Sometimes you just want a game that you can quickly load up, play for a few minutes, and then quit. This is great when you’ve got some time in between classes, are in a waiting room, or when you just want to kill a little time. That’s where mobile games comes in. They are simple, appeal to a very wide audience, and are usually cheap or free. When you try to transfer this to PC and consoles is when you come across problems, mainly because you lose a lot of what is appealing about mobile gaming: the speed of getting into the game and the price. Even when game isn’t exactly a direct port, as is the case with Aces of the Luftwaffe: Squadron, it’s pretty obvious that it’s based off of a mobile game. Surprisingly, Aces of the Luftwaffe: Squadron is significantly better than a port of a mobile game has any right to be.
Aces of the Luftwaffe: Squadron is a World War II-themed shoot’em up developed by HandyGames. It is a sequel to, and sort of a port of Aces of the Luftwaffe, which was released in 2013 for mobile devices and the PlayStation 4. It loosely follows the story of Aces of the Luftwaffe, and is set in alternate history where a highly skilled sect of the Nazis, the eponymous Aces of the Luftwaffe, have taken the war to the American homeland. It’s your job to defeat the Aces and end the Nazi threat once and for all.
Aces of the Luftwaffe: Squadron plays much the same as your average plane-based vertically-scrolling shoot’em up: you fight against waves of enemies of varying types while trying to dodge a large number of projectiles coming at you from all directions. Enemies come in the form of various types of planes like fighter planes, biplanes, and bombers, as well as zeppelins, and the occasional land and sea based enemies like U-boats. Various types of power-ups will pop on the screen, which can either be for your main guns, which you have to manually fire, or your turret, which shoots automatically. If you pick up a power-up while you still have additional ammo from a previous power-up crate, it will upgrade your weapon or turret to the next level. Power-ups for your main guns include a minigun, flamethrower, electric bullets, and finally lasers, and power-ups for your turret include homing missiles, a spread shot that shoots out in a circle from your plane, a wave that emanates from your plane, and a set of three lasers projected from your plane.
In Aces of Luftwaffe: Squadron you play as Mark Taylor, who has along with him with three A.I. wingmen: Melissa Monroe, John King, and Steve Davis. Each character has full voice-acting, although it’s not very good. Of the four main characters, three of them are American (besides Mark, who mentions living in Germany as a child), yet Mark, Melissa, and John all have these hybrid German/American accents, which can get kind of annoying. Only Steve actually sounds like he’s from the U.S, although this isn’t a big issue. Each character also has their own hindrance–a handicap which will randomly kick in during a mission, and each hindrance requires a different solution. Mark Suffers from chronic poisoning, which requires you to move more slowly; Melissa is afraid of heights, so you’ll lose her until you drop in altitude; John has anger issues, and will go crazy and move unpredictably across the screen; and Steve suffers from narcolepsy, which will require you to protect him until he wakes up.
The four characters all have their own skill-tree which can be upgraded to increase damage, health, chance to dodge enemy projectiles, etc., as well as upgrades which are exclusive to each character. These exclusive upgrades come in form of active abilities, with each pilot having their own unique ability. When playing single player, only the abilities of Mark can be manually activated, with the abilities of your wingmen only activating under the right circumstances, like your health dropping under a certain level or when a certain number of enemies appear on screen. Once you have unlocked more than one active ability for Mark (or the character you are playing as in multiplayer) you can switch between them using the bumpers on your controller.
Skill points are unlocked by gaining levels, with each new level granting an additional skill point. You level up by collecting medals, which will drop randomly when you defeat an enemy, with defeated bosses always dropping medals. You can also complete optional missions to gain additional medals. These missions range from defending planes, to destroying a target number of enemies, or dropping off supplies for civilians. This leveling system adds replay value, as you’ll want to go back and complete all the side missions in order to max out your characters. There are five acts total, each with five missions. The last mission in each act is a boss battle against one of the Aces. The boss designs are incredibly goofy–in a good way–but I won’t spoil them since they’re worth a good laugh when you first encounter them. There are three difficulties: Normal, Hard, and Veteran, with rewards for playing on harder difficulties. Besides just achievements or trophies, harder difficulties also reward you with more medals and higher scores, further incentivizing additional playthroughs. There is also couch co-op, with up to four players being able to play together. Playing co-op will increase the difficulty a bit, but will also increase medals earned.
This review was done with the Xbox One version of Aces of the Luftwaffe: Squadron, and as for performance it runs quite well. Even when there were easily twenty enemies on screen, along with a correspondingly high number of projectiles, I never noticed a drop in frame rate. The only technical issue I came across were the somewhat long loading times, which can get old after awhile. One thing I must mention is that while the opening screen shows realistically designed planes, the art style is decidedly cartoony, although I feel this fits the gameplay better.
Aces of the Luftwaffe: Squadron is a solid shoot’em up, elevated by an upgradable skill tree, multiple difficulty levels, and support for four player co-op. While it does start off slowly, it starts to pick up once you get into the nitty-gritty of the skill tree, and is even better when you’re playing with friends. So if you’re looking for a good time waster that you can pick up for a few minutes at a time, this is one I’d recommend.
Aces of the Luftwaffe: Squadron is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC