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Capsule Review: Aaero

A rhythm game combining tube racer and rail shooter gameplay. Use the left stick to maneuver an auto-flying ship - often to follow a rail that represents a song’s vocal track or equivalent, sometimes to avoid hazards. Use the right stick to aim a lock-on reticle and fire with the right trigger - usually at enemies, sometimes at bonus targets within the environment. Each song is a distinct level with its own path and obstacles.

This is a good setup to get a flow state going. Flying and shooting are both simple to understand (though it took some practice to learn exactly how hard to tilt the left stick to match the curving rails) and can become intense when you need to do both at once. Rails and normal enemies work the same between levels, so even though they come in different shapes and patterns they are always readable and you can react quickly without losing your flow.

But levels introduce other hazards and targets with varying rules and signals. It’s easy to understand how to avoid obstacles when you can follow a rail past them; less so when you have to instead recognize that a pattern of blue and red lights means you need to go to a specific corner of the screen. For me, most of the appeal of rhythm games is when they become almost automatic - like the song is expressing itself through you and you’re just along for the ride. And that requires consistent readability of cues, analogous to sheet music. Having to catch and parse unusual, difficult-to-read cues breaks me out of that.

Aaero’s songs are clearly intended to be played multiple times, and if the non-standard cues were confined to bonus targets to be recognized over multiple playthroughs for extra points when mastering songs, that would be one thing - but in practice, hazards and enemies that can cause you to fail the song often show up with unfamiliar or ambiguous cues. To me, this made songs stressful and any failure caused by these threats felt unfair.

If you’re less put off by that than I am, the game is worth a look. The EDM soundtrack is solid and goes great with the vaguely-post-apocalyptic sci-fi aesthetic - and both of these fit well with the gameplay which is easy to learn and control but has a high skill ceiling. If it were less punishing and more consistently readable, I think I would have liked it a lot.

I Stopped Playing When: After playing through six of the base game’s fifteen songs on Normal difficulty, I was finding that the game wasn’t putting me in the zone anymore because of the readability issues. When I failed the seventh song for reasons that didn’t feel like my fault, I put the game down.

Docprof's Rating:

Two Stars: Meh. The game has some merit - it probably held my attention for at least an hour or I came back to it for more than one play session. But there wasn't enough draw for me to stick with it for the long haul.

You can get it or learn more here.