Whilst on the surface Luftrausers appears to be a simple 2D based shooter, first impressions can be deceiving. Like most arcade games there isn’t much in the way of story, with the World War Two theme providing much of the context for the game. However this time around instead of playing the allies you play as what appears to be a division of the German forces. Think of Hydra from the Marvel universe and you have a pretty close comparison to the alternative WW2 era that is present here.
Visually Luftrausers is very basic, but the simplicity greatly benefits the gameplay as it prevents the visuals from getting in the way of the frantic battles that take place. This visual simplicity is continued with the design of the enemy crafts; which include various aircraft (including a formidable blimp which acts as a sort of boss, defeating it unlocks the more difficult SMFT mode) and sea craft ranging from small ships to imposing battleships and the occasional submarine.
However it is with the individual rausers that the simplistic design really shines. Throughout the game the player unlocks more parts, these can be changed at the start of each attempt, and are divided into three categories; weapon, body, and engine. According to the developer there are 125 different combinations for the player to experiment with. Each combination has a different name and handle differently based on the attributes of the individual parts. Visually this also results in rather unique looking aircrafts taking flight; some looking more like bombs flying through the sky, whilst the appropriately titled “Batman” looks like its namesake. The variations also influence the soundtrack which dynamically changes based on different combinations.
The ethos of simplicity is also reflected in the control scheme. With the main controls being up to boost (the shoulder buttons also have the same function which for some could be preferential), left and right, and any face button to fire. This makes the level of entry accessible, but provides plenty of scope for the player to hone their skills, which is necessary for unlocking more content throughout their time with the game.
What separates Luftrausers from traditional arcade style games is the challenges associated with each part, these vary from ‘Defeat 1 Ace’ to ‘Kill a battleship at MAX! combo’. This provides a lasting appeal which keeps the player interested in the game for longer periods. Most challenges can be achieved in one outing, but some such as ‘Kill 250 fighters in total’ taking a few more. Of course there is always the option of trying to achieve a higher score (this is also linked to some of the challenges), which is bolstered by the inclusion of the online leaderboard. The key to which lies in keeping the combo score at MAX! for as long as possible, during which the score quickly rises.
The PSN version of Luftrausers also benefits from Sony’s excellent cross-buy scheme, meaning that a single purchase includes a copy for the PS3 and the Vita, although unfortunately there is no cross-save feature but this does give the player a reason to play though on both consoles. There seems to be a trend with games with cross-buy in that the Vita version is seen as being superior. On a technical level both games are identical and play exactly the same. The difference though is that unlike the Vita version on the PS3 the game does not fill up all of the screen. In addition is the music, whilst it does not sound bad on the PS3 (and is largely dependent on an individual’s sound setup) the universal option to listen through headphones on the Vita is the optimal experience. Combined with the full screen and the ability to play anywhere and at any time makes the Vita the preferential version like other cross-buy titles such as Hotline Miami and Thomas Was Alone.
Luftrausers is another excellent title to have come from the Indie community, showing what be done by such a small team. In terms of depth, ultimately it is up to the player to decide how much they get out of the game. Aside from unlocking the SMFT mode there is no strict “end game”. Although there are parts to unlock and all of the challenges to complete (which the trophies hint at unlocking another element), it is the pursuit of ever higher scores that will likely keep many returning to this title. If however high scores are not a particular draw, Luftrausers offers highly enjoyable gameplay, which alone is worth the price to ride.
Luftrausers is available now on PS Vita, PS3, PC, Mac and Linux.
Reviewed on PS Vita and PS3.