Video Gamer is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Prices subject to change. Learn more
It’s never explicitly stated, but Luftrausers seemingly drapes the player with the uniforms of a truly dark force. There is little doubting it, in fact: yours is the task of fighting the fight of a malevolent military force that, at the very least, shares a tailor with the Nazis.
Seating the player in a cockpit of evil intent is a peculiar quirk of classic shmup design, seen in seminal releases like Under Defeat. The genre often toys with the morality of war – a devotion that parallels Hideo Kojima’s musings in the Metal Gear series.
Beyond aesthetic trappings, however, Luftrausers is quite distinct from such traditional works. It may be a 2D aeronautical game borne from the genre’s heritage – particularly where its crisp pixelated visuals and crunchy audio is concerned – but Vlambeer’s creation boldly contradicts conventions set by the heavyweight shmups.
Fundamentally a survival-focused arena shooter, it apes the controls of that gaming icon, Asteroids. Boosting builds speed, momentum gives the looping play-field a tangible quality, and rotating allows for acrobatic duelling. Gravity is also simulated, the physics of which initially furnish Luftrausers with a flabby, erratic feel. Then you learn to play it differently.
Because Luftrausers’ fighter craft control differently; they are at once graceful gliders, curious hovering contraptions, and thuggish projectiles. The controls are responsive, but the ship behaviour makes for a loose, wild game with little of the precision typical of arcade shooters.
Meanwhile the scoring uses a simple combo multiplier. Keep downing enemies and the point multiplier climbs. Hold back on firing, and health regenerates, but the combo resets. It’s a brilliantly simple risk-versus-reward scoring system, somewhat undermined by the sporadic appearance of foes. All too unpredictably the skies fall silent, making combo maintenance inconsistent, introducing a shade too much luck for serious score chasing.
Instead, Luftrausers, which started life as a Flash game, includes numerous goals that encourage exploring an impressive variety of available ship customisations. Vlambeer has crafted a game that looks superb, sounds better still and is terrifically entertaining. But in a genre resplendent with elegantly refined scoring systems and mechanics, Luftrausers lands a little short of brilliance.
Version Tested: Vita. Played for 7 hours.