Not a simulator for arousing Lufts.

Developed by Vlambeer, Luftrausers is a game I’ve paid literally no attention to until Paul handed me a review copy the other day. It’s a game that has made me nostalgic, and has certainly made me think. There’s been lots of noise about how the Vita has no games, and how it’s struggling, yet as more and more indie developers are stepping in to fill the AAA void, I’m actually finding  the imagination and pure enjoyment the indie rush is providing Vita owners in droves more and more endearing. Whilst it’s true there is a place for big budget, graphically mind blowing exclusives, it’s the indies who are paving the way to unique, new areas that bigger developers are leaving untapped.

Luftrausers is the above paragraph personified. Just like other hits such as Hotline Miami have shown, if you take an old school idea, revive and update it with modern controls, achievements and leaderboards you can create a title that feels both fresh and distinctive, whilst utilising age old mechanics. The first thing you will notice upon booting the game is that the visuals are minimalistic, yet reminiscent of the original gameboy, or very early arcade releases. Brown is the order of the day here, at least at first. Indeed looking at the screenshots you’d be forgiven for thinking the game looks like turd, but actually when in motion the visual style comes to life in a chaotic manner.

Although it might look like a halo around your plane, it means you're dying.
Although it might look like a halo around your plane, it means you’re dying.

Starting with your basic rauser, pressing up flies you into the air and after a very brief tutorial you are left to your own devices. Control is simple, with firing, thrusting and turning your only options here. A procedurally generated shooter, you zip around the skies shooting down other planes, boats and submarines and try to stay alive as long as possible. Your rauser can withstand a few hits before going down, but if you avoid being hit and are not shooting your health can regenerate.  If that was all there was then you’d have an enjoyable enough, albeit short lived shooter, but the beauty is in the hook, and Vlambeer have sensibly chosen to emulate the best.

There are two things in Luftrausers that will keep you coming back, trying harder and playing over and over. The first is the fact that your plane has different parts for weapon, body and engine. These are all changeable in the hangar creating loads of different combinations for you to try. Better still each of these are fairly distinctive in how they help things play out. One engine part for example allows you to not be hurt by water, and another body part allows you to not be hurt by flying into enemies, at the cost of health. This setup means you can swoop into the water to literally smash up ships, while bombing into groups of planes, provided you avoid their fire.

Harry Hill appears to aid your decision.
Harry Hill appears to aid your decision.

Another engine allows your plane to hover with minimal gravity, whereas another shoots bullets from your behind. The weapons vary too, from your standard gun to lasers and rockets, and the body of your plane further mixes things up, a later part destroys everything on screen when you die for last minute points. Speaking of points, everything you destroy is worth something, including an extra notch on your multiplier. Each kill increases it all the way to MAX (x20), but delay too long in killing enemies and it resets back down to zero. It forces you to risk danger for reward in a similar vein to Housemarque’s titles and ensures things remain consistently exciting.

Not that there’s ever a dull moment of course. Each playthrough only lasts a handful of minutes, if that due to the difficulty ramping up just as quickly as your score. What starts with a few planes ends up with huge battleships, advanced pilots and even blimps coming after you. Death is inevitable, but survival is what will sort the men from the mice. I’m pretty terrible at shooters at the best of times, but the method for levelling up and unlocking parts is luckily accessible to all.

Although it may hurt your eyes, new colour themes are unlocked later on.
Although it may hurt your eyes, new colour themes are unlocked later on.

To put it simply, the mission structure here is basically Jetpack Joyride. Each part has a number of missions attached to them, and upon completion of these missions you are awarded skulls based on difficulty that level you up, unlocking more parts. I found this feature very clever as it forces you to try different parts together rather than sticking to just one setup. Challenges range from “Kill x number of enemies in total” to harder tasks such as killing an Ace Pilot while at max combo, or killing two of the dreaded battleships in one game.

If I have any critique for Luftrausers, it’s that the experience is rather short. I found the first three quarters of missions relatively easy to complete, and the last handful near impossible. What this means is that the imbalance makes you feel like you’ve suddenly hit a wall that will take hours to break down. Luckily the “one more go” feeling that games like this seek to own is enough to keep you coming back, but for things to turn so brutal right at the end feels like an uneven quality.

Despite this, I have no problems whatsoever recommending Luftrausers. The short, bite sized playthroughs are perfect for on the go, but the addictive nature makes it a hard game to put down, even if the brilliance may not last as long as you’d like it to. If you’re a trophy or leaderboard whore you’ll certainly be getting your monies worth here but for those who aren’t the experience is fairly short lived. Lucky it’s just so damn fun though isn’t it?

  • Slizarus

    Hm, I’m pretty interested. Is there a free play option? Or are the missions same enough that when you get to the hard missions, even if you don’t make it to the finish, you’re still having fun?

    I’m not an achievement whore, I just want some enjoyment :)

    • Jonathan Harding-Rathbone

      The missions are secondary and in the background. Every play through plays the same, so whichever part you select has missions attached to it, though technically they are optional and can be ignored (though you won’t unlock anything if you ignore them, and some come naturally anyway). So if you just fancy having a blast you can do. It plays out like your typical endless game.

      • Slizarus

        Aye, that’s a good way of putting it, the videos didn’t make it clear about the mission structure. I enjoy the game, I’m pretty bad at it, but I’m getting better. I have NO Idea how friends on another forum unlocked everything in an hour or so. I’ve got a whole 12 parts lol

        • Jonathan Harding-Rathbone

          I think it took me about 2 hours to unlock all the parts. Still not completed the missions though!