Yu Suzuki often makes games that are intended to be stylised experiences. Some land better than others but you can never argue that they are generic or dull. Air Twister is his latest and following launching on Apple Arcade last year, it has been adapted for PC and console. This is an on rails shooter that is designed to feel like a cinematic experience. There isn’t anything else in the genre bringing the same style and pizzazz out there.
Air Twister is a spiritual successor to Yu Suzuki’s Space Harrier series. You play as Princess Arch who is able to float around the screen at speed and she uses a giant gun to lock onto and shoot enemies. Arch acts as a dual purpose because not only do you need to avoid all the enemy fire coming at you by moving her around, she’s also the lock on reticule too. As she moves over enemies, she auto locks on and then you simply press a button to fire the amount of shots you’ve locked onto. You don’t need to think too much about constantly firing, its not the way to score points and beat enemies. This is extremely simple to pick up and understand and that allows you to immerse yourself into the world of Air.
Each of the 12 stages are beautifully detailed and stylised, like a HD Dreamcast game. Bold colours, bright saturated lights and a very clean aesthetic. It looks beautiful in motion and as they are dreamy or fantasy twists on nature or space, they really feel different. The enemies are a mixture of fantasy animals (winged elephant anyone?) or technological beasts and sometimes they merge together. They are often easy to kill but you have to be quick about it because they fly across the screen in quick formations. If left alone on the harder difficulties, they’ll fire a lot of bullets back at you to avoid and this puts you out of step to be able to fly over them, lock on and shoot. So much about this game is about getting into a flow state and when you reach it through practice, it is incredibly satisfying to play.
A major part of the reason its so satisfying to play is the soundtrack. Valensia is a Dutch composer who has created a symphony rock opera that has huge guitar solos, choirs, stadium drums and pop sensibilities. Its like a mash up of Queen, David Bowie, Nier Automata’s Keiichi Okabe and Illion. It shouldn’t work but it absolutely does and having a dramatic Queen-like track blaring out as you tackle a giant laser octopus is the kind of unique experience that few developers and producers would dare to consider. Air Twister goes all in and pulls it off with aplomb – and full disclosure – I’ve bought the soundtrack as a result of playing the game.
Outside of the main game mode there is boss rush mode to tackle the 10 bosses in the game, score attack mode which gives you timed waves of enemies to clear, arcade mode which gives you bog standard weapons and difficulty level challenges to try and extra stage mode that is a giant endless tunnel that works like a survival mode. Then we have two oddities. Fluffy mode is a 2D sidescrolling perspective of the game but you can’t shoot. Instead you have to dodge all the enemies and stay alive as long as possible. There there is a minigame where you are presented with numbered boxes from 1 up to 36 and you have to shoot them in numerical order against the clock with various distractions in your way. There is plenty to do and daily, weekly and timed challenges to pull you back for more. These challenges unlock cosmetics to customise Arch’s hair, makeup, outfit, weapons and passive abilities like a shield or slow down effect.
Across most of this you’ll earn stars. These can spent on the adventure map which acts like a character skill tree and lore log. When you spend stars you can unlock more health, more uses of a shield or slow down effect, the ability to listen to music in a player and more cosmetics. The biggest upgrade here is to unlock locking onto more and more enemies at one time as this opens up higher scores and more daring gameplay choices. Each time you unlock something juicy, a piece of lore unlocks with it so you can learn more about the world you are in. Its a nice touch but the cutscenes do a better job of wowing the player rather than reams of text.
If I were being hyper critical, when you’ve upgraded Arch a little bit she is slightly too powerful for the standard difficulties and that means the boss battles suffer a bit. The bosses are varied and give nods to the Darius series as a lot of them appear to be sea creatures. However many of them can be finished before they get into later forms once you’ve upgraded a few of your stats and so they don’t feel like the spectacles they should consistently be. This is somewhat balanced out in arcade mode with five difficulty levels but the one hit death mode is absolutely insanely difficult. There is something for everyone here, you’ll just need to find the level that works for you.
I adore Air Twister. It is the perfect antidote to sterile games that live in black, grey and brown and refuse to take risks or have a personality. It has been a long time since I’ve played a brand new on rails shooter that left me grinning and totally engrossed in it, desperate for another go and wanting to explore everything and get better at it. Air Twister is that game for me. Personality, charm, style and simplicity win out.
Review copy provided by publisher. Out 10th November 2023 for PC, PS4/5, XBO and Switch.
A stunning successor to Space Harrier and the perfect antidote to games that refuse to make bold choices and personality decisions. The most fun I've had with an on rails shooter since Child of Eden.
Bold, striking visual design is like a HD Dreamcast game.
One of the best game soundtracks I've heard in the last decade.
So simple to pick up and play but with lots of skill and pattern recognition to nail down if you want to tackle harder difficulties.
Lots of bonus modes and additional things to do outside of the main game.
Feels like a magical experience - like its aiming for sensory overload or something close to it.
Some of the bosses can be very easily killed as soon as you start upgrading your character.
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