by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
Blowing stuff up
The tagline for developer Vlambeer is “Bringing back arcade since 1989”, and they’ve knocked it out of the park once again. After having made Ridiculous Fishing, one of the best games out on mobile devices, here comes Luftrausers, a 2D dog-fighting game where quick reactions are key. You customise your aircraft and then set out on your one and only mission: Blow up everything.
Mix and match
And that’s just about it. You choose between several types of weapon, hull and engine, and then it is your job to survive as long as possible, while racking up as high a score of possible. It’s a simple premise, but a fiendishly difficult game to play well. You earn points by destroying enemies, whether they be fighters, gunboats or battleships. Earning kills in a row increases your combo meter, meaning you will earn extra points. Each play will take a few minutes at most, but you will jump right back in within seconds after dying. This is the sort of game that would guzzle down coins were it to be put in an actual arcade.
From the beginning you will just have standard parts, but more will unlock as you level up. Soon you will be firing a laser beam with a hull that causes a nuclear reaction on death, with an engine that fires bullets backwards to propel the ship forward. Or you might try the laser beam combined with the hull that takes no damage from collisions, along with the engine that actually defies gravity and thus allowing you to just about float in one spot. Each part has its own set of challenges attached to it, keeping things interesting. You can mix and match to your heart’s content, but will eventually find a combination that works for you after unlocking all the parts. At this point it loses some of the magic, but trying to beat that high score will keep you playing. I was pretty proud of being in the top 100 on the leaderboards at one point, but my spot has since changed…
The gameplay is as simple as the premise. You move in any direction within the 2D space and use a button to fire. If you stop moving you will stall and start to fall, but you can use this tactically to your advantage. Taking damage causes a blinding circle to close in around your plane. You’ll heal up as long as you stop firing, which is actually harder than it sounds when the screen is filled with bullets and planes flying at you. Deftly flying through a swarm of foes with barely any health remaining is always an edge of the seat affair, no matter how many times it happens. Just ask the people I was on Skype with while playing some of the game, they will be able to tell you just how many times I swore.
Some planes fly circles around you, generally just getting in the way. Others fire the occasional bullet at you, while some seem content to simply fly straight into you. Some of the most dangerous enemies are battleships, which fire endless volleys at you. Of course, you need to avoid flying into the water, although it won’t be instant death thankfully; it will simply spit you back out and inflict some damage (unless you’re using the waterproof hull). Equally the clouds at the top of the screen will do the same, which is admittedly a little less intuitive than the water, but puts a bound on the playing space. It often feels claustrophobic and incredibly hectic when there’s a lot going on, but when it calms down the skies feel remarkably empty. The enemies are randomly generated, meaning the game is never the same, although sometimes it did feel like there wasn’t enough being thrown at me to keep my combo going. Not a huge problem, but a little frustrating if you are going for that high score.
The sepia tone filter Luftrausers looks great, and more filters will unlock as you play, the majority of which should come with a retina burn warning, but there are few nice ones that look really stylish. Your plane changes depending on what parts you put on, and some of the enemy design is wonderfully intimidating, particularly the blimp, which acts as a boss and almost fills the entirety of the screen. The soundtrack is really good too, although somewhat limited. There’s a point during one song that you can’t help but hum along too with gusto. You will know what I’m talking about when you play it for yourself.
And play it you should. You will probably only get a few hours out of it before you start to feel like you are repeating yourself, but those hours will grip you fully. Dashing and pirouetting through the air, dodging fire while shooting back at clusters of enemies never stops being exciting, and when you finally defeat that blimp as I did just before writing this review, you will positively brim with pride. Buckle up and take to the skies as soon as possible.
An arcade shooter par excellence. Trying out different combinations of parts is great fun.
Doesn’t have a great deal of longevity.