Published on March 25th, 2014 | by Don Parsons1
Summary: A glorious evolution of arcade shooter, complete with a retro aesthetic to match it.
Deftly, I maneuvered my Widowmaker through a hail storm of bullets flying in from all directions. Ships were firing from below, a few gunner boats and a battleship spraying a stream of bullets that was hard to get through. But I did. I rotated my airplane 180 degrees and fired a single cannon shell at the fighter planes that had been tailing me. One erupted in flame and shot shrapnel at it’s companions, taking out a few more. I flipped around and started flying down, my Widowmaker dropping bombs periodically while I held down the fire button. A ship sank, and my heart started beating faster. A warning had just popped up, signaling an enemy blimp was in the area. But as I started to change my direction, that battleship I had been avoiding finally hit its mark one time too many and I exploded in a fiery mess.
Despite that being “game over”, I wasn’t upset in the slightest. Luftrausers has its claws in me deep. Vlambeer, the small team that developed this arcade gem, had another game that hooked me- Ridiculous Fishing. But Luftrausers isn’t a silly game about shooting fish. Luftrausers is an arcade shooter that feels like an Atari game on steroids.
At a glance, Luftrausers looks simple. I launched from the starting aircraft carrier and was prompted through the tutorial. Buttons are simple, one to fire, one for thrust, and the left analog stick to change direction. As simple as it sounds, it took some time to get the hang of movement and taking out enemies. My first dozen games, I felt like the controls were more cumbersome than they should be. The triggers should have been shooting, while the X should have been gas, not the way that they were implemented. With practice, however, the game clicked though, I was having a blast and even on bad runs, I didn’t feel frustrated anymore. Everything felt like it should, and I was pulling off some elegant plays.
After some more playing, the rest of the game started to fall into place. My plane had three components, each having a subset with unique features. The gun component had things like lasers, spread fire, homing missiles, and, my personal favorite, a powerful cannon that obliterated whatever it hit and then some. Body pieces had some equally-neat pieces, like a nuke that detonated when you died and one that dropped bombs as I fired my gun. Lastly, the propulsion piece controlled how I moved through the environment, one allowing me to stay underwater without taking damage and another example being one that fired bullets from behind, dusting those fighters chasing me with a line of bullets. The way all of these fit together, in whatever configuration I chose, determined a few game mechanics. Equally cool, every configuration has its own name and music. Out of the 120 mashups, I can’t pinpoint a clear favorite, but I would be the Widowmaker if I had to choose one. The mega-powerful, but slow, cannon, that drops bombs and shoots bullets behind my aircraft is a dangerous combination.
Each part of the aircraft, though, has a set of missions. These include tasks like “shoot x amount of fighters in one game”, or “kill two aces in one combo”. The latter one was a pain in the ass, by the way. Some feel completely hopeless. I was certain I would never sink six boats in one game when I first started, but looking back, that was such a simple task. Completing a set number of missions unlocks new parts. That’s the modern twist to what feels like an old classic: the mission structure and unlocking new bits and pieces.
On the Vita, shooting feels tighter, while on the PS3’s bigger screen, flying around feels easier. They both feel very good all-around, and unless you play on both systems, you wouldn’t know it was lacking in any one department. What strikes me as odd is the lack of cross-save between the two Playstation platforms. Clearly, the PS3 recognizes my higher score on the Vita when I check the leaderboards, and they share the same trophy list, but I can’t pull my more-advanced aircraft into the console version. That’s not too big of deal, though, because Luftrausers feels more at home on the Vita, and being an arcade-style game with frequent deaths and short runs, I don’t see myself bouncing back and forth between the two systems like bigger games such as Final Fantasy X HD Remastered or Terraria. That’s not to say Luftrausers isn’t a big game, it just doesn’t need a save feature due to the arcade nature.
For older people like myself who remember the glory days of Combat and Asteroids, Luftrausers takes that nostalgic kick and spices it up with delicious visuals, an extensive library of aircraft to pilot, a soundtrack loaded with content, and just downright fun gameplay. For those that don’t recall those older games, it’s an action-packed arcade game that feels right at home, especially on the Vita.
Note: This review was written based on gameplay on the Playstation 3 and Playstation Vita consoles with review code provided by the publisher. For more information on our review policies, please read here.