Rhythm games have always been interesting to me, in that they all have a different function, but still follow that rule of being easy to learn, hard to master. Most will rely on button presses or movements to the beat, which is ingrained as the norm so hard, that I’m struggling to think of any games in the genre that aren’t heavily married to that idea. So in comes Aaero, a rhythm game that uses its dubstep soundtrack to try create something new.
Instead of being a series of notes and button presses, Aaero consists of two main gameplay elements- following a ribbon by moving your ship, and shooting enemies. Being a game made specifically for a controller (in fact, even on PC, it’s controller only) this is done with the left stick moving the ship around in a circle, and the right stick moving a reticle to lock onto enemies. This basically turns any twin stick controller into a replacement for any plastic instrument peripheral, with the game and controller working together seamlessly.
The “easy to learn, hard to master” idea is still here, arguably with a larger gap between the two. Following the ribbon is easy enough in concept- the ship rests in the middle, and moves to the edges of a circle, corresponding exactly to where your thumbstick is. But in practice, the ribbons can spiral around this invisible barrel very rapidly, making it hard to keep up with in certain areas.
The combat mechanics are where I struggled much more, though. While locking onto enemies isn’t terribly hard, the interesting and complicated part is shooting the enemies to the beat. Basically, the missiles you shoot will always land on the next beat, no matter when you shoot. You want to shoot on the beat so the missiles land immediately, as you can’t fire another volley until your last ones hit. It’s a cool mechanic, but dubstep isn’t the most straight forward with where the beats actually are, so I found it hard finding the perfect time to shoot- with my drummer instinct wanting to shoot on the accented off-beats, and not the 4/4 1 and 3 beats (musical lingo ahoy!).
Aaero is mostly either the ribbon, or the combat, but there are a few moments where they happen simultaneously, to keep you on your toes and demanding all of your attention. The use of controller rumble is a neat way of using other senses to help you focus though, with the controller vibrating when you’re over a ribbon, giving you a bit of feedback and allowing you to focus on aiming if that comes up.
And being a rhythm game, you can bet there are high scores and leaderboards. The more accurate your ribbon threading and shooting to the beat is, the higher the combos and scores you can rack up can be. Each track gives you a score out of 5, which the accumulative stars unlocking new tracks and difficulties. That’s right- it can get harder.
There is one major gripe with the game- the feedback it sometimes gives you can be confusing or obscured. For instance, your targeting reticle has a spinning indicator to let you know the timing of when to shoot, but it’s so light and hard to see that I never really could use it. The reticle disappears when you’re at a resting position, as well, so it’s less time you have to try find the beat. On top of that, the use of colour can be a bit confusing, as there were many times I though I had locked onto an enemy/incoming attack, but the bright orange highlights were done in such a way that I confused them with a locked-on indicator.
But that’s just the gameplay, which while it’s an important part of an game (especially a music game) it’s not exactly why I got so into Aaero. While the low-poly art style isn’t always my favourite, it works incredibly well here, to contract against the action you should be focusing on. But in particular, the boss fights are a huge stand out to me. The first boss fight (the only one I’ll spoil a bit here) has an interesting way of interacting with the player and being part of the level itself, and instantly had my hooked.
Each level has its own ribbon, usually set to either the ‘dub step sound’ or vocals, with the structure based on the song itself. With 15 songs in the base game, that gives quite a bit of variety, with different environments and moods for each track. And while I’m not the biggest fan of dubstep out there, I can still appreciate just how well the genre works with the gameplay provided.
I would absolutely love to see more Aaero, or at the very least, more rhythm games with these mechanics. I highly recommend grabbing this- it appears to be on every console as well as PC, though you’ll still need a controller. If you like the genre, spaceships, or dubstep, there’s going to be something here for you.