Airheart Review – Trial by Plunge (PS4)
Ever feel like twin-stick shooters are missing something? Did you ever think that “something” is fishing? If so, you’re in luck! Airheart features such an unexpected mashup. If you weren’t expecting two things so disparate, you may be wondering if such a game is worth your time and money. We’ve hooked plenty of flying fish, and have our Airheart review ready for your consideration below.
Fishing in the Sky for Diamonds
In Airheart, gamers take on the role of Amelia, a young fisherwoman in search of fortune as her father proclaimed exists at the edge of the world. This fortune can be had by catching fish, which in this world fly at various levels of the atmosphere. These flying fish drive local economies, and the higher up someone goes, the higher-quality the fish, and the more oil they are worth. Amelia’s dream is to make it as high as possible and bring home the largest fish ever.
Like many indie games, the Unreal Engine powers Airheart. This engine has no problem keeping up with the top-down action, no matter how hectic it may get. There is likely a lot of optimization going on under-the-hood. HDR support also makes an unexpected appearance in Airheart, which is a pleasant surprise and helps to bring the imaginative world to life. Since there are plenty of different fish to track and catch, differentiation by color can certainly help to figure out which fish are worth the most oil, and HDR no doubt helps to more easily discern which fish is which.
Equally as surprising is Airheart’s soundtrack. It’s laid-back when it needs to be, that is, whenever the action is done and the player is merely fishing alongside other friendly planes. Try to think of music you’d hear on a lazy summer fishing trip, with a slowly-strumming guitar, and you’ve got the idea. When the action picks up, the soundtrack turns arcade-like, and this transition can also cue the player in on when to be on the lookout for pirate planes, or when it’s okay to resume some peaceful fishing.
Level Up, Literally
Airheart’s levels consist of literal levels above the atmosphere. Each level begins with a full population of fish, which are gathered by simply bumping into them, or using the fun harpoon mechanic to reel them in (or to swing enemies around). As the player and other planes bring in loads of the flying creatures, the population on that level will drop, which is shown each time the level is re-visited. Generally, the lower-numbered levels will contain many more common fish, which are worth less, however the enemies will also be fewer in number. But the populations need time to recover their numbers, just as in real life, which will force the player to take risks and perhaps venture up into the later levels when they aren’t quite ready. This may then force them to do combat with some of the level’s otherwise peaceful blimp ships – attracting the attention of the police, and generally invoking a tough fight. This feels like a reflection of today’s world, where dwindling resources cause some to resort to desperate measures in order to obtain what they need.
This may not be clear when first approaching Airheart, but underneath the game’s cheery exterior lies a tough challenge. Permadeath is a constant threat, for starters. If the player takes too much damage, they’ll have one final chance to fall through all levels progressed through, and crash-land on their home base. Successfully crash-landing “only” results in the loss of some hard-earned parts, and most of the day’s oil haul. Failure to crash-land results in a loss of all progress, accompanied by a sad ending. It’s a brutal, and abrupt ending that players may feel startled by seeing for the first time, since up until that point Airheart doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously.
Craft Yourself Silly
Crafting is all the rage these days, and Airheart apparently didn’t want to feel left out. As well as fish, players can catch parts from hidden spots on each level, as well as from remnants of defeated enemies. There’s no real explanation given for how crafting works, other than combining up to five different parts in various ways to figure things out. Much like permadeath, this is one aspect of the game meant to be discovered through simply playing the game. Various plane parts, such as wings, engines, fuselage, and weapons, can simply be purchased for a ton of money. They take a while to grind out, and each part changes the player’s plane by some factor, whether increasing its top speed, or adding abilities both active and passive. The best way to figure out which parts work best for a player’s style is by experimenting.
Unexpectedly, a photo mode is included in Airheart. Available from the pause screen, it enables basically free control of the camera, and allows the player to tweak with many settings to get the perfect shot framed up. This is a feature not seen too often in smaller-budget titles, and will be appreciated by fans for a while. Smaller features like photo modes can help to increase the average playtime per session, thus keeping a game in players’ minds for longer than they otherwise might have.
Airheart will appeal to those who enjoy learning a game’s systems by trial and error. The bizarre-sounding concept of skyfishing is ridiculous when first seen, but quickly feels almost natural. The slower pace of fishing mixed with the frenetic action of twin-stick shooting can make for a unique experience. However, a steep learning curve and threat of permadeath will likely put some gamers off. For those who power through the early frustrations, there is a charming adventure to be found in Airheart.