Developed by HandyGames Published by HandyGames Reviewed on Nintendo Switch
Aces of the Luftwaffe Squadron is a vertically scrolling 2D shoot-’em-up that marks HandyGames’ Switch debut. While it maintains some of the same visual motifs as Aces of the Luftwaffe, it features its own ideas and mechanics. It lives up to its name by featuring a persistent on-screen team that a solo player or a bunch of friends can control. While the game can sometimes feel gimmicky, it provides an entertaining humorous take on the shoot-’em-up genre that is worth experiencing.
Set during an alternate World War II, Aces of the Luftwaffe Squadron follows four intrepid pilots who protect America from antagonistic German forces. The pilots travel to major American cities as well as other countries in order to fight back against an onslaught of enemy weaponry. These pilots have distinct backgrounds and personalities, and they often clash and exchange amusing banter as they fly through each area. The game even hints at character development as the pilots work together to survive against frequent trials and hazards.
On the surface, Aces of the Luftwaffe Squadron follows conventional shoot-‘em-up progression. Players pick a stage and difficulty, defeat enemies, and dodge incoming enemy projectiles. Capturing power-ups temporarily grants special attacks and provides supplementary weapons such as homing missiles and lasers. Even though these attacks resemble others in the shoot-’em-up genre, the variety still leads to entertaining action. The game allows players to freely revisit stages in order to try harder difficulties, achieve higher scores, and find hidden collectibles. At the end of each chapter, players battle an enemy Ace. These Ace fights feature strange vehicles that fill the screen with bullets. These fights are not overwhelmingly hard, but dealing with the bosses’ frantic sudden movement can require a bit of practice.
However, the game differs from similar titles by incorporating mechanics typically found in other genres. Each stage features an optional side mission in which players perform an additional task for extra experience points. For example, players must protect or destroy certain targets or traverse territory without being detected. Other examples require players to remain still over a designated target as the bar fills. Since the game features a wide array of side missions, players are often kept on their toes as they progress from each level to the next.
The game’s team mechanics can lead to amusing gimmicky moments. All four characters are constantly present on screen. While the game allows for four player cooperative play, it has a single player mode where the other three characters automatically follow the player’s ship. These other characters fire alongside the main character akin to the drones used in similar games. However, your teammates can collide with enemies and incoming bullets, which can be a little awkward to manage on the fly. Another quirky feature is the game’s “hindrance” system. Each pilot has an in-universe reason for becoming incapacitated in mid stage. Your character can move slowly due to chronic problems, your teammate can become berserk and hazardous, someone can flee combat due to fear of heights, and another can fall asleep. These cases feel nonsensical, but the accompanying dialogue is amusing.
Another experimental feature is the inclusion of skill trees. Reaching new experience levels and finding hidden Skill Coins allows players to unlock skills on each of the four characters’ trees. These trees consist of active skills such as unleashing bombs and switching modes, and they also include passive skills such as stat increases and auras. While these skills can feel familiar and straightforward, the customization encourages a bit of exploration and experimentation. Computer-controlled allies automatically use skills, which feels slightly arbitrary but adds to the feel of having an active squadron. Interestingly, the skills operate off cooldowns, which further distinguishes the game’s mechanics from those of other titles in the genre.
One area where the game can feel strange is how it controls. Shooting, skill switching, and skill activation generally feel fine. However, using the d-pad feels a bit floaty, which can be a bit troublesome when trying to maneuver through tight patterns of bullet fire. By using the analog stick instead, players can have a finer degree of control over their plane. This analog stick emphasis differs from the genre’s typical eight-way movement. Another strange aspect is how the game runs at a lower framerate than most other shoot-’em-ups, which is a bit unfortunate given the twitch-based and frantic nature of the genre.
The game’s cartoony take on established war motifs is visually pleasing and generally well constructed. The protagonists and enemy Aces feature exaggerated portraits that are rather expressive. Enemy aircraft’s bold outlines stand out, and the bosses’ machines have whimsical shapes that are quite engaging. Other visual effects are impressive as well. For example, the game features plenty of dynamic light effects whenever an ability is triggered. Whenever the player takes damage, the on-screen HUD will display cracks, which is a nice touch. Certain effects, on the other hand, seem a bit less effective. The fire effects notably feel repeated. Furthermore, the fire effects, the player’s shots, and enemy shots can sometimes all use the same vibrant reds and oranges, which can be a bit confusing in the heat of battle. On the plus side, these projectiles stand out against the less saturated backgrounds. The background design also features plenty of fun takes on established motifs like suburbs, islands, and cities.
The audio design decently supplements the game’s action. Frequent effects like radio static, sirens, and weapon loading help the action feel impactful. The tunes serviceably set the tone of light-hearted military combat. However, the most surprising audio element is actually the game’s voice acting. Each of the four characters constantly clash with one another as they try to work together. While the voices feel out of place for American fighter pilots, they actually exude some silly comedic charm. It also helps that there are plenty of unique lines, which really helps the game feel fresh.
Aces of the Luftwaffe Squadron is a quirky take on the shoot-’em-up genre that provides a respectable take on established military motifs. As one of the few shoot-’em-ups currently available on the Switch eShop, it can scratch anyone’s itch for a quick burst of action on the go. Its audiovisual elements are generally well crafted and worth experiencing. While its mechanics can feel a bit odd at times, the game is a unique entertaining take on the established shoot-’em-up genre.