Thursday, 27 October 2016 00:00

AIRHEART - Tales of Broken Wings Early Access

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Fly your plane to catch fish, but watch out for sky pirates up there competing! Customize your aircraft to stay alive, and make sure that others don't.

Planes fishing? Don't you mean birds, Joe? No, you idiot. Birds don't fly this high!

In AIRHEART - Tales of Broken Wings, controls are basic and quick to pick up, and for a Twin-Stick Shooter, that's a good thing. With a top-down view of the skies, fast-paced fighting is on the menu, and I'm glad to report that combat is fun. Levels are action-packed, and there's a fair share of variety in tactics to be employed. You get to pick a specific loadout before the fighting starts, to face enemies each with their fighting style.

Some builds currently feel overpowered in light of others. That's an act of balancing developers should consider; discrepancies in loadout effectiveness are forgivable at this stage, if not to be expected while in Early Access.

Also at its current stage of development, scraps of a story are found left and right. Your dad was a sky pirate it seems, and you're following his footsteps. Or maybe was he a fisherman? I'm not sure! The script isn't yet complete, and we'll likely find more about the lead character when the game gets a full release.

Another issue I found with Tales of Broken Wings is its lack of focus on the primary objective that Bindflug Studios advertises on Steam. Based on the description read on the store page, the purpose of AIRHEART is to catch fish; in practice, you occasionally run into them while causing havoc in your fight against pirates.

On the one hand, that's more than fine. In fact, fast-paced bullet-hell rather than gathering and crafting is likely what the target audience desires. Still, either AIRHEART needs to evolve toward the fishing theme, or its presentation needs rewording. Each level may have an indicator for its current fish population, yet the problem remains: fishing doesn't add enough value to be presented as a core mechanic; fishes are treated as currency, yes, but so does everything else fighters drop upon death.

Health boosts, engine oil, and body scraps constitute the loot you'll pick up in between encounters. The latter can be turned into working parts for a small fee, and once refined, they can either be sold or used toward upgrading your ship. Your engine, wings, and weapon can be boosted, each new piece of gear adding power and/or tweaking your fighting style. As a result, upgrading your ship is not just a matter of getting the most expensive build you might afford. You might build for speed and chaos, or health and precision.

I would enjoy better descriptions of each part, as well as the ability to name each plane in my garage, but building a solid craft, to then launch a level and kill everything in the sky is a very satisfying experience. The Diabloesque approach to gearing up can feel a little grindy, but it also pushes you to face the hardest enemies you can find, as the harder the challenge is, the better the rewards. The only problem is that, after a few upgrades, the enemies are no longer challenging, no matter how many of them are.

The graphics are beautifully stylized and rendered. Cell shading, atmosphere, and great detail will occasionally have you pause and check things out. Music is varied and fun. It blends nicely while keeping you motivated. Transitions from level to level, and from and to your home base, are smooth and it's clear much effort was put into them. Going from levels back to the base even has its own little game, which is fun at first. Careful, though: playing the same mini-game to get back to base every single time? That gets tiresome real fast.


The Verdict

As a Twin-Stick Shooter with crafting features, AIRHEART - The Tales of Broken Wings is a beautiful game with much potential. In its current state of Early Access, there are balancing issues between loadouts, too little focus on the advertised objective that is the act of fishing, and too short of a leveling curve regarding upgrades and crafting. If Blindflug Studios addresses these shortcomings, then the full release could be a hit. I'm hopeful: they clearly have the talent and the skills.

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Joe Pilato

Joe Pilato works as an engineer and pub quiz host while developing his skills as a standup comic and storyteller. You may occasionally find him wandering the streets of NYC looking for adventure or possibly running into the woods to hide from civilization for days at a time.