, but try not to spend over 20 minutes on it, or youíll go mad
I did have some fun when playing the game but never quite figured out what was going on. Using the nuke on a battleship or blimp is a ton of fun though.