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Being a one-person indie studio ain’t easy. Once the grueling process of development finally begins to near its end, the lone developer has little time to recuperate before its time to become the sole PR manager in order to get the game in front of an audience. A shoot ’em up wouldn’t necessarily be on my radar but the addition of RPG elements certainly peaked my interest. Add in the fact that Airstrife: Assault of the Aviators is developed by a single individual with some assistance from a trio of artists and it didn’t take much arm twisting to give this title a try.

Anyone who grew up with an original Nintendo and enjoyed a good shoot ’em up will immediately feel a sense of familiarity. The vertical shooter shares a lot of the same DNA as classics such as 1943 in its look and feel but expands on the gameplay with the addition of a progression system that allows for the collection of planes and weapons. The combat doesn’t deviate too much from classic shooters, the field of play continuously moves vertically while enemy combatants attack from all sides with a variety of different attacks. The plane has a decent amount of movement around the screen with the exception that moving backwards is much slower than movement in any other direction. The inclusion of a barrel roll allows for enemy attack avoidance, but doesn’t protect the plane from damage when colliding with another plane.

Instead of a simple one hit deaths, Airstrife utilizes an HP system that is applied to areas of the plane. Damage is dependent on the type of attack, with regular bullets providing the least amount of damage and a direct collision with an enemy applying the highest. Running into an enemy more than once is a good way to die, so the most focus goes towards enemy avoidance. Allowing the plane to take some damage is a nice departure from traditional shoot ’em ups with the exception that death means having to restart the level all over. Longer levels, especially the ones with bosses, are a pain to have to replay in its entirety especially when the troublesome spot is near or at the end.

The inclusion of RPG mechanics are a nice change of pace and are unlocked in the secondary explore mode. In levels identical to the campaign, enemies are shot down for both funds to pay for improvements to the planes, or blueprints to unlock additional aircraft and weaponry. The amount of inventory that can be unlocked is quite large and varies in its usage that does allow some variety to the different builds of aircraft that can put together. The funds to buy these upgrades are obtained during regular battles and seem to be distributed at a reasonable pace. I never seemed to be short on cash even after upgrading a number of different items.

The difficulty is set at a comfortable level in easy but unfortunately felt a bit uneven when compared to the boss fights. Up until the first boss, it wasn’t particularly difficult to get through a level but the end of chapter fight felt like a slog. Getting through the level itself could be done with ease, but at the end awaited a bullet sponge of a boss that simply took much too long to take down. Add in the fact that smaller enemies continue to enter the battle while trying to avoid a boss resulted in a few too many rage quits. Perhaps I’ve gotten rusty in my days since playing these types of 16-bit shooters but I’ve played the final stage of the first chapter more times that I would have liked.

The inclusion of RPG elements certainly adds some nice customization and freedom to experiment with different builds but may not provide enough variety to escape the confines of the shoot ’em up genre. Airstrife is different from your typical bullet hell, but is still ultimately a shoot ’em up at its core. Fans of the genre should find some interesting concepts explored here, but the fun factor is certainly limited to the traditional combat.

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