Blow pixels up in Luftrausers, disregard the rest.

By Daavpuke, Posted 04 Apr 2014

Minimalism in indie games is done to death by now and with Luftrausers employing the same arcade designs of yore, it doesn’t look like that trend is ending. Regardless, its fast-paced gameplay that is as simple as it is effective does help to serve the overall theme. With more action on the screen than can be followed and death being an inevitability, this flying title is like a coin eater outside of its element. That makes it perfect for a quick few rounds, even if some added mechanisms could’ve been touched up.

Luftrausers,Review,PSN,PS3,PS Vita,PC,Arcade,Indie,Screenshots

Its main appearance consists of a sepia color scheme of brown and less brown tones. Sprites are kept simple with small planes and bombs being made by a handful of pixels that still maintain a distinguishable quality. To befit the explosions and destruction of aerial and nautical fights, sound effects consist of crunchy blasts. With some bleeping tunes to go with that, the stage is set for a casual slaughter over the ocean.

A game is a simple matter of reaching a high score by destroying oncoming planes, as well as boats at sea level. Depending on the size and threat, different units yield more points. Racking up kills also contributes to a multiplier that wanes quickly, so killing in rapid succession becomes a tense race. One split second without a plane crashing resets the toll and that affects the score greatly.

To increase the challenge considerably, lots of enemies can fire a deadly salvo of giant bullets that fill up the screen. Getting hit too much results in a swift death and only avoiding fire while gearing up restores health. Shooting prevents healing, which additionally lets enemies grow in numbers. There’s a tight balance between destruction and escape in Luftrausers.

Luftrausers,Review,PSN,PS3,PS Vita,PC,Arcade,Indie,Screenshots

For yet another layer of gameplay, controls are purposely designed to float and restrict movement, sort of like flexing a rubber band. Applying throttle makes turning more rigid, while letting go allows for wild spins. In that way, it’s like the classic Asteroids arcade titles, but with a ton more activity on the screen.

There’s enough there for a good pastime already, but Luftrausers does pay mind to more modern designs for those who can’t just chase the high score dragon. A plane can have three separate parts: Its weapon, the body and what engine propels it. Each segment gets tied to an objective, like attaining a certain score, destroying particular enemies or even more complex goals. Completing missions unlocks more parts that diversify movement and tactics considerably, as every build has a distinct feel. A large body will make a plane extremely slow, but solid enough to power through tons of enemies. An engine can use bullets as propulsion, but that makes moving around quite dodgy. Then there’s a difference between firing a laser, a slow cannon or a weaker spread shot. Combining elements makes any round completely different.

Luftrausers,Review,PSN,PS3,PS Vita,PC,Arcade,Indie,Screenshots

This model isn’t without hardship, however, as some builds may take the restrictive controls too far. Since the animosity on screen is always high, oddly turning planes and slow models are an instant death trap. Battleships fire a massive salvo of bullets that is almost unavoidable, so not being able to get around it can be more frustrating than challenging. Moreover, some objectives are balls to the walls crazy. There’s an entire section built around killing a blimp, but even encountering one is like meeting a unicorn, let alone take out the thing with several dozen enemies around. As rewards can contain alternate visual styles, all of whom are eyesores, trying and failing endlessly becomes less thrilling than just wasting some time shooting stuff. Shooting stuff is reward enough in itself.

When everything comes together, Luftrausers is a blast of skillful maneuvering; using the wobbly controls exactly to the point of swerving through bullets and taking down baddies in retaliation. It’s the side-scrolling, pixel art equivalent of making no-scope kills an art form. With different ways to play and a stretch in content, there’s enough to keep wasting time on, even if not all its goals are equally pleasing. Blowing up stuff never gets old.

Daav Valentaten, NoobFeed (@Daavpuke)

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General Information



Platform(s): PS3, PC, Vita
Publisher(s): Devolver Digital
Developer(s): Vlambeer
Genres: Shoot-'Em-Up
Themes: Action, Arcade
Release Date: 2014-03-18

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