Aces of the Luftwaffe
Switch version tested
Aces of the Luftwaffe: Squadron is a vertical shooter set in, stop me if you’ve heard this, an alternate World War 2 universe. With the war winding down the Nazis decide to strike at the heart of America by attacking directly with their combination of mad genius, engineering and alien technology. Lack of an original premise aside Aces does succeed in setting itself apart right away by greeting the player with 3 squad members who serve not only as comic relief but as extra firepower akin to the options found in games like Gradius.
Each of the fully voiced characters plays an integral part to the story of the game as each has their own motivation and personality but also has an ailment that forces the player to change their play style on the fly. Monica Monroe, for example, gets overly jittery when changing altitudes and fly’s off leaving you a squad of 3. The player controlled character, Mark Taylor has an illness that when it strikes forces you to fly around the screen at a slow pace in order to avoid taking sick damage. John King, the resident hothead, flies into a fit of rage forcing the player to avoid collisions with this behemoth as he erratically dashes across the screen causing instant death to those fortunate enough to be in his path. Steve King is the squads narcoleptic, falling asleep randomly at the controls forcing you and the 3 reaming pilots to protect him from damage until he is able to regain consciousness.
Aces is spread across 5 chapters consisting of 5 levels each, the last being a boss fight. Each level also has a side mission that can be completed. These range from troop rescues and supply drops to seek and destroy missions. The meat of the game is found in its RPG-esque levelling system. During each level, players are able to collect medals used to not only level up the character overall but to unlock skill upgrade tokens. These tokens are used to upgrade the player-controlled aircraft across a skill tree offering upgrades that can be passive in nature, but active ones found in special attacks. Adding more depth to the game is that this mechanic is also applicable to the 3 squadmates giving the player access to a total of 4 unique skill trees allowing you to fully customise your experience, with the ability to reset all skills to reconfigure load-outs to fit a specific task. On top of this at the conclusion of each of the boss battles you have a random chance to gain blueprints for additional aircraft types for you or your squad. However, with this being random, my first play throughout I only received one such drop and have yet to receive a second.
Graphically Aces does nothing to stand out from the park. Opting for a more cartoonish approach, the game is bright and colourful. The enemy design is what you would expect from a game like this, however the boss battles do step up the bar. Each of the bosses is a breath of fresh air offering a truly unique look through all 3 stages of the battle. The backgrounds while colourful closely mimic some of the enemy and bullets palettes causing you to fly into fire sometimes when you think you’re avoiding it. This is prevalent in the few instances where the game transitions into a pseudo bullet hell game. Having started its life as a mobile series developer and publisher Handy Games has done an admirable job.
The audio department is on par with most shooters. The addition of the voice acting while interesting and very welcoming at first can become grating on subsequent playthroughs with the forced accents and weak attempts at humour. Thankfully they do give the option to skip the dialogue and return back to the action. Gunfire and explosions are decent but do not pack the punch you would expect from the destruction being caused on screen. The orchestral soundtrack perfectly suits the game and era and does nothing to detract from the experience.
The controls have transitioned well to the Switch console. Offering an easy pick up and play scheme mapping fire to the “A” button, the Special attack to the “X”, a dodge/dash move to the “B” button and the ability to cycle between specials mapped to “L/R” Movement is slick and responsive using the left analogue. The game includes couch Co-op for up to four 4 players and can be accessed using a single joy-con. Each additional player added takes control of one of the squad members offering a chance to obtain even more medals while cooperatively covering more space on the screen. Aces offers no online support of any kind including the sin of no online leaderboards. While in couch co-op mode each level completion does have a leaderboard for some friendly competition.
While not breaking any new ground Aces of the Luftwaffe: Squadron is a competent shooter with some unexpected depth and a decent challenge across 3 difficulty settings. The lack of any online component hurts it in the long run but there is plenty of fun to be had solo or with 3 friends that pop by. This is definitely one to catch on a sale especially with the recently released DLC Nebelgeshwader ($11.99) doubles the game size offering an additional 25 stages and 6 boss battles.