The shoot-‘em-up. Arguably one of the most versatile and indeed fertile genres in the business, over the years developers have produced true, high-octane classics in the form of Galaxian, Defender and, in taking the action to the skies, Capcom’s 19XX shooter series. And for German mobile developer HandyGames, it was the latter title that served as inspiration for Aces of the Luftwaffe, an iOS and Android game that has been jettisoned onto PlayStation 4.
Putting you in the cockpit as a daring fighter pilot, Aces is a retro side-scrolling shooter by nature, one which swaps out its vertical level design from the original mobile release in favor of a top-down perspective. Gliding over a battle-worn Britain, players will come up against dozens upon dozens of Nazi planes in their path to victory, with each airborne skirmish encompassing three missions that culminate in a by-the-numbers boss fight.
Fight and Flight
But before taking to the skies in order to lock horns with the Reich, you’ll be asked to choose between a trio of fighter pilots and their respective planes; essentially, archetypal classes that can be easily identified as the heavily armored tank, the swift and nimble Spitfire, and finally, the balanced all-rounder. That is, once they’ve earned the right to unlock them.
Overcoming a challenge or two to open up new content — be it power-ups, ships or even levels — is certainly nothing new for the genre; however, the fact that players are forced to replay previous levels in order to acquire enough medals to progress is simply nonsensical. Not only does it artificially extend the length of the game, it stretches an already trite gameplay system worryingly thin.
It’s a progression system rooted in the mobile space, one governed by in-app purchases and freemium models. And although Aces of the Luftwaffe has graduated to PS4 replete with solid mechanics and a great soundtrack, HandyGames’ port is encumbered by its mobile sensibilities — sensibilities that aren’t limited to leveling up and unlocking gear.
The Friendly Red Baron
As we alluded to earlier, the gameplay on display here is relatively simple to pick up and play. Left analog stick controls your aircraft while a combination of L1 and R1 unleashes a devastating special move once fully charged.
But beyond that, the amount of input is frustratingly minimal. In fact, Aces has your plane shoot automatically, needlessly stripping out any sense of tactical play and fun you gain from doing so yourself.
Shmups are designed to hook players with intoxicating gameplay and a rewarding carrot and stick approach, but HandyGames’ mobile port feels inherently static by comparison.
Aces of the Luftwaffe Review - Bogeys Spotted! (PS4) - PlayStation LifeStyle
For instance, if you were conjure an image in your head theater-of-the-mind style about WWII dogfighting, you would immediately associate the phrase with military jets searing through the air in a high-octane chase. Alas, this is not the case here. Aces of the Luftwaffe may be a competent shooter, but it’s ultimately an unsatisfying one.
That said, it isn’t all doom and gloom within this PS4 port. Yes, the generic, cartoonish story may be phoned in, but in revisiting the heyday of the second world war, the studio has taken some creative liberties with Nazi conspiracy theories so as to spice up the game’s enemy variety.
Out of Depth
After mowing down umpteen Axis warplanes, players will come up against eclectic, UFO-like stealth planes that unleash a flurry of neon-blue bullets, not to mention the colorful boss encounters which, although easy to overcome, add a much-needed humorous respite.
Moreover, Aces mixes it up somewhat by having you defend a bomber as it looms over its hapless targets or, on the other side of the coin, preventing an enemy aircraft from destroying a point of ally interest.
It’s undeniably basic, and again underlines the title’s mobile origins, but it’s a welcome change of pace nonetheless. In addition, completing these mini-objectives will reward you with power-ups, which are an absolute necessity if you are to cut through the airborne chaos, as the screen becomes a frantic mess of wayward jets and projectiles sooner rather than later.
Take one too many hits, though, and it isn’t long before your plane begins to show signs of wear and tear. In fact, Aces of the Luftwaffe uses cracks on the screen to illustrate the amount of health you have remaining, which is a nice touch that makes you feel as though you truly are behind the stick.
Oh, Vita, Where are You?
Still, it’s difficult to recommend the game to PlayStation 4 owners searching for a more engaging experience. Plus, with its innate mobile tendencies, HandyGames’ port would perhaps have felt more at home on the Vita; as is, Aces feels as though it’s been tossed into the deep end on Sony’s home console.
With little-to-no depth on offer and a levelling system that forces players into replaying levels numerous times ad nauseam, Aces of the Luftwaffe is a solid yet uninspired experience. Devoid of any form of tactical play, HandyGames’ port is a slice of generic, mindless fun that doesn’t bring anything new to the war table, and for a shoot-‘em-up without a score counter to keep track of, you’d be forgiven for calling its PS4 credentials into question.
Review code provided by publisher. For information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.