Air Twister is a lock-on rail shooter and it comes to us from famed Sega Producer Yu Suzuki, the man behind such classics as Out Run, After Burner, Power Drift, Shenmue and, most relevantly to this game, Space Harrier. His softography stands up to any producer/programmer in the industry and so when a game comes out with his name on it, we’re going to be immediately interested.
This game sees you flying into the screen while enemies come into view and either try to ram or shoot you. That’s the Space Harrier influence right there and it is apparent from the moment you take to Air Twister‘s clear blue skies. And while Suzuki isn’t too keen on saying this is a spiritual successor, there are definitely a few nods to the 1985 original (especially the enemy bullets which are a dead giveaway).
That said, this game borrows heavily from other lock-on shooters such as Rez, Child of Eden and Panzer Dragoon. As soon as enemies show up on the screen, you can move your cursor over them (the left stick/d-pad controls this but also moves your character) to lock in your targets and then, depending on the weapon you’re using, some degree of holding/pressing/releasing will set off your attacks to take them out. The initial weapon uses a hold to lock/release to fire control system that will be familiar to Rez veterans for sure.
The game does make a strong first impression. With its vibrant visuals and potent soundtrack, it comes out of the gate swinging in a way that made us think of later Sega classics such as Out Run 2 and Sonic Adventure 2. There’s a confidence to the game that just makes you smile and when the action gets going, it’s all surprisingly impressive. The action is smooth and constant, the graphics are impressive in terms of design (the resolution isn’t quite top spec but it’s good enough considering the game was designed for mobile devices first) and you make decent progress (unlike Space Harrier which was ’80s coin-op tough).
It’s all very striking at first but things do start to come apart a little as you go along. The action does get pretty repetitive across the game’s twelve stages (two of which are score-based bonus ones) despite the fact that these only last a few minutes each (including the boss battle that punctuates each one) and the from behind perspective does make judging enemy projectiles as difficult as it was in Space Harrier. It felt like the majority of impacts against us were ones that we just couldn’t quite track the trajectory of.
After a while the game just gets a bit too tough for its own good, peppering projectiles at you with abandon and throwing in boss encounters that get progressively harder to deal with. Where the first few stages are fun, the last few are pretty miserable which is a shame because visually they’re pretty epic. However, you’ve got a decent chance of finishing the game thanks to some of the bonus features the game offers.
In each run you’ll earn stars and they can be traded in out of the main game for bonuses. These include hearts that give you more life to play with, new weapons, trinkets that offer defensive bonuses and additional mini-games. It’s a shame that these have to be earned in a specific order as you also earn cosmetics which you’ll likely have no interest in but the game’s pretty generous and so before long you’ll have enough lives to be able to complete the game.
The bonus weapons are quite interesting but, as with a lot of the out of game content, they aren’t explained very well. Indeed the mysteries of the game’s additional menus and areas does take some figuring out with loads of mini-games supposedly on offer but locked behind criteria that the game never reveals to you. It’s all a bit trial and error and interface is pretty messy and confusing. But we did appreciate the fact that there was all this additional content to explore.
It adds a bit of longevity to a game that would otherwise be pretty stark and linear. Indeed, the game does offer you an ‘Arcade’ mode that lets you play through the twelve stages without any of the bonuses and it’s pretty miserable to be honest. So having all these extra power-ups and trinkets does improve the game. And with all the visual lavishness and Yu Suzuki craziness, Air Twister really does offer up a pretty good package overall.
A couple of potential issues do await though. The first is the music. The soundtrack is provided by Valenisa, a Dutch composer who excels at two things. The first is the production, which is crystal clear, booming and well-mixed. It sounds impeccably professional. The other thing he does well is ripping off Queen. I mean the whole soundtrack just sounds like a load of Freddie Mercury deep cuts. The chord structures, the instrumentation and, especially, the vocal harmonies (he loves a rising ‘Killer Qu-eeeeeeen’ harmony) all echo Queen at their most theatrical. That’s great if you like that sort of thing but we don’t. At all. It’s all pretentious pomp. Still, the game lets you turn the music down to zero, so that’s good. But if you’re into it, you’ll be happy. That said, we’re not sure it’s the right fit for this sort of game. A Rez style soundtrack or even a sugar-frenzied Sonic one might have fitted better.
The other issue, and we’re not even sure we should mention it, is the game’s awful trophy list. Love them or hate them but trophies can, if done right, provide fun targets for a gamer to aim for and extend a game’s life in an enjoyable, organic way. Or you can do it the Air Twister way with trophies that demand that you play five times in a week or at certain times during the day (play for FIFTY times between 10pm and 2am – hey shut the fuck up, Air Twister). The one for playing for 100 hours is just horrible and arbitrary too but completionists may not need to worry because of one called ‘Grandmaster’ that will stop them ever bothering with the duration-based trophies.
We mentioned the Arcade Mode which strips you of you bonus hearts, extra weapons and defensive items well there’s a variation of that called ‘One Hit Death’ mode which, as the name suggests, requires you to complete the entire game without ever getting hit. In one go. We’ll wager right now that no-one beats that by this time next year or potentially ever. It’s just terrible trophy design and we’ve got to call it out.
But, if you put your dreams of the Platinum to bed, what you do get here is an astonishing arcade experience that offers a colourful brashness, some packed out extra content and a dollop of eye candy that’ll appeal to Dreamcast-era Sega fans and Yu Suzuki devotees everywhere. It might not fully live up to its promise, and the £20 price tag feels a little heavy for an iOS port (even one as impressive as this), but Air Twister is worth experiencing if you’ve still got a place in your heart for blue skies in gaming.
+ Lots of extra content
+ If you like Queen, you'll like the soundtrack
- Can be a little unfair
- Gets less fun as it progresses
- The worst trophy list we've seen in a long time
- Menu UI and options aren't intuitive or well-explained