"This game is what happens if Afterburner ground up the insanity of Gurren Lagann and did a line of it."
For a title that started its life as a Flash game slapped together in two days, Luftrausers has been dominating the downloadable game scene since it launched a few days ago. Some modern gamers might take a look at this game's pixel graphics and two-tone color scheme and write it off as some boring 1942 clone, but those people would be very sadly mistaken. This game is what happens if Afterburner ground up the insanity of Gurren Lagann and did a line of it. This game will make you wonder exactly what you've been doing up to this point in your life, and why it has not involved tiny planes vomiting Hadoukens at blimps.
After playing two minutes of this game, it should come as no surprise that Devolver Digital, the publishing company behind such indie action instant-classics like Hotline Miami and Broforce, picked up this game. Every game starts slow, with the Rauser (that is to say, a customizable fighter plane) being launched from a submarine. Within seconds, there will be fighters appearing to try to take you down. Players can fly in any direction they like – the game is a 2D sidescroller with quite a large field of play, with the upper and lower bounds of the map (clouds and the ocean, respectively) causing damage and reflecting the Rauser back into normal play areas upon contact. All damage heals over time as long as the player is not shooting, meaning that as the game progresses the player must ration their time spewing bullets versus healing. As the player survives and racks up kills, larger enemies start appearing, from fighter jets to enemy Ace pilots, submarines to gunboats and battleships. During gameplay, players complete challenges based on their current Rauser loadout, such as “kill 30 total enemies” or “achieve a MAX combo,” which upon death unlock different Rauser parts or different color schemes for the game. Not including Random mode or the final hidden unlockable parts, there are five separate parts per section – Guns, Body and Engine – leading to 125 total possibilities, each with their own unique name. Learning which loadouts work well together is key to not only clearing the missions per part, but also to getting farther in the game and allowing harder enemies to spawn.
"All playstyles are supported – early on, the player learns that in addition to shooting enemies, ramming them with their Rauser can cause damage and often kill smaller enemies."
The glorious thing about this game, though, is that there is literally no wrong way to build a Rauser. Sure, there are suboptimal combinations, but this game is all about staying alive – as long as a player is good enough to dodge bullets and kill some enemies, they'll be able to make it far in the game soon enough. All playstyles are supported – early on, the player learns that in addition to shooting enemies, ramming them with their Rauser can cause damage and often kill smaller enemies. And so, one of the early Body unlockables is a melee body – which means the player takes no damage from running into enemies. Suddenly, doing aerial donuts and luring enemies into the flightpath is an option that will not instantly kill the player – and that is just the tip of the iceberg of shenanigans achievable.
"Every new upgrade feels powerful – because all of them are unique, I know every unlock made me stop and go "No way, they let you do THAT in this game?"
This game reminds me a lot of Vlambeer's other major hit, Ridiculous Fishing. While Luftrausers doesn't involve a player hunting for fish, the pacing of both the action and the constant unlocking of powerups is very reminiscent of Ridiculous Fishing – and that is not a bad thing. Vlambeer stuck to what they knew and made it fantastic. While after a little while it can feel like a slog grinding for the last few parts, there are enough things to unlock that as long as a player learns from their mistakes and plays more and more competently, they should be unlocking new things every few deaths. Every new upgrade feels powerful – because all of them are unique, I know every unlock made me stop and go “No way, they let you do THAT in this game?” Case in point – after getting a few unlockables, I was shooting five bullets ahead of me while propelling myself with an engine that shot bullets, and when I died, I exploded and took the entire screen's worth of enemies with me and then some. Also like Ridiculous Fishing, the art is super minimalist, and yet despite this fact the game gets across everything it needs to without having anything extraneous. The unlockable color palettes, though, play around with this, almost all of them being loud enough to cause permanent damage to the eyes and brains of anyone to use them. Further, it's got a rockin' dynamic soundtrack done by KOZILEK that really captures the military aesthetic of the game while at the same time being something you can bob your head to while playing.
"It can be frustrating, but it's frustrating in the same way that all the best games are – because you can taste victory."
This game does fall into the “easy to pick up, difficult to master” category, though. At two hours of gameplay, I had unlocked all the basic Rauser parts, but had been unable to trigger the game's boss, the Blimp. Triggering the Blimp requires a player to stay alive through everything else the game can throw at them, which after a while can be quite difficult if they can't take out enemy planes fast enough, let alone worrying about deluges of bullets from the battleships in the water. It can be frustrating, but it's frustrating in the same way that all the best games are – because you can taste victory, and you know that if you had just dodged that last bullet, it would have been yours, so you try again...and there went the last 45 minutes. The only potential failing to the game is the lack of story, aside from a few amusing cutscenes as the player unlocks achievements – this doesn't detract from the quality, mind you, just something that could have made it even that much better.
Review by Adam Seats | Reviewed on: PC