Luftrausers Review: Sweet, Glorious Death from Above

by David Sanchez March 20, 2014 @ 12:08 pm

Luftrausers - Review - Feature

Imagine you’re piloting an air fighter above the ocean. You sense you’re going to die out there amidst the clouds, and that thought becomes a reality the moment you spot an enemy fighter. Things only get more intense when you see another enemy, followed by a group of enemies, all flying and shooting straight at you. Then you realize that you’ve got enemy fire coming from warships below. That’s kind of what Luftrausers is like, except you don’t have to worry about actually meeting your demise, which I personally think makes the game better than engaging in a real-life war.

Vlambeer has nailed the arcade shoot ’em up formula quite expertly. Luftrausers does an excellent job of marrying old school shooter action with a few modern elements to create an experience that makes you want to continuously sink time into it. It’s all in the little details, too, as the game doesn’t rely on overly complex mechanics yet still provides a deceptively profound war-themed aerial combat adventure.

Action in Luftrausers is intuitive and easy to get the hang of. Up on the analog stick accelerates your fighter, while left and right help you turn. To slow down all you do is release the analog stick. Regardless of which direction the plane is facing, these are the basic controls for movement. You also use a single button to fire projectiles. That’s it. There’s no overly complex menu navigation, speed boosts, or inventory management. You don’t need any of that, though, and the controls are perfectly precise and suited for this specific game.

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Enemy types aren’t especially robust, but there are a few that behave slightly differently. Jets, for example, are bigger, more resilient, and completely tenacious compared to the standard fighters. They’ll come at you relentlessly, firing away at your ship with no remorse. If you manage to avoid a collision, they’ll turn right around and continue the chase. Then there are the naval ships, which can take quite a beating before they go down and fire a perilous spray of bullets with their dual cannons.

The toughest enemy is the blimp. Acting as a boss of sorts, this end-level abomination of death, despair, and destruction shoots multiple waves of projectiles your way. Taking on the blimp can be an exercise in patience as you’re tasked with not only avoiding its fire but all of the other threats that are actively trying to destroy you. Blimp encounters are marvelously intense, and while doing battle with one of these for the first time I experienced feelings of nervousness and excitement not unlike what I used to feel when facing final bosses as a kid.

There are no continues or extra lives. Luftrausers drops you into a fairly simplistic arcade backdrop and challenges you to survive as long as possible. There no health items, either, so your fighter won’t heal via pick-ups. Instead, repairing your damaged plane is as simple as releasing the fire button for a few seconds. This can create different scenarios in the heat of battle — sometimes it’s not worth shooting weaker enemies at the cost of repairing your ship, while other times blasting away may seem like the only way to get past an onslaught of threats.

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The combat of Luftrausers is the main attraction, but it’s broadened by a collection of unlockable objectives. These range from destroying a certain enemy type a set number of times per game to reaching a specific score. Chasing these challenges adds a sense of progression to Luftrausers so it never feels like you’re just playing an endless arcade shooter. Quite frankly, however, that probably wouldn’t be a bad thing anyway given how much fun the gameplay is, but it’s great that there’s a list of objectives to keep you occupied.

Missions also reward you with parts for your craft, adding yet another deliciously welcome layer to the game. Your Rauser consists of a weapon, body, and engine, all of which can be altered depending on which parts you’ve unlocked. You can mix and match parts to create a devastating aircraft that’s loaded with armor but moves slowly, build a nimbler fighter that’s more delicate, and even put together a craft that can dive into the sea or through enemies without taking damage. Experimentation is key, and it’s pretty entrancing putting together different Rausers and testing them out in the skies.

The types of fighters you build actually go hand-in-hand with the sound design of Luftrausers. Depending on the ship you take into battle, you’re treated to a different tune. It’s a nice way to incorporate a rather vast soundtrack, and hearing the World War II-era-influenced music play on in the background as you engage in tense aerial dogfights is joyously exhilarating.

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Luftrausers doesn’t just sound great, through. The boldly minimalist graphics successfully mar retro and abstract to create a spellbinding look that’s easy to get lost in. The blatantly limited color palette adds a sense of style that’s fitting for a game inspired by a decades-old form of military combat. You can unlock different graphics options, but the original is easily the best — and it’s the easiest on the eyes as the other options can make it hard to see all of the action.

As captivating and addictive as Luftrausers may be, it’ll only take you a couple of hours to unlock all of the parts. From there you can proceed to build your ideal fighter and take on the blimp, defeating it in just a few tries once you learn its attacks. What that basically means is that you can technically beat the game in three hours. Doing so unlocks SMFT mode, which follows the same premise but makes enemies stronger and fills the screen with projectiles, essentially turning Luftrausers into an insane bullet-hell shooter that’s actually a bit frustrating to play.

Despite its miniscule shortcomings, Vlambeer’s latest offers an astonishingly hypnotic and uproariously delightful air-based shoot ’em up experience that’s hard to step away from and easy to return to on a constant basis. Luftrausers puts you at the center of a barrage of bullets and gives you plenty of objectives and customization options to keep you busy. The result is one of the most glorious shooters to come along in recent memory.

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