Airheart – Tales of broken Wings looked to be one of the most interesting of releases in this massively busy week. In fact, I dare say that this game’s concept, or core idea, rather, is the most interesting in recent memory. New releases on Xbox One for the last number of weeks has been fairly chaotic, with games of all shapes, themes and sizes, landing left, right and center ahead of the heavy AAA season that sits in Q3/Q4. The big question is, however, is whether or not Airheart – Tales of broken Wings does enough to build upon its foundation to stand out in the long run.
Sadly, that answer isn’t a wholehearted yes. While there are indeed some neat ideas running through the game’s veins, none of them truly amount to anything worthwhile or remarkable. Airheart – Tales of broken Wings is penned as a diesel-punk airplane action game that throws players into the role of a fisher-woman named Amelia. Amelia lives in the floating vertical city of Granaria, a place among the clouds that she was taken to to live a better life and cut out a decent lifestyle for herself. At first glance, it’s hard not to fall in love with the game’s lush visual design.
That love, on the other hand, is oftentimes short lived. The premise is relatively simple to digest. Amelia wishes for little more than to reach the world’s edge, but with floating sky pirates, floating jellyfish and much more sitting in her way, this isn’t going to be an easy task. This is where you come in. Controlling Amelia, you’re tasked with gathering materials with the means to create stronger, faster crafts that will ultimately make you more capable as progression is made. By and large, this is a twin-stick shooter that sees you taking an ordinary young woman on a lush adventure.
So, what’s the problem? Well, we’ll get to that shortly. The twist here is that each level is above the prior. Flying fish can be found at different atmospheric levels. Generally speaking, the higher the fish, the higher the reward. That’s the main hook to the gameplay here. You’ll venture out, catch fish and then return to your base to sell your goods in return for that all important income. This income is important to the gameplay’s loop, as it’s used primarily for upgrading your craft to bulk-up its capabilities and endurance. Admittedly, it’s a very enjoyable game at first…
It’s a shame, however, that baffling design choices chase away much of the fun. There’s a decent tutorial that helps to feed you into the basics of play; flying, shooting, using the harpoon and so forth. The first problem is, is that after this, you’re given almost no direction whatsoever to achieve the overarching outcome. You’re a fish out of water, ironically speaking, with just three choices to select from; Hanger, Workbench and Shop. Once I spent a considerable amount of time working out what I could do, I then worked out what I should do, which is, shock horror, catching fish.
Locating fish is quite a straightforward process. Simply navigate each level (which tells you of the fish’s population) and fly over to them. It pays of to constantly be on the move as you vertically rise through the game’s stages. I chose to capture every fish on each level and slowly ascend as far as my craft would allow me to. Once I hit the limit of my means, I would return home, sell off my goods and make minor upgrades to my craft – allowing me to ascend further. This is where one of the game’s first problems comes into view, the difficulty spikes quite harshly.
Even moving from the first level to the second, I felt well out of my depth. You see, on level one, you don’t have anything to worry about outside of slow moving jellyfish which you can shoot out of the way. The second level, on the other hand, well, that’s an entirely different story. The game throws sky pirates, police blimps, turrets and an abundant amount of jellyfish your way. There’s no gradual climb here, and that sense of all-in or all-out hurts that important initial experience a great deal. Had the game spent more time slowly introducing these, I may have had a better time.
Mercifully, the game handles quite well as far as flying is concerned. The controls are precise and fluid, making for a game that feels pretty damn good. The issue is when you have all of those aforementioned pests gunning for you at every turn, it whacks the pacing out of touch and becomes quite a tedious task. Thankfully, if you find yourselves getting shot down or wish to return to base to protect your wares, a quick tap of the down D-Pad will aim your craft downwards so that you can make a swift getaway and return home in one piece, safe and sound.
Upgrading your craft ranges quite well. Outside of firepower, players can invest in new cockpits, wings and other useful layouts that will bump you up little by little. These parts can be swapped out in the Hanger before you deploy your craft, something I did quite often. There’s no shortage of neat upgrades to work towards, which can also be said about the firepower. Fancy dual harpoons? Why not! Do those chaos rockets tickle your interest? Go for it. Hell, there’s even a flamethrower! These additions do eventually alleviate the game’s difficulty problems, that much has to be said.
Slowly becoming a stronger force is something you can feel as you invest in bettering your craft, but it’s still an irritating process at the best of times. Plugging in new parts and seeing where you can go before having your ass handed to you is slightly compelling, but it does begin to frustrate when you sit back and realize that this is pretty much the bulk of the experience. It’s like being an air meerkat. I appreciate the roguelike element within, but where many roguelike games spread out points of innovation, Airheart does the opposite, ultimately making for a very monotonous trek.
Sure, the higher you go the more deadly it is, meaning that there’s more rewards higher up alongside heaps of risk, but that’s the main crux here, with little else to do. It doesn’t help that the game’s story is almost stripped away entirely following the setup, nor does it help that there’s no mission structure to lean on. Group this with the difficulty spikes outlined above and you’re left with an experience that just reach its potential. I do want to commend the game for its crafting system, though, which is as simple as scavenging resources, bringing them to the workbench and fixing something up.
It’s a light system indeed, but one that didn’t need to be anything more than what it is. That said, it would have been nice to have some direction from time to time in order to keep track of what I had created, or what I could create, but when all is said and done, I couldn’t complain. As alluded to above, the visuals are nice, diverse and colorful, if somewhat lacking detail. I also enjoyed the soundtrack to begin with, but this too falls to the wayside of repetition before long. It’s a shame really, because if anything, Airheart could have been much better if its gameplay was more refined.
Airheart isn’t a bad game, but it could have been much more than what it is if the developer had spent more time refining the gameplay’s systems to better feed into one another. The end result makes for an experience that sounds more compelling in description than it actually is in practice. Still, with its difficulty spikes, its squandered potential and its lack of story to the side, there’s some fun to be had here.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.