N64 Review #16- Aerofighters Assault
A thought came to me last week. It seems that we have lost a whole genre of games in the shuffle. I know RPG’s and Shootie Bangs are all the rage and as fun as they are, something is missing. Something we used to love and hold dear is now forgotten and lost. I am, of course, talking about aerial combat games. It’s no secret that I adore games like Star Fox 64, Captain Skyhawk and Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, but what happened? A couple of Ace Combat games and we’re done? No, says I. If I can’t have a modern aerial combat game, I’ll go to the archives and so I fired up Aerofighters Assault.
There are certain elements that make up a great aerial dogfighting game. Tight, responsive controls are critical. A radar that allows you to know where your enemies and wingmen are is another key. Level design with landmarks that help you get or keep your bearings is a big one, too. Aerofighters Assault does none of this. This is a game that starts out with a pretty fun first level. It lures you in with the promise of many more fun levels. It then becomes more frustrating than trying to extinguish a fire at a trick candle factory.
The first thing that will drive you nuts is the frame rate. I know, I hate that term as well but it applies here. The game is choppy and at times jerky. Air combat requires precise movements and often has tricky aiming reticles. When it is functionally impossible to move smoothly, you are forced to spray and pray. Not optimal.
The radar isn’t worth a whole lot, either. It has triangles on it. They represent things you should shoot. Whether they are above or below you is anyone’s guess. You also have wingmen. Wingmen that get into Slippy-esque trouble and ask for help. Wingmen that do not appear on your radar. So good luck with all of that.
If there is anything that makes a terrible radar even worse, it would be generic, non distinguishable level design. I hope you like blue. Many of the levels involve you flying over water. Light blue and dark blue work together to make you hate your life as you wonder what direction you are actually flying in. The levels that do provide buildings or land features do so as lazily as possible, so each one looks like the one before it. Couple in the fact that most enemies are miniscule until you are nearly on top of them, and you begin to see what is so frustrating here.
In case this turd sandwich needed an olive on a toothpick, Aerofighters Assault has a control scheme designed to allow you to control your jet fighter in a combat scenario. By “designed” I of course mean that they let the intern handle it. The controls are so wonky, you might start believing that are under the influence of alcohol while flying. The C-buttons aren’t used very well, either. Perhaps most frustrating is one of the things that makes these games really fun. You can’t perform any cool aerial moves. No barrel rolls, no u-turns, and only sort of a loop. I say sort of because it takes FOREVER to pull off. It might as well not exist. If an enemy gets behind you, your only real play is to try and fly as fast as possible as far away from the battle as you can to trick the enemy into leaving you alone.
There is kind of a story here but it seems like the bulk of it was likely told in the instruction manual which I don’t have. What’s weird enough to bear mentioning, though, is the end of this game. For seven levels, you are fighting stealth bombers, tanks, submarines, and fighter jets. Suddenly, the end boss is an alien. Wait, what? I’m willing to overlook this for a couple of reasons. First off, a great story is not necessary for one of these games. Secondly, Captain Skyhawk has this same weird story arc. Human weapons and then suddenly alien final boss.
What I will not overlook, is the blatant ripoff of Star Fox 64 in the final level. Remember how you are flying through a series of tunnels on your way to Andross? Literally the exact same thing but with snow. Remember having to shoot Andross in the eye? This enemy has one eye and it requires shooting. The entire structure of the final boss is set up WAY too similarly to be coincidence. Do yourself a favor and find a video of the final level. Don’t play through this like I did. You deserve better.
Overall, there isn’t a whole lot of redemption for this one. Aerofighters Assault is at best a forgettable comedy of poor game design and at worst a blatantly untested and unfinished rushed project. Kind of like we see now, except there is no patching this one. As much as I was itching for a good aerial combat game, this not only failed to scratch that itch, it alerted every mosquito in a 10 mile radius to my location. Fortunately for me, this game did serve one purpose. It reminded me of how great Star Fox 64 is. Go play that instead.