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Aerial Assault (Game Gear) artwork

Aerial Assault (Game Gear) review

"I've never played a slower shooter than Aerial Assault. Perhaps the SNES's Blazeon comes close, but aside from that, nothing can touch the outright languidness with which this shooter scrolls along. Shooter skies are normally veritable metal gauntlets of enemy craft, filled in with labyrinths of laser fire. Not Aerial Assault. Most skies are completely serene and empty, the same backdrop passing by over and over again like a Flintstones episode. "

I bought this game for really cheap at a used video game store, and I was ecstatic because I love shooters, and I had just bought a Game Gear and knew there weren't too many shooters on the portable system. But here was Aerial Assault, calling out to me for mere pocket change. Naturally, being the shooter nut that I am, I made the no-brainer purchase.

Something about that last phrase is truer than I could have known at the time. After playing Aerial Assault, it makes me wonder if I had my brain with me at the time of purchase. It's not that the game is completely horrid, but it's so boring and devoid of any real gameplay that you shouldn't even bother.

On my first play, I almost got to the end when I accidentally pulled on the AC adaptor cord and messed up the Game Gear power connection, ending my game. Of course, I was upset at first: ''Go!@#$! it, I think I was close to beating this bloody game!'' Then, reality set in: ''But man. Do I even care? It was all I could do just to keep awake and playing.''

Aerial Assault is a side-scrolling shoot-em-up of the most basic and base variety. There are six stages in total. For whatever reason, the levels go like this: 1-1, 1-2, 2-1, 3-1, 3-2, 4-1. It makes no sense, because it's not like area one, which is composed of two parts, has one theme common to either part. They might as well have just called stage 1-2, level 2. Blah. Anyway, the game starts off in level 1-1, and it does so very, very slowly.

And it stays that way. For the whole mission. I've never played a slower shooter than Aerial Assault. Perhaps the SNES's Blazeon comes close, but aside from that, nothing can touch the outright languidness with which this shooter scrolls along. Shooter skies are normally veritable metal gauntlets of enemy craft, filled in with labyrinths of laser fire. Not Aerial Assault. Most skies are completely serene and empty, the same backdrop passing by over and over again like a Flintstones episode. Simplistic enemies will enter your view from the right once in awhile, only for you to blast them with your default pea-shooter before they're halfway to you.

Wedge-shaped ships offer little more than target practice on a Pong level of complexity. Up, shoot. Wait, there's another guy, get him! Down, shoot. Whoa. That was close.

No it wasn't, don't lie.

Other wedge-shaped ships throw their hat into the ring, but when their sad bullet dropping shtick is complete, it's as if they've thrown in the towel as well. The opening level gives us these two types of foes to blow up very unsatisfactorily as the cityscape scrolls smoothly by. Admittedly, the scene looks good - in fact, most scenes do, as the graphics are the best part of the game. During the city flyby, the sun sets and the Game Gear shows off a nice range of colours. Later on in the proceedings, you'll fly over the ocean, and miniscule battleships will fire at you gamely, while submarines surface momentarily to take pot shots as well. All this is played out to the tune of very forgettable music that only helps contribute to the game's overall lameness.

And speaking of lame: your ship is as slow as all hell to begin with... and I mean R-Type slow. Naturally, there are special enemies (they are wedge-shaped ships, but they're framed by square targeting reticles) that bear power ups. Speed ups (indicated by an ''S'' icon) are the most important power ups to collect, because without them, your ship is so sluggish as to make an already slow game almost unplayable by any reasonable gamer. The ''B'' icon represents the Barrier shield, which looks like two yellow balls rotating about the nose of your ship. The barrier can only take so many hits (the game gives you no indication of when the barrier is about to break), and it only absorbs bullets that hit you head on.

Finally, the ''P'' power up increases the level of your weapon. It starts as a single stream gun, moves on to a sort of homing variation of the same gun, to a green W-shaped wave gun, to blue capsule-like lasers, to a three-way spread, and finally to a five-way spread. Thankfully, the game gives you autofire, automatically, so your thumb will be saved, if not your sanity.

Now here's the thing. If you play the first few levels reasonably well (and you will, believe me), you'll be fully powered up in no time. Once this happens, you're on autopilot for the rest of the game. I mean, seeing how easy the beginning stages were, imagine that same level of enemy resistance meeting up with your five-way gun as compared to the pea-shooter you began with. Enemies will die quick and painless deaths - often before they enter the screen fully, and the spread is such that you'll barely have to move up and down to facilitate the killing.

Of course, the true test of any shooter's mettle is seeing how balanced the thing is when you die. Unfortunately, Aerial Assault was unable to kill me, so to test this out, I had to do myself in. Having rammed a wall, I went out in a small burst of flames, and respawned right on the spot, blinking with temporary invincibility. I tried this test in every level, and found that it was possible to gear back up fairly quickly and easily in any of them except one, proving to myself that the ease of play in the latter stages wasn't solely due to my ship's beefed up arsenal.

''...any of them except one...'' Okay, you caught me. For inexplicable reasons, the programmers decided to make level 3-2 a complete bastard to play, out of the very blue, in a game where everything else is a cakewalk.

Welcome to hell. Level 3-2 gives us the obligatory enemy base (whew! Doesn't feel like a shooter without one, does it?). Here, beautifully coloured corridors are crowded with bullets that ricochet madly off the walls. The graphics really shine in this level the most, and we have to wonder why the guys behind this game held out until here, at the penultimate level, to give us their best visuals. Not that you'll have much time to admire the scenery - you'll be following the bouncing balls... to your death. Horrible little wall sliding gun pods will fire the bullets at you, and you'll watch with horror and confusion, as they do not follow the laws of physics.

This is Break Out played out in some alternate universe. You'll curse as bullets angle up at you diagonally, hit the ceiling, and often, rather than pass over your back, crash into your ship just behind your front mounted barrier on their downward swing. If you're paying attention, that means they bounced back in the same direction they came from, which would appear to be impossible. What's worse is that this is the only stage where power ups seem few and far between. This is the only challenge the game has to offer, and it's not only challenging, but frustrating and cheap. However, since you won't be killing yourself on purpose as I did, you'll very likely be fully powered up for this stretch, enabling you to kill the bothersome bullet bouncers before they even get off a shot.

Aside from the drama that can potentially play out in this one stage, Aerial Assault offers no challenge, no intensity, and no reason to play it. Unless of course you're a shooter fanatic who'll play any shooter that comes his way. But there aren't many of those. Ahem.

So keep well away from Aerial Assault. It drags even the most diehard of us, eyes dulled and glazed, through five stages of complete and utter tedium, with one badly designed, hair-pulling interruption of a stage just before the end. And the end... I would normally say having only six stages brings the end about too quickly, but because the stages are devoid of, well, anything, the end of Aerial Assault can't come soon enough.

Game Gear shooter fans, get yourself the masterful (ha, I made a funny!) Power Strike 2 instead. It costs a quite a bit on eBay these days, and Aerial Assault is dirt cheap... but you know what they say. You get what you pay for.


Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (December 09, 2003)

There was a bio here once. It's gone now.

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