Aera Review

Everyone loves to fly. Sure, dealing with security gate lines, delays, and the close quarters of coach can be a hassle, but the basic idea of being released from gravity and soaring through the air excites the mind. In Aera, developer iChromo attempts to offer players all of the good aspects of flight and none of the bad.

First off, this game is gorgeous. The 3D backgrounds look realistic and stunning, while the airplanes are sharp and move smoothly. Even the start menu has artistic polish (and features one of several sexy WWII-era pin-up girls.)

Although the environments are 3D, the gameplay takes place in two dimensions. All you have to worry about is your plane’s altitude and speed. There are three gameplay types: Solo, Fight, and Race. Campaign Mode, the meat of the game, shuffles you through objective-based versions of each, and allows you to unlock new planes and backgrounds.

The captain has just turned off the seatbelt sign…

In Solo Mode, you must collect a certain number of tokens within a limited amount of time. The tokens are laid out in a path that guides you through an obstacle course made up of air mines and hoops. Next is Fight Mode, which introduces enemies into the equation. In these levels you must stay alive for a certain amount of time while shooting down enough enemy planes to reach a minimum score. To pick off the bogeys, you’re armed with heat-seeking missiles, air mines, and a machine gun. The last variation is Race Mode, which has you dodge moving mines while circling two distant air towers within a set amount of time.

While flying is fun in Aera, it’s not as simple as the developers make it out to be. The App Store marketing copy labels this game “casual,” but it’s definitely not one you’ll want to purchase for mom just because she loves solitaire. Aside from the boost button, control is executed via tilt, which moves your plane up and down. Getting used to the controls doesn’t take too long for seasoned gamers, but just having a feel for them isn’t enough. You’ll need to absolutely master the controls, because Campaign Mode becomes extremely challenging.

This game gorges you with extras. Your performance on each level is recorded and, if you want, you can watch it play back between stages. Two multiplayer modes are supported, but only through local wi-fi. There are also Xbox 360-style achievements that reward you for things like maintaining a 75% accuracy rate in Fight Mode. We appreciate a good challenge, and found the carrot-on-a-stick achievements added replayability to the game.

Anyone feel a draft?

Unfortunately, it ain’t all milk, honey, and carrots. There are two camera options, one of which is supposed to help you see enemies and tokens up ahead of you. You can switch between the viewpoints with the press of a button, but there’s no onscreen indication of which view you’re in and, frankly, it’s usually hard to tell the difference between the two. The only time you’ll notice you’re not in the look-ahead view is when you’re navigating a tight, curvy airway between rows of mines, and you realize you can’t see what’s coming. And at that point, any slight jostle to the iDevice, such as tapping the “switch view” button, is likely to result in death.

If you have an extra life when you die, a stylish Prince of Persia-like rewind effect occurs that pulls the game back to several seconds before your crash. The problem is that there’s no invincibility period when you regain control of your plane. So if you blow up while navigating a minefield, for instance, you’ll probably crash again as soon as you come out of the rewind, because you haven’t had a chance to regain your bearings. This can be a formidable danger to your iDevice, because you’ll want to hurl it at the nearest wall when it happens.

Also, the further into the campaign you get, the longer the levels take to complete. Dying four and a half minutes into a five-minute-long dogfight can be extremely frustrating. It’s even worse when you fail on account of the camera angle or rewind issue. It might even be enough to make you want to give up on an otherwise great game.

Despite the negatives, Aera really nails it with the graphics, gameplay, and extras. Give it a shot, and you’ll see how fun soaring through the air can be. Just be warned that sometimes it gets really, really frustrating.

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