Aces of the Luftwaffe Squadron – A Hot Take on a Classic Genre

OVERVIEW

In a previous review, we compared the indie shooter Earth Atlantis to classic shmups like Darius and Defender. That trend continues, but in a different manner, with Aces of the Luftwaffe Squadron calling back to the likes of 1943 and Aero Fighters. The pedigree of Squadron is even more interesting, as its initial version, made for Steam and iOS by HandyGames, was not only a vertically scrolling shooter, but a vertically oriented one as well.

The Stage Map is one of the many distinguishing features of Squadron when compared to other shmups.

There are dozens upon dozens of vertical shooters. Many would even consider the WWII vertical shooter to be its own sub-genre. With that said, it’s much harder to be heard in a crowded room. When you look at Aces of the Luftwaffe Squadron, does it stack up to the iconic 1943? The over-the-top Strikers 1945? The bullet-hell classic Progear? It doesn’t even try… instead it goes in a completely different direction, and instead of a straightforward shooter, Squadron offers instead a deep and engaging game, where smashing the fire button is only part of the equation.

GAMEPLAY

Get ready to see this screen… a lot. It’s the only real fault with the title.

I’m going to get my main (and only) criticism right out of the way. The load times on this title are… not good. Once I got into the game a few levels, I understood why the loading was the way it is, which I’ll go into in a minute, but my initial feeling on what I expected to be a 1943 homage having very long loads was not a good one.

Each pilot has a distinct character developed through a surprising amount of dialogue during gameplay.

Shoot ‘em ups usually don’t have a story or characters beyond “save the world” and sometimes a character portrait on your plane selection screen. Not so here! This game has a story, a good one, complete with a *lot* of voice acting. During each level, your copilots are constantly chiming in with their thoughts and advice, just like in a real air combat situation. I suspect that queuing up all that audio is what causes the level loads to be so significant. Imagine Starfox, but the other pilots actually speaking real words.

The action can get intense, with a ton of things happening on screen.

Now that we’re past that, this game is a blast! Controls are responsive, there are a ton of power-ups, and each level has a sub-objective (destroying X amount of certain enemies or emplacements, for example) in addition to making all the things go boom.

The notable mechanic here is that each pilot has a “weakness” that will randomly be triggered and remove that plane from your control. One pilot will go berzerk, and colliding with him will one-hit KO your planes. Another will fall asleep, and you have to protect his drifting aircraft until he wakes up. It’s a great touch that not only lends challenge and variety but gives each character more depth.

GRAPHICS AND MUSIC

The graphics for Squadron are pretty standard, but very well done. The field is colorful, the weapon effects awesome, and I didn’t experience any hints of slowdown, which was impressive, given all that was going on during the levels. Of special note are the huge bosses, which really threw me back to Aero Fighters with their slightly zany sci-fi vibe.

The bosses in Squadron are amazing!

The music is also great, if unremarkable next to the amazing sound design. As was mentioned before, the pilots talk to each other throughout the levels, the radio static, explosions, engine noise, and atmospheric effects make this game shine, especially on headphones. The audio drew me in, and it’s the standout design feature of Squadron.

CO-OP

Want even more action? Add up to 3 friends via the addicting co-op play!

With all that we’ve gone over, why would I recommend this game? It comes down to one single feature. The co-op. In Squadron, you can play up to 4 players simultaneously. It’s great to see more and more developers taking advantage of this aspect of the Switch. I played through several co-op sessions of Squadron, and this is the real draw here. On its own, Squadron is a notable shmup due to its story and sound… adding in 4 player co-operative play elevates it to a must-play multiplayer experience.

CONCLUSION

Aces of the Luftwaffe Squadron, like most shmups, is a pretty niche genre. Many people don’t like it. In this case, the novel additions of voice acting, the amazing sound design, and the amazing multiplayer really increase the appeal and value of the game, despite the longer-than-expected load times. If you’ve ever thought about exploring a shmup, or if you want a new take on a classic genre, Aces of the Luftwaffe Squadron is a title that deserves your attention!

Platform – Nintendo Switch eShop Download
Publisher – HandyGames
Price – $14.99
Genre – Arcade / Shoot ‘Em Up
Size – 2.1GB

Charlie’s first attempts at gaming did not go well. Repeated, failed run-ins with the first Goomba in Super Mario Brothers 1 plagued his maiden gaming voyage. Undaunted, he would go on to become an avid gamer of all platforms, with Nintendo always sitting atop the highest pedestal. Except for that Halo 3 incident in 2007. We don’t talk about it. It never happened.

Currently, Charlie enjoys playing games on as many platforms as he can get his hands on, with current favorites being the Switch, 3DS and Neo Geo. When he’s not playing games, Charlie is a live sound engineer and manager for his production company, Clear Harmonies, based in Washington, D.C.

Charlie enjoys talking about games nearly as much as playing them, and loves meeting new people, so hit him up!

Plays: All of them games. Seriously.

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