As a critic, as you can imagine I have run the gambit of emotions when it comes to video games. I have been charmed and disgusted, surprised and disappointed. I have never, however, felt this puzzled regarding my emotions for a game. On one hand, Airheart: Tales of Broken Wings is a charming and simple game with a different sort of crafting mechanic whose simple twin-stick shooter gameplay makes it an easy roguelike with which one could kick back and relax.
On the other hand, Airheart: Tales of Broken Wings is an utterly infuriating game with an unnecessarily perplexing crafting system and not enough done differently with each level to make it worth trying to climb up into the stratosphere again and again and again. My emotions are incredibly mixed when I look back on this game. I was sure that the more I played the game the more I was sure I would be able to definitively tell my reading audience whether it was a good or a bad game, and yet here I am. I’ve stalled long enough, let’s see if this game takes a nosedive or ascends into the clouds.
Airheart – Tales of Broken Wings is available on Steam for $14.99.
You are Amelia, a young woman who left the inhospitable surface of earth in order to seek her fortune in the hovering city of Granaria. She makes ends meet by flying her plane and catching the fish that fly above the city while avoiding or annihilating the pirates who stand in her way. Her goal: to catch the mighty skywhale in order to honor her lost father. The story itself is simple, yet effective. Lost dad, catch skywhale so you can finally have the life that he always wanted for you. Boom, there’s a narrative. At no point in time did I ever feel moved to tears, but I never felt annoyed by the characters either.
The game itself is mainly played in typical twin-stick shooter style and it does this very well if it is played with the gamepad. I cannot emphasize enough: DO NOT play this game with a keyboard. I tried for about two minutes and it was excruciating. The game says that it is best enjoyed with a gamepad, and I have never read a truer fact.
Tower with no tower
The game is divided up into sky layers, which is basically a tower with no tower. This usually heralds some sort of procedural generation, but instead, each level is exactly the same as the last. Each time you go up is exactly the same, so until you hit the next level each time is a grind. The only differentiation is the build of your plane, which admittedly is huge, but you aren’t taking it through anything new.
The way this game is built, each level is built on top of the last one and you need to work your way up each layer like a tower but without the tower with a boss at the end of each zone. When you want to return to base, you need to fly straight down through all of the levels, avoiding landmass as you do so, so that the further you go, the harder it is to get back with all your booty.
When you lose all of your health, rather than just giving you a game over screen, your plane enters a nosedive and your autopilot is turned off, so you have to crash land on Granaria in order to survive, and even then you will lose one or more of your precious plane components. This in and of itself isn’t a bad mechanic, but this coupled with the same levels and the crafting system takes the whole thing from necessary setback to a chore. That is to say nothing of when you miss your mark when you die because then you hit permadeath and have to start all over with no blueprints and your entire plane gone. It isn’t always easy either. The one time it happened to me I physically couldn’t have hit my mark because it wasn’t on the screen, and as punishment, I lost everything.
What is with this AI?
Another obnoxious point of the game is the NPC AIs. The friendly ships fly around aimlessly and make no efforts to not collide with you. The police ships will fly in randomly and unleash hell on you whether or not you something to provoke their ire. The only NPCs I had no problems with, strangely enough, were the enemies. They did exactly what enemies do: try to give you a hard time. If they ram into you or fire upon you endlessly, that’s just what they’re supposed to do. They don’t have the facade of friendliness then they do something stupid, they’re just enemies.
My biggest complaint about this game is the fact that in order to know most aspects of the game you have to read a 25-page game manual. I had to figure out most things on my own. The tutorial goes over the very bare bones basics, but to get most of the aspects of the game you have to read the manual. For example, I thought the overfishing mechanic was just a throwaway line for the sake of realism, I didn’t know that there was actually a mechanic for overfishing that would leave me without profitable fish in the first to sky layers. Perhaps a bit more guidance in-game could have helped the game feel less like a grind.
Of course, there’s crafting
It’s an indie game, of course, there is some sort of crafting mechanic. What’s different is that rather than going with the Minecraft method, it decides to take the oft-overlooked Doodle God approach. The game tells you what you are able to craft at the bottom of the screen but doesn’t tell you which materials in which order will produce them until after you’ve made them. On one hand, I was annoyed at the beginning because it took me a few moments of confusion to finally figure out what exactly I was doing. On the other hand, this is an interesting puzzle at least and the material components that go into these things do make sense. It would have just been nice to be able to automatically craft some of the more advanced things which took a few layers of crafting to complete. As of now, it takes a while to build everything back up again and that turns death from a temporary setback into a long-term chore between the grinding for materials and the remembering how everything fits together.
Of course, there is a store where you can buy upgraded plane parts and weapons, but in order to get the best things you have to try to figure out how to make them. I actually really like this because it means that you can’t just grind out the best parts, you need to use a little ingenuity. Keeping the crafting system relevant when there is an in-game store in which you can buy most of your things is something I’ve seen some games struggle with unnecessarily. It’s really an easy fix: just make the crafting a necessity in order to have the best parts. Problem solved.
Graphics and audio
Perhaps the greatest asset this game has in its favor is the fact that it looks and sounds great. The light and airy colors pair well with the graphics and the music runs the gambit from western-inspired to science fiction. It actually reminds me aesthetically of one of my favorite games of all time: Bastion. There are some key differences, but the reliance on brighter colors and the western vibe really made me feel like I was going to once again hear the sexy voice of Rucks narrating my every move. Which, for the record, would improve literally any video game.
Here I stand, bewildered on whether to recommend or recommend avoiding this game. On one hand, the aesthetics and music charmed me to no end, the crafting was an interesting different method, the flight was smooth with a controller, and the sky fishing is much more in-depth than it needs to be. On the other hand, the crafting added way too many complications, death was less a penalty and more a chore, and the procedurally generated levels all felt the same to me. Look, I really don’t know about this one. I did find myself enjoying it, but I found myself getting equally as annoyed. I guess if you’re willing to just do a casual grind in a gorgeous landscape and you’re willing to read a 25-page manual and run through the exact same levels, you could do worse. On the other side, If you want a fun and in-depth roguelike with each unique playthrough bringing you gradually closer and closer to your ultimate goal, let the winds take you elsewhere.
|+ Gorgeous graphics||– Samey levels|
|+ Beautiful music||– Irritating “friendly” AI|
|+ Large variety in ship customization||– You have to read a manual for important information|
|+ In-depth fishing mechanics|